Assignment 4: Research

The brief

Typographers and type foundries (the companies that commission and produce typefaces)
have always had to promote their latest designs to printers and designers to show off a
particular typeface, its different fonts in a variety of sizes and contexts, and the unique
features of it. Once Specimen Sheets were the main way of doing this. Nowadays most of
that marketing takes place online –- research type foundries on the internet.
Design the font for use on the cover of a magazine called type and write a short article for
the magazine using a range of typefaces, with typographic illustrations, drawing on all that
you have learned in this section. The article should include sections on:
• what makes a typeface interesting
• how a typeface is constructed
• question marks.
Do a mock up of the magazine cover to show where and how your title font will appear
along with other cover elements.
Produce a magazine article that is attractive and interesting enough for someone to want to
pick it up to read, and which shows off what that you have learnt so far about typography.
Add illustrations, photographs and colours as you want.


As part of my response to assignment 4, I performed research into a number of areas; this blog entry summarises my findings.

I recorded raw data in my electronic notebook ( Assignment 4 – Show me and Assignment 4 – Font analysis). Some examples are shown below.

(Extracts from my electronic notebook – click to expand)

The areas I selected were based on the brief, my response to the brief and general interest. There is a bias towards Swiss design and history since I live in Basel, Switzerland; until recently I was blissfully unaware of the strong local influences on graphical design and I wanted to deepen my knowledge.

After feedback from my tutor I have extended this research to include looking into specific fonts that influence my response to the assignment.

I will discuss:

  • Foundries and style sheets
  • Type magazines
  • What makes a typeface interesting
  • Question marks
  • Swiss Design
  • Process of creating a typeface
  • Font Analysis




Foundries and style sheets

Based on the brief’s Context discussion I felt I ought to know more about type foundries (present and past) as well as ways of publicising their work (style sheets and digital).

The following are my main findings:

  •  Modern foundries dominated by a number of large companies (e.g. Monotype) but with smaller independent companies
  • A report Type Foundries Today (Dura, 2013) gives an extensive review of the current state of Font Foundries as well as an historical perspective.
  •  Digital publication of fonts is the dominent channel for showing fonts, at least to the public. Examples are Fontshop and MyFont.
  • Typeface creation has become democratised, and is no longer restricted to design professionals
  • Moving from physical to web font creation
  • Change from very large industrial complexes to smaller buildings and driven by change of technologies to more digital.
  • Examples of well regarded current Swiss Foundries are:
    • Grilli Type
    • Swiss Typefaces
    • Milieu Grotesque
    • Lineto

This image of the Linotype factory, from the 1919 Mergenthaler book Newspaper Heads – click to enlarge


(Gill Sans Specimen sheet and the user interface for MyFonts – Click to expand)


Type magazines

Since the brief centres on producing a mock-up of a type magazine I thought I ought to see whether there were any general trends that I could incorporate into my design. I found the following (, 2019;, 2018; Creative Review, 2019; Typography.Guru, n.d):


(Set of typographical magazine covers – Click to enlarge)


  •  Title is always in the same font, colour may change, location very often in same position towards top of magazine
  • Additional information e.g. date, issue number, contents often in a much smaller font in a non central position
  • Imagery and colours, design (figurative to realistic) vary from edition to edition


What makes a typeface interesting

I found the question itself interesting and wondered whether, alongside an emotional response, there might also be a scientific answer to the question. So I approached this in two ways and established the following.


Scientific (at least using a methodology!)

  • Fonts can elicit trust – Baskerville is a trustworthy font.
  • Dyslexic? Try Helvetica – look for sans-serif fonts with distinct letter spacing, line spacing of at least 1.5
  • Debates on legibility – Serif typefaces are not necessarily easier to read. The fact is that pretty much any mainstream font is legible and easy to read for a huge majority of people. Whether the font is serif or sans-serif seems to be a non-issue.
  • Different fonts attract people with different personalities – typical favourites of stable personalities are Times New Roman, Arial and Cambria; compared with Impact, Rockwell Xbold and Georgia for assertive people, and Gigi, Kristen and Rage Italic for creative types.
  • Reading speeds – For optimal reading speed on the web, keep fonts at 10 points and above. Arial, Verdana, Georgia and Times New Roman all do equally well as far as reading speed goes

(Information from Creative Market, 2016) and links to underlying sources)

Other words of wisdom

In order to make a font interesting the following are an aid:

  •  use of contrasting fonts
  • use of colour
  • Whitespace

(Click to expand)

Question Marks

Looking into question marks I thought it would be interesting to look into the origins, usage and typographic use of the question mark.


