Design By Hand

This is a story for all you artists out there who use a computer as your tool of creation. I’m sure there are moments when you want to toss your computer off the roof of the office. I understand your frustration as you stare in mounting fury and panic at that rainbow spinning pinwheel. I know the horror of having a computer shut down without warning, losing hours or days of work. This is a story to help you through these moments and give you a new appreciation for the unpredictable machines we depend on.

I recently came across a tattered brown book hidden away on a shelf at my parents’ house. The inside cover told me that it had belonged to my great-grandfather in the early 1900’s. The pages inside were yellow and stained but otherwise identical to most modern-day typography books, barring one key difference. Whereas most current typography books teach the use of different fonts, this book also focused on the creation of different fonts. By hand.

One chapter in the book instructs the reader on the process of writing a word. One, single word. Precise measurements are given to construct a grid system to insure regular leading and kerning. The next instructions are for mixing the ink colors and choosing the right size and texture of brush. Exact measurements of each letter are then provided, down to the size of the stroke.

Imagine that you’ve completed this process and your hand slips and suddenly there’s a blob of ink in the middle of your work. Kind of gives you a new appreciation for Command Z, right?

Typography creation is not a lost art. It certainly has its place in logo design. When it comes to logos, the difference between Arial and customized type is the difference between a fast-food burger and a made-to-order steak. So designers, teach yourselves this skill. But as you’re typing away on your keyboard and adjusting your leading, kerning, type size and color on your tool palette, remember this story about designers from centuries past. Even with that infuriating rainbow spinning pinwheel, we’ve got it easy.