Formal

Marc Weyman

The Formal typeface used in this number of Parenthesis was developed during my year doing the Typeface Design MA course at the University of Reading. This article will look briefly at the early design decisions, the extension of the typeface, and the new family member FormalSans, although there is not enough room to show the development of the family in detail.

I began by testing various writing tools and studying manuscripts, where I analysed the letter forms of the Carolingian and Humanist minuscule and the influences of writing with a broad nib, known as 'formal writing'; and the focus of Formal is mainly on the relation between written letter forms and typeface design. The face was designed to perform well in continuous text such as books. It is a modern approach to a traditional matter, testing the fine line between the influence of a writing instrument and a clearly defined typographic form, while also providing character and definition to the text and inviting the reader in.

The double pencil was the most useful writing tool. While I searched for a personal way of writing the letter forms and translating them into a typeface, it enabled me to outline the letters with more speed and freedom than was possible with a broad nib. I was intrigued by the connection of the top left serif and the shoulder of the n which evolved from a hasty sketch, and further adapted this to an optically horizontal connection between the serif and the counter shape, as in n, p, a or r, etc. These open counters and the generous width of the letters make for increased legibility, especially in smaller sizes for footnotes or captions. In order to make them flow better, the serifs were drawn in one continuous stroke. This asymmetrical solution adds a surprising element, especially in larger sizes. The missing end stroke on the right side of the serif further reflects and complements the 'squareish' counter shape. The result is a mixture of elegant and abrupt or simplified elements.


Early test prints appeared very constructed: the typeface lacked rhythm and character in comparison with my written forms. I began to add more refined details to the drawings, to emphasise the influence of writing, especially the use of the double pencil. Writing with some speed produces long serifs, therefore the speed and writing tool defines certain details, including the width of the letters. The effect which some of these details have from 14-point upwards are hardly visible in reading sizes. It could be argued that they can be removed, but comparisons of text samples showed an improved texture and character.

The upper-case letters were written at the same speed as the lower-case ones but are shorter in height, which helps to maintain an even texture, especially for German text. However, the aim was not to design them too short, in order to have enough 'dominance' when used in combination with lower case. The four sets of figures work particularly well in text because of their simple design.

The italic was designed with a nine degree slope and compact width, which emphasises words or text without drawing too much attention to itself in the page as a whole. The italic shares several design elements with the roman, such as the entry strokes and the structure of the letter g. At the same time the italic features distinct characteristics like v, w or y. The upper-case letters work smoothly with the lower-case ones, and without looking wooden next to them because diagonals, as in MI W, Vand the arms of Tor El for example, taper slightly. Serifs were modified into a more fluid written shape.


The heavier weights share the same features and characteristics as the regular. Letter forms were kept fairly narrow so the overall texture does not become too wide in combination with the regular. The bold remains crisp in small sizes because of its sharp design features.

FormalSans is the latest addition to the Formal family, used in this issue of Parenthesis for the titling. Formal- Sans also evolved out of experiment and curiosity, and was created to act as a harmonious 'partner' which extends the usage and practicality of the typeface family as a whole.

The outlines of Formal were used for FormalSans, serifs were removed, weight adjusted and stress reduced. Proportions, especially the character width, were further modified. Some letters show a different structure, like the top part of the t or the a without a tail. The first result was a humanistic sans serif typeface, which appeared rather fragile and not distinctive enough next to the seriffed font. FormalSans needed more authority and personality in order to work well in combination with Formal. For that reason the stress and tapering were further reduced, which gave the sans serif a rather more geometric and robust feel. FormalSans is therefore not a 'brother' but rather a cousin to its seriffed counterpart. They work together harmoniously, distinguish and complement each other enough to be combined in various weights and styles, but also have enough character to work independently.

I should point out that the typeface family was still in the process of refinement when used in this journal. Formal will provide a wider range of weights and styles in future.

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