There is no agreed origin of the question mark but a number of theories (, n.d.; Broadly, 2008):

  • The question mark was first seen in the eighth century when it was called the punctus interrogativus. Early punctuation was based on dots at various heights and one of these dots was replaced by a lighting flash which in time evolved into the modern question mark.
  • It may have evolved from an inverted form of the semicolon, the semicolon is used in Greek as a question mark
  • Another possibility is that the glyph derives from the Latin quaestiō meaning “question”, which was abbreviated during the Middle Ages to qo. The lowercase q was written above the lowercase o, and this mark was transformed into the modern symbol.



(Possible origin of the question mark? – Click to expand)


Apart from the obvious use in a direct question it can also be used (Pittsley, n.d.):

  • In end of a verb-less sentence e.g. What?
  • In a statement that is followed by a question, such as: He left early, didn’t he?
  • In a sentence containing a series of questions, you may include a question mark after each e.g. Who saw the victim last? Her husband? Her son? Her daughter?
  • Two places where the question mark should not be used are at the end of indirect questions or courteous requests e.g. Will you please reply as soon as possible

In other languages e.g. Greek and Armenian other symbols are used.

In Mathematics, Medicine and Chess other meanings are associated with the symbol.

Typograph use

  • Need to pay attention to the kerning with the question mark else the spacing can disturb
  • In most typefaces the question mark follows the same form but in some e.g. Futura and Stemple Schneidler it is more S-shaped.

(Created by John Boardley – click to expand)

Swiss Design

As I described in the introduction to the assignment  I focused my response to the brief on Swiss design. I have already looked into this (See here and here)  but I revisited the subject, this time focusing on typography.

The main points I found were:

  • Early designs schools (early 1900’s) in Zurich and Basel that introduced radical design philosophies
  • The International Typographic style was introduced in Switzerland in the 1950’s
  • In addition to Helvetica (see below) other famous fonts were:
    • Univers designed by Adrian Frutiger
    • Akzidenz Grotesk (invented in Germany) but strongly prompted by Swiss designers
    • Akkurat designed by Laurenz Brunner
    • SangBleu from Swiss Typefaces Foundry
  •  In recent years there has been a reaction against the clean, formal approach and a more organic, less structured attitude emerged but there still seems to be a place for its classic, timeless style.



There is a lot of information available about the creation and use of Helvetica so rather than trying to replicate or synthesize I’ll summarize the sources I have looked at and the areas that they cover:

  • The History of “Helvetica” (1to1Printers, 2018): Background to the creation of the typeface
  • Why Helvetica (Jury, D. et al.,2001): Description of Helvetica and other fonts one might consider
  • Helvetica ( 2019): Overview and download of the typefont family.
  • Helvetica, the World’s Most Popular Font, Gets a Face-Lift (Nast, 2019): A description of the evolution of the typeface
  • Fundamentals: Combining Type With Helvetica (Kupferschmid, 2010): Describes how to combine different fonts with Helvetica to achieve different moods.


Process of creating a typeface

There are a number of descriptions of the process of creating a typeface (Neumeier, 2018; Hodge, 2012; Ewer et al 2016) but they broadly follow the same steps:

  1.  Consider the requirements (e.g. is it for a brand where there are a number of givens)
  2. Generate a number of ideas that can / will influence the design
  3. Draw (optional use a digital approach) a number of potential designs. This focuses on some key glyphs (e.g. HONlop) that define most of the elements
  4. Restrict the development to a couple of the most promising designs
  5. At some point the design will move from pen and paper to digital media where there are a number of tools that support the development process. The best-known is probably Fontlab, others are FontForge, FontCreator.
  6. The design then starts to look into the details of individual glyphs, with large amount of refinement.
  7. The font design must be tested, for example  looking into letter combinations and how it works with varying sizes and paragraph settings. A decision must be made on the range of glyphs that are to be included
  8. Once an initial font design is defined as complete (is it ever really complete?) consideration should be given as to what languages, weights and styles are to be included within the typeface.
  9. Over time the typeface may evolve as further languages and styles are added or other media are to be supported, or as tastes change.


Font Analysis

In this section I look at a number of fonts that I thought could influence my designs for the three ideas (Mathematics, Switzerland, Technology)  I had created. (Also refer to my Examples of design where I have collected and analysed a number of examples of design).



I was looking for fonts that invoke the feeling of mathematics rather then fonts that are used in representing mathematics (not the same thing) but I was not really that successful. There is a lot of discussion (see for example here and here)  on how best to display mathematical information but very little about feeling. I then tried another approach I considered fonts that echoed blackboard chalk and fonts that were geometric in nature.


(Click to enlarge)


Math 1 (source) – Shows a script developed by a mathematical and calligrapher in order to clearly write mathematics. He is aiming to introduce beauty into the script but keeping the clarity that is needed.

Math 2 (source) – Cambria a font developed by Microsoft for use in mathematical and scientific texts.

Math 3 (source) – Computer Modern a font created by was created by Donald Knuth a famous computer scientist for the first typesetting program and is still commonly used in mathematical and scientific publications. An important point in these designs is to ensure that mathematical symbols (often Greek) are clearly distinguished from e.g. latin letters, notable examples are a-alpha and v-nu. 

