Typeface update

Work on the Hands of Ruin typeface continues. I now have all the letters, but there’s more fine-tuning to do.


I’ve had plenty of help from a wonderful book: Designing Type by Karen Cheng. (There’s a nice review at The Designer’s Review of Books.) It’s a systematic comparison of the shapes of all the letters of the alphabet, in a variety of typefaces. It points out a number of frequent problems in the design of the letters, and how they’re solved in different faces.

From Cheng’s book I saw that there was a problem with the bottoms of a, d and u: the notch where the bowl connects to the stem at the bottom was rather small and unclear. I slightly thinned the bottom stroke and curved the stem into the serif to make it a little more pronounced. Also, did you know that the serifs at the top of the d and at the top of both stems of the u point to the left? Despite looking at typefaces for years, I didn’t know that.


You’ll notice that the stems on the current version of the typeface are heavier than they were originally. The typeface should be a bit on the heavy side for Hands of Ruin.

I also drew a couple of fs, eventually settling on the one with the tail. It adds a bit of a calligraphic swoosh, but without going to italics like I do with the current logotype.


There’s more work to do, though. It’s occurred to me that the serifs are thinner than the horizontal strokes, as if they don’t have any relationship to each other. I’ve been looking at other typefaces, and while there are a few that have thinner serifs than strokes, they’re pretty rare and it’s usually a very deliberate effect. I think I’d prefer to make mine match.

The spacing is still rather messy. I was hacking the sidebearings (the spaces at the sides of the letters) in an ad hoc manner, but really I should follow the recommendations of actual designers and do it systematically.

It’s strange that I find it easier to show a typeface in progress than music. With music, I want to polish everything before I present it. I suppose that, for whatever reason, the flaws in a piece of music feel much more like personal failings than the flaws in a typeface.

All in all, it’s been an easier process than I expected. Though I imagine that tackling a whole alphabet in upper- and lower-case, plus numbers and punctuation, is a more arduous process, and that the number of possible interactions that you have to think about when any text could be written is vastly more daunting.

The Hands of Ruin typeface

Hands of Ruin is branching out into a new direction: typography.

Well, not exactly, but I’ve started work on a typeface which will have just ten letters in it: a, d, f, H, i, n, o, R, s and u, which will be just enough to write “Hands of Ruin”.

I’ve always enjoyed the visual side of Hands of Ruin: designing the website, album covers, and so on, and I’m proud in particular of the HR monogram. Even so, designing a typeface (even one that contains only ten letters) is a challenging undertaking, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have something specific to gain from it. In this case, I’m considering it a practice run for designing a full typeface. Entirely unrelated to my music, I’ve been thinking for a while about a typeface that combines the square-ish letterforms of Eurostile with the extreme weight contrasts of the Didones. It seems to me that I should get started with it soon. But I know that it’s going to be a serious and challenging project, and I want to first get some familiarity with font editing software and with the whole design process on a smaller, less intimidating project. In the same way that starting with a 13 minute silent film was my first step into writing soundtracks, a ten-letter typeface is my first step into type design.


Until now, the Hands of Ruin logotype has been written in Gentium. The monogram is also based on Gentium’s H and R. I like Gentium, but while I was thinking about the bigger typeface project, I had the idea for something heavy with an emphasis on straight diagonal lines, which seemed perfect for Hands of Ruin. In my imagination, it is something that you might see on an early 20th century grave or on a First World War memorial, though I don’t know of anything that actually looks like this. (What I mostly see looking at those memorials is that they tended to use all-caps or small-caps, so it’s hard to find anything with lowercase letters.)

The question of serif or sans serif is a tricky one. On the one hand, I feel like the shape of the letters makes more sense in a sans serif style. On the other, I’d like to use the H and R for a new version of the monogram, and I fear that will be too plain without serifs.


I’ve been using Glyphs for the actual font editing, which seems like a great bit of software. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the interface, and some of the features, such as being able to split outlines at their intersections, are particularly clever and useful.

So far, I have early versions of the letters to write “Hand”. The sequence so far has been H, n, d and a. With each letter I design I’m trying to do something that will tell me more about the design, but also be a small enough chunk to be manageable. I think the next letter will be s, which I know will be tricky, but I’m very curious to see how the diagonal will work in the middle of the letter. Then I’ll move on to R and f. I’m hoping that o, u and i will be relatively straightforward once I’ve got to that point. If I were designing a full typeface then there would be a lot more to consider: kerning, and possibly hinting, for example. But that’s a good reason to start small, like this.