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Briem’s notes on type design: Why pilfering doesn’t pay

Old favourites don’t mix

Making a new typeface by blending two existing designs is simple enough. But it isn’t worth the trouble. I will now show you why it isn’t.

The typeface Frutiger is, in my opinion, the most beautiful sans-serif ever made. The light version seems a promising start to a new design.

A bold Franklin Gothic is quite different. To my mind, Morris Fuller Benton gave it roughness that borders on the brutal. By blending the two, we can make a new font with a look of its own. But it’s not a good idea. (Cross a dachshund with a St Bernard, and you get a mongrel that chases into holes in the ground to rescue mountaineers.)

Preparing the base fonts will take a while. Each design must match the other, character by character, Bézier point for Bézier point. Making sure they do calls for careful work.

The letters g in Frutiger and Franklin Gothic have different structure. Blending them won’t do.

We can make a new letter g in Franklin Gothic from the letter d and the letter f, upside-down. It will blend with the letter g in Frutiger. We can now proceed.

The result: bland and flawed

At first glance, the blend doesn’t look bad. But a closer look will reveal disappointing details. Here are three.

At the stem, the white countershape in the letter b looks lumpy. This is hardly surprising. One of the base fonts has a curve where the other has corners.

The inside and outside curves of the letter c have different shapes. It tapers awkwardly from thick to thin.

The letter s is too light, especially in the middle, and looks ready to fall over backwards. The shape will need more work.

Two disadvantages

Blending Frutiger and Franklin Gothic is not a quick shortcut. Preparing them takes time. And the new typeface would need a lot of work before it could be used. It doesn’t have much character. After our toil, what have we got to show for it? A faceless average. That’s one drawback.

The other is this. Rendering other peoples work doesn’t get you far. A blend of two existing typefaces doesn’t express your ideas about your ideal sans-serif. If the new type doesn’t show your own convictions, what is the point of doing all that work?

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