Originality of type design: Where does inspiration become copying?

Pixion's picture

Hi,

As Thomas Phinney mentioned somewhere else on this forum, a lot of typefaces look very similar (~95% similarity).

I am working on a design in which I take inspiration from a couple of existing fonts. After doing a "What the font" search on myfonts.com (with my design), it comes up with the inspirational font listed as nr. 1...

Do I need to start worrying on originality / distinctiveness? Did I take too much inspiration, or is the search engine looking for gross indicators (x-height, as/descenders, sidebearing etc.)?

I know you all take originality very serious, so I wonder what opinions are out there.

Sebastian

Choz Cunningham's picture

Worry, but not a lot. If you are making someone else's design over again, it will be glaringly apparent pretty much instantly, so you probably don't have to contemplate it too long.

Bearing that in mind, if you find it is too similar, think about why, more than the specifics of what. If you still want it feel inspired, borrow more from the other font. If you wont it to be more your own look, make up a bunch of silly or weird vatiants, like doodles. Go on to another task for a bit. Then, borrow some from the best of your own brainstorm.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
http://www.exclamachine.com

k.l.'s picture

[Since I don't know to which typeface you are referring, this is about the notion of 'inspiration' in general, not about particular typefaces.]

What do you mean by 'inspiration'? Whenever you look too close at a some typeface when working on your own, this may result in something more than just 'inspired-by'.  :)

Personally, I am not fond of typefaces that want to look as if they were made by Underware or OurType (the way they deal with curves, stem ends and serifs) or, a few years ago, by sanserifs that wanted to be another Thesis (either being a bombastic family of the same genre, or imitating the special way of handling shoulder-to-stem connections: italic construction in an upright type, at worst without even understanding what is so special about the imitated one).
In general, there's nothing worse than drawing 'inspiration' from too recent typefaces -- this is plain 'me too' and waste of time.

On the other hand, it seems only natural that at a particular period of time, very similar typefaces emerge. So after a period of neat and round typefaces in the eighties, designers felt a need for doing rather dark and rough typefaces. It may even happen that around the same time, two or more designers draw inspiration from similar or same historic typefaces. Sometimes some things are in the air.
And sometimes it can be a funny game to 'compete' with a collegue. Say, both address a special problem by applying a similar solution, and see who will achieve the better result. But this implies that each must follow his/her own design style (mere copying/imitating outlines and tweaking a bit here and there is not allowed), and most of all, it requires a good portion of friendship and open-minded-ness and humor.

Karsten

dezcom's picture

I am not sure if you are talking about a revival or not. If not, I think it is a case of "in your heart, you will know" kind of thing. If you are trying to make a "me too" font, you know when you have gotten too close. It may be better to just start drawing type without looking for inspiration from type that is already out there. Something must have prompted you to get into designing type to begin with. I can't imagine it was purposely copying something already done. You probably have a personal vision of what a typeface could be from your perspective. As Goudy once said, "just draw a line around that vision."

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

You might also take a look at this recent thread on "Retro=Stealing" for some thoughts.

http://typophile.com/node/28536

ChrisL

Miss Tiffany's picture

... and read the linked to article by John Downer. :^)

dezcom's picture

Yes! Read that for sure!

ChrisL

AzizMostafa's picture

Copywrong © 2020. Go Ahead.
It is not not only expected but encouraged!
Neverthelss, you should seek professional counselling?!

Goran Soderstrom's picture

I dont think you have to worry, I mean – just look at how many interpretations of Meta that has been designed since it came out ;-)

William Berkson's picture

As a practical matter, you should draw it from scratch. If you bring an existing typeface into FontLab or Fontographer and start messing with it to create something new, the chances of your being imitative in a bad or even illegal way are far higher.

If you start from scratch, even if inspired by existing typefaces--and everyone is--the chances are that substantially more of you will go into it, for better or worse, but at least for a difference.

Pixion's picture

Hi,

Thanks for your insight. I read the post and article Chris and Miss Tiffany refer to.

Maybe it helps to be more specific. Here the design I am working on:

And here Quadraat (FF, Fred Smeijers).

Sebastian

MHSmith's picture

Sorry, but the thought that springs to mind at first sight of your font is: Quadraat — but not quite itself today. Obviously, the better the model, the more difficult it is to depart from it.

dezcom's picture

I wonder what your intension was with this redrawing Sebastian?
Mr. Smith's comment was a well crafted piece of commentary, I must say.