Math 4 (source) – Examples of Chalkboard fonts. There are a large number of fonts that emulate chalk on blackboards.

Math 5 (source) – Details of Pigment (font) a chalkboard font.

Math 6 (source) – Futura a geometric sans font. There is a large use of geometrical shapes: circles, triangles and straight lines. There are a many other fonts that have this characteristics e.g. Century Gothic and ITC Avant Garde. The font type is not recommended for large quantities of text.

Looking at all these examples I think the geometric sans font is closest to the effect I am trying to create.



In my research I was influenced by the two ideas that I had for Switzerland: Mountains and Cheese. I looked for examples for both of these and found mountains a little more difficult to find and surprisingly where there were a relatively large number of Swiss Cheese fonts.



(click to enlarge)

Cheese 1 (source) – Typical cheese font characterised by use of yellow, and holes. The set consists typically of capitals.  This varient has a 3D effect.

Cheese 2 (source) – Another typical example

Cheese 3 (source) – Another example. The fonts are nearly always sans serif.

Having looked at these examples I decided that they were all cheesy and the comical effect was not one I wanted to promote. This research lead me to dismiss the varient of the Switzerland idea.


(Click to enlarge)


MT1, MT5 (source) – A set of fonts on fontspace that are labelled as mountain. Looking at these there are some common elements that come out:

  • Use of white at the top to signify snow (or clouds?)
  • Irregular shapes perhaps signifying rockiness
  • Thickness of the letters signifying solidity

MT2 (source) – Mountain font. As a varient of mountain, rocks (and sometime volcano / lava) are often used as a theme. These are characterised by irregular and chunky shapes.

MT3 (source) – Montana Font. A font that has been influenced by the love of mountains. To be honest I have difficulty in seeing the influence, perhaps the rough version is reminiscent of rock? It is only available in upper case and this has a rather high x-height, again perhaps echoing mountains?

MT4 (source) – Often when mountains are depicted the text that is used with them are in the fom of casual script. Having both an image of mountains and a mountain/rock font feels to heavy.

Looking at the examples I feel that I want a font that echo’s mountains (and not rocks) and I’ll have to consider whether adding decorative elements (e.g. snow) adds or whether this is at variance to the feeling of Swissness.



I started looking for fonts that had a technology or sci-fi feel to them and noted that I had already performed some very basic research in this direction (see Research: Book cover design) but felt it was certainly worth more detailed review.


(Click to expand)


Tech 1,4,5 (source)  – A set of fonts that are tagged with sci-fi and tech. This is an important point technology is often associated with science fiction and not only in the context of fonts but more broader. Looking at these (and other fonts that are tagged) I can see the following: often geometric, often san serif, sometimes slab serif.

Tech 2 (source)  – Solaris font. This is an example of a popular font shown in context with a futuristic image. This works well with the font not dominating the image and harmonising.

Tech 3 (source)  – Technical Forest font. This font is interesting since it tries to mix a tech feel with nature trying to be something softer. This is achieved by a mix of soft and sharp forms. It’s intended use is for headlines or quotes.

Tech 6 (source)  – Controller Three font. This is a geometric rounded square sans serif which again tries to soften a pure tech font.

I seem to be attracted to techical fonts that have a slight organic feel to them. Perhaps beacuse they are more subtle in their effect than a number of the other sci-fi / tech fonts.



1to1Printers. (2018). The History of “Helvetica” – 1to1Printers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Broadly, J. (2008). I Love Typography. [online] I Love Typography. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Creative Market. (2016). 10 Fascinating Scientific Facts About Fonts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Creative Review. (2019). Conversations – Creative Review. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019]

Dura, R. (2013). Type Foundries Today. [online] Typographica. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Ewer, T., Hughes, J and Keeton, B. (2016). How to Create Your Own Font (In 6 Simple Steps). [online] Elegant Themes. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019]. (2019). Back Issues. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019]. (2019). Helvetica® Font Family | [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Jury, D. et al. (2001). Eye Magazine | Feature | Why Helvetica?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Hodge, S. (2012). 13 Important Resources for Learning How to Design Typefaces and Full Fonts. [online] Design & Illustration Envato Tuts+. Available at:–vector-5260 [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Kupferschmid, I. (2010). Fonts: 26.04.2010 | Blog | FontShop. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Nast, C. (2019). Helvetica, the World’s Most Popular Font, Gets a Face-Lift. [online] Wired. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Neumeier, J. (2018). From idea to typeface: How are fonts designed?. [online] Underscore Type Foundry. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Pittsley, S. (n.d.). Using the Question Mark. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019]. (2018). Issues : TYPE Magazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

Typography.Guru. (n.d.). Typographica. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019]. (n.d.). Question mark. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2019].

7 thoughts on “Assignment 4: Research

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