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BEHIND THE SCENES, TYPE DESIGN · January 22, 2010

the final frontier


At the heart of calligraphy is the stroke that comes from the pen, the brush or whatever tool you choose to dip into the black ink and pull across the white page. Type design can of course be looked at through the lens of the calligraphic stroke. And it often is.

But what interests me is what makes typography and calligraphy different. In movable type, each character has a certain amount of letter space, and a fixed amount of line space, that belongs to it. In foundry type this is becomes the body, it’s a physical thing. In my world, I think of it as the glyph space.

Glyph space, the idea of attaching white space to a letter, is a typographic concept. It is the starting point for the divergence of type design and calligraphy. Its effect, in part, has been to encourage letter drawers to think of letters as shapes, both white and black. Instead of thinking in strokes, the type designer can think in contour. They can think about the inside and outside as separate things.

Of course, you can do that in calligraphy also to a certain extent, but because of the way glyph space changes the role of white space, type design lends itself to this kind of approach.

Awareness of white space is not specific to typography or even calligraphy. It is a basic part of two dimensional design also known as negative space and the figure/ground relationship. Glyph space, however, is unique. It is the mechanism that makes movable type possible.


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