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

Well, Mr Smith has edited it :-)

ChrisL

William Berkson's picture

By the way, Fred Smeijers himself writes very interestingly on the issue of originality in type design. It is in his book Type Now. He says that good revivals (such as his own Renard) have "much to do with respect and understanding and revivals require a great deal of skill."
He goes on to comment acidly that some of his colleagues who denigrate revivals seem also to 'revive' Quadraat italic themselves! After reading this, I'm afraid that you'll want to go back to the drawing board.

Pixion's picture

Chris,

I didn't have any particular intentions other than learning. I am trying to get a better understanding where boundaries lie.

I can see that there are quite some familiarities (proportions, stress, bowl shapes, long arced f, flaring stems), but when looking at the many fonts out there, you sometimes have to zoom in very close to figure out the differences.

On the other hand, aren't there also quite some differences: g,k,j,s,u,v,w,y,x. Or are these differences considered too small to render the font distinguishing enough?

Again, I am an enthousisatic hobbyist who is trying to learn the art. I see where people are coming from and will take that to heart!

Sebastian

Choz Cunningham's picture

Your face has it differences, in particular the j and the x are very endearing. On the other hand, the e looks different, but not 'better', per se. I think, if I felt it was close enough to first even ask, then I'd look at the most common letters and letter pairs, and ponder how I could mmake them the most distinct components.

If it was my project, I'd do something with one aspect that was consistently different, like a particular serif location, across all the letters. But, then, I might make the g look really weird for the heck of it, too. Flipping through fonts it amazing how little people play with baby g.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
http://www.exclamachine.com

Linda Cunningham's picture

This topic has surfaced in a massive number of lists and groups, and, I suspect, will for years to come.

The questions you have to ask about what makes what you're doing "different" should include what the "changes" you are making to something that already exists.

The standard Roman alphabet has the requisite numbers and letters (upper- and lower-case), standardized symbols, the generally accepted alternates (accents, etc.) and whatever other languages you want to do, which leaves a lot of room for move around.

As most others have pointed out, it's an extremely fine line to walk: in my "spare" time, I create art in a very different medium, and we're always picking nits about what is "original" and what isn't. And in that field, have considerably fewer basics to build on....

Linda

Pixion's picture

Choz,

Thanks for those pointers. I will take a step back and give it a spin. For me learning is the objective and to come up with a better design than 'the master' would be a couple of bridges too far.

Linda,

You mention you create art in a very different medium, with even fewer basisc to build on. For a newcomer in the field of type design, wanting to try to design a readable, 'classy' text face, on first sight the basics to build on seem to be pretty limited as well. I guess it will take time and experience before one can see beyond these basic limitations.

Sebastian

dezcom's picture

"I didn’t have any particular intentions other than learning"

The best way to learn is to jump in and do battle with it, make the struggle your own and see what you learn from it. What I mean is, start with a clean slate and design a set of glyphs from scratch. You will, by seeing your frustrating errors, figure out what all the many variables are and make a leap from there. If you have a typeface inside of you, let it out. Giving birth to a typeface involves a justation period and labor pains, yes, but don't fear it.

ChrisL

MHSmith's picture

Sebastian, I just wondered, looking at the x and a few other things: was Dolly among your inspirational fonts? You seem to like Dutch type. So do I (and I think we're not the only ones).

Choz has a point about the potential of lowercase g. Because it's the letter with the most complex history, which has made it most different from its uppercase counterpart, and, in its present state, because it has practically no part in common with any other letter. John Baskerville and Fred Goudy made the best of this - and Pierre Didot jumped to amusing conclusions about how g really ought to be (see JFPorchez' late-Didot revivals).

Pixion's picture

MHSmith,

No, Dolly was not amongst the inspirational fonts. But what a co-incidence! I was just listening to Typeradio's interviews with Smeijers, and when browsing the Underware site, downloaded Dolly's specimen. When looking at it, I see where you are coming from re. the design I am working on. I also see strong influences of Quadraat on Dolly (o, c, e etc.).

As a matter of fact I am Dutch, but that is not the reason why I like Dutch designs..

Do you think I am also getting too close to Dolly?

Sebastian

MHSmith's picture

You're certainly right about Quadraat as part of the background of Dolly, but Dolly has a lovely lively character of its own, and quite uncommon serifs. I don't think you could possibly be too close to both at the same time.

Christopher Slye's picture

Whenever this subject comes up, I always think of art students who set up their easel in a museum and paint a copy of some great master's work. (Not like they let you do that in museums any more!) I think it's one of the best ways to learn.

With type, I see nothing wrong with trying to create some version of Times Roman for yourself, with some changes that you think make it better for you. Such work, though, should remain forever in your desk drawer. In any case, it's probably not the kind of thing you want to try to profit from.

