Croom: The Font

Yes, that’s right. I’ve now developed a typeface based on my handwriting. If you are looking for a very hastily written, chicken scratch type of font, may I suggest this option.

I got this idea right before #Domains17. The great Bryan Mathers developed the poster and I had asked him for a high resolution copy so we could print some. I’ve been a fan of Bryan Mathers’ hand-written, visual thinking style for some time and was quite surprised to find out that what I thought was hand drawn was actually a custom developed typeface. On top of his creativity, the fella has smarts! (Sorry Bryan if I just gave away your secret!) Given my inability to come up with a new idea myself coupled with a predisposition towards design resistance, I decided I needed one too.

You might be asking why someone would go to the lengths to do this. I’ve always been intrigued by digital note taking for some time because I like having a digital record of my thoughts, but I’ve never been able to convert over to digital note taking because my handwriting is very small and thin. It doesn’t convert well to a stylus, so that’s always been out of the question.

But I also find type to be interesting and deeply personal. As design as progressed to a user-centered approach with templated ways for humans (what Amber Case calls the templated self) to work through and process content, design (type included) has, in fact, became more boring. Designers have wised up and realize that hard-to-read typefaces don’t bode well for keeping readers on a page. And then Microsoft came in with their flat design operating system all the while laughing at Apple whose design aesthetic, referred to as skeuomorphism, was still all wood grains and gradient buttons and shininess. All the sudden every student in my class tells me they are such a big fan of minimalistic design.

Source: Cleveroad

Well I have tell you that I agreed with Steve Jobs, who continued to advocate for Apple apps to look like real objects. I loved the bookshelf wood grain to iBooks and the green felt on Game Center. Maybe it’s because I’m often overly nostalgic or maybe it’s because it’s a reminder that there is a world beyond these machines. Or maybe it’s just because limiting your options to a handful of san serif fonts feels boring and overtly Western.

The beauty of the web–it’s ability to be inherently flexible, shapeable, and machine readable–means that the end-user can consume the content how it sees fit. It gives you syndication and “reader view” and aggregator apps. But it can also strip it of cultural contexts like the original author’s intended design choices.

For example, a WordPress post often comes along with a Featured Image at the top of the post. This image address is not natively part of the information built into the RSS feed and, thus, you wouldn’t see the image unless the image also existed within the post itself.

I’m not trying to gloss over that, but I do feel that I should leave it to smarter people and more elegant writers than myself to write about how flat design et al is colonizing the web (though it’s not like three dimensional buttons weren’t), and I’ll just say that this font is an attempt to, specifically, make my digital presence uniquely myself. Onward with the process.

Within a few minutes of looking for how to make my own font, I found an online app that does it for you. You print out the equivalent of a bubble sheet and write in your letters.

This page can be scanned in via a smartphone to the webapp and are then converted (via magic) into a font file. If you look really closely at the photo above you can see very light lines which are supposed to represent the baseline and the cap height. I was supposed to write really big and it was also recommended that I use a felt pen. As you can you see, I did neither. I wanted the font to best mimic my natural writing style which is most often done with a thin Uni-ball Signo 207 and written very, very small and often hastily. Luckily for me, Calligraphr allows you to increase the font up to 275% (you can also adjust character spacing).

Next, because I also don’t write in a straight line, I had to go in and individually adjust the baselines so that I wouldn’t get the wave effect  when I typed it out.

To integrate it into this website, I found a plugin called Use Any Font and uploaded the OTF file that Calligraphr spit it and proceeded assigned it to all H1 and H5 tags.

And it looks like this:

Pretty neat! As you can still tell, it’s fairly small. But, hey, I ain’t no 12 point kind of guy. But can you imagine this being the only font on and what a different type of experience of that may be? I’m curious about how my work would be read (or not read) differently. Does seeing a digital representation of my handwriting change the way you empathize with my thoughts? Does it better convey that this space exists for thinking out loud? Or as a digital notebook? Let me ask you a different way…

Ok, so maybe it’s not a pretty sight, but it is an interesting thought experiment, if only as a tool to think about how our design choices reflect (or don’t reflect) our digital identity(s) and how some of that can be potentially reclaimed.