Thursday, February 13, 2014

'G' whiz...

As a nerdling (child of nerds) I grew up in a household that encourages curiosity. I wrote about this in Wise at Any Age - I was told to go find things out and look things up. To further feed this inquisitive nature my parents have always supplied me with an abundance of books. 

Last year, when I began to develop my career as a Graphic Designer, my dad and I had a long discussion about the abundance of fabulous books on the subject. As is often the case for those of us with an insatiable thirst for gathering knowledge through the written word: So many books, so little time. 

Clearly the discussion stuck in my dad's mind as, for Christmas, I was presented with several books on the subject of graphic design. Among the lovely collection sat Just My Type, an entertaining and extremely well-written book by Simon Garfield. It is, as the title implies, about type or, more specifically, the history of typography.

I am not a typographist but I do love type. I believe it's an essential passion to have in the world of design - not to mention the world of writing.

Ah, writing.

As a kid I recall the tedium of filling in lettering worksheets. Despite being able to write since the age of four, I couldn't seem to get my letters 'right' - or at least not according to my teacher at the time. The printed letters were never round or straight enough and my cursive was an utter mess. Not to mention my atrocious spelling…

But I digress.

I remember filling in these sheets and I remember, quite distinctly, the very key differences between 'printed' and 'cursive' text. Letters standing on their own in printed format took on distinctive forms very different from most of the letters surrounding them. Cursive, however, required a 'thread' with which to tie the letters together. The shape, curve and swish of each letter needed to lean in and grab hold of the letter after it.

In the end I gave up on cursive. My own signature is simply a hurried, overly slanted, print with the cross-stroke of the 'T' running through the entire thing. But I haven't forgotten the different look of the letters when compared to cursive.

Recently I was working on a logo for a client and I chose to use a traditional looking cursive typeface. As with cursive writing, the capital 'G' looked similar this:

I thought nothing of it when I sent the initial concept off to the client. I also didn't really think much about it when they came back, confirming that they loved the design but the 'G' didn't 'look like a G'. 
I thought, "Yes, the 'G' does have a rather prominent slant and it's quite narrow, so I widened it, increasing the closed loop of the centre, and sent it back. 

The reply was swift, "It doesn't look any different. It looks like an 'M'. Can you close the top of it?" 

"An M'?"

How could it look like an 'M'? It was a 'G' and it was a closed loop. What was the confusion? 
So I ran a quick Internet search of cursive 'G's and found a lot more of this: 

But then I thought about the book I was reading. I considered the digitization of type and I did a quick scan of the incredible collection of fonts available on my design programmes. Of the hundreds of fonts I have to choose from only two have the classic cursive 'G' with it's elaborate loops and whorls used to tie it in with its companion letters. 

And thus my answer was found. I chose a typeface which is endangered. Of course my client was baffled! 

I don't think the idea of endangered or extinct letterforms had occurred to me before. Not unless we were considering the crossed 'S' or run together 'A' and 'E' of Gutenberg lineage. But there you have it. A letterform which, in fewer than ten years, may be completely unrecognizable to anyone once they've left school. 

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