It strikes me as pretty common for a designer to find that something he is making turns out to look a lot like something else. If one designs a typeface and finds out later that it resembles something else, then it comes down to just how similar it is, and the designer's intentions. If the similarity was unintentional, then I think there is a lot of leeway -- and that's where we depend on everyone being ethical and considerate. After all, there are a lot of typefaces out there which are similar to others. A lot of applied design, from automobiles to architecture, has always had the same problem. When one designs something that really works well, one will find that others will model their own work on it. I think designers need to have thicker skins about it -- and I certainly think every designer has to do their part by not being evil.

ATF's picture

I think there the design is too similar to Quadraat. There's noting wrong with that–so long as it's original work–but surely a designer is better off to try create his/her own 'voice'? For example, here's a sample of Halvorsen, my new Opentype family http://www.atf.com.au/font.asp?Font_ID=89 and I will gladly state here it's been inspired by the Dutch and germans sans families such as Meta and Fedra. But it's not similar, it's come out of my own head. My admiration of other faces definitely colours the design, but so does everything we see in any given day. It's just a matter of being inspired by, rather than trying to emulate.

My 2 cents worth.

Wayne, Australian Type Foundry (new arrival)

Paul Cutler's picture

I don't know if this is original but I think it's dangerous to look to your peers for inspiration. There are so many other opportunities…

peace

Choz Cunningham's picture

I found Didot's stuff here: http://www.optimo.ch/pages/departement/index.php?id_categorie=1&id_font=9

Typographica refers to it being limited in current application for being quite faithful to Pierre's original. That's sad, because it looks ahead of our times, in some ways. Bookmarked for now. The 'g' is only on of many nuances to contemplate later.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
http://www.exclamachine.com

Pixion's picture

Paul,

I think that looking around in the world happens (and should happen) in all areas of art and technology. That's why 'movements' develop; new concepts / insights / viewpoints pick up momentum and make an area of art move forward (->movement) or create technical breakthroughs.

I don't consider myself a peer of Smeijers (that would be way too much honor!), I consider myself that student that makes sketches in a museum as Christopher mentioned earlier.

Sebastian

MHSmith's picture

True, I should have mentioned François Rappo's Pierre Didot revival too. Did he do it before JF Porchez? I seem to remember he did, but haven't checked. (My point was only about the funky g, but those Didots really are extraordinary faces altogether.)
The next bold move on the g was by Renner of course, with Futura. Both with the deconstructed roman g now to be seen in Architype Renner, and with the plain open-tail g, a marvellous simplification of the cursive handwritten g, which up to then had only been used for italics. So obvious that we hardly notice how new it was then. (Or does someone now of an earlier open g in a sanserif?) And the same goes for his round a. Sorry, I feel I'm drifting away from the point of this thread. But if you want originality, Futura was original for sure!

Choz Cunningham's picture

We could start another thead discussing the intricacies of letterforms? I think the way that italics, display, and other designs influence the mainstream standard are fascinating.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
http://www.exclamachine.com

crossgrove's picture

Sebastian,

Consider what different lessons you can learn from developing sketches, digitizing outlines, spacing, adjusting and refining a keyword without any references. The model of Quadraat, or Palatino, or any existing design can be instructive, but only by telling you how one person did one design. In doing all the work yourself, you don't refer to their decisions, you make your own, and while it's not as easy, it's much likelier to teach you meaningful things about proportion, spacing, serifs, etc.

Another design can be very inspirational and instructive without being used as a crutch.

Paul Cutler's picture

Pixion -

I don't like movements. Ultimately they are counter productive. This font was designed in 2000, so in a way you are peers.

It's much easier for me to frame creativity with music since that is my passion. When Motley Crue made it, suddenly there were thousands of hair bands. The same was true when Nirvana broke through, thousands of "alternative" rock bands. Alternative to what? Now there's thousands of "punk" bands. Punker than what?

I think it's good to be grounded in the history of your craft/art (whatever you want to call it) and leave it at that. I don't have to hear what's going on now to create music, as a matter of fact it's a hindrance, it leads to repetitive ideas. For me that's the downfall of movements.

At a certain point in a career it's time to stop being a fan and start playing. That happened to me in my mid 20s. I am not a fan of music, except playing it. And when I do listen, it's certainly not to anything remotely resembling what I am trying to do.

I'm a LAlien. We tend to isolate.

Best of Luck!

peace

Pixion's picture

Carl,

Thanks for the advice. Its exactly what I have been doing over the weekend (after some navelstaring from reading all the posts in the thread...).

I also have the feeling that Quadraat with all its 'flourishing quirkyness' is very rich and complex and difficult to be 'understood' and grasped by a novice, so a fresh start is the best for more than one reason.

Sebastian

(P.S. hope you had a good celebration sunday with your new release!)

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