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Briem’s notes on type design: Test and compare

How to make mistakes

Trial and error are a waste of your time. Instead, you should make deliberate and systematic missteps. They are great tools. Make variations, and choose among them. That’s how you find your best option.

You will discard all your variations except one. (They can’t ALL be best.) But the rejects do have a purpose. They get you one winner.

Power tool

With the exception of one detail, these eight letters a in Monotype Garamond are identical. The bowls are different in size.

How high should you make the bowl of the letter a? To find out, make variations. Start with a bowl that is too low. Then make another, a little higher. Keep doing this until your bowl is clearly too high. Choose.

Which of your variations looks comfortable? The letter a, as the Monotype drawing office made it, is fourth from the right. I made up the others to show you what I meant.

This is how you make errors work for you. Sheer, blind accidents can involve luck, as any roulette player will tell you. But with your choice of available possibilities, you’re playing at the house percentage.

Think of testing as if you were tuning a radio. You keep turning the knob until you’ve gone past what you want. Then you go back and select what you want. This will not only help you with lettershapes, but any number of other design dilemmas as well.

Thank you, André

I spent the winter of 1974 at the Basle School of Design, where André Gürtler taught me how to work. Making variations was a large part of it. More than a quarter-century has passed. I think of him often, and with gratitude. It was one of the best years of my life.

Notes on type design. Copyright © 1998, 2001, 2022 Gunnlaugur SE Briem. All rights reserved. Republished with permission in 2022 by Fontlab Ltd.