This is the final draft of our font, called Overgrowth. While it took lots of brainstorming, pivoting, and revising for the font to reach this state, we are very happy with how it turned out.
We designed this font for WPI's Society of Medieval Arts and Sciences, a medieval-themed group that hosts live-action role-playing sessions, events, and exhibitions around the WPI campus. They wanted a font that felt medieval but didn't resemble the traditional etched-in-stone scripted style commonly used to depict this period. They would use this font for social media posts and promotional flyers, which meant that it had to be legible and eye-catching from any distance.
We originally planned to draw our font on paper and eventually vectorize it in a graphic program like Figma or Adobe Illustrator; however, we found that drawing with digital ink using an iPad kept the hand-drawn, playful feel of a handwritten font while allowing much better control over sizing, stroke width, and fine detail. This way, we could also just upload the PDF straight to Calligraphr instead of taking a photo or scanning it, which would have introduced photo artifacts into our design.
With these constraints, we went to the drawing board and listed down some general guidelines to shape our font around. It was clear that SMAS wanted a marked font, or one that aimed to convey meaning through its letterforms, so we aimed to drive home the medieval look through just our letters and accents alone (Gutjahr). We agreed that the font should be cohesive in its design; each letter should have the same design elements, but said elements should manifest themselves slightly differently in each letter. The font should also be versatile in its usage as title or body text and legible from any distance. We also wanted to make sure that our design elements were unique and intricate up close, but would gradually fade into the background as the letters got smaller.
The first step was to solidify the general shape of our letters. We maintained legibility while making our letters unique by basing the letter's shape off of Arial, a simple sans-serif font with simple curves, standard x-heights, limited ascenders and descenders, and no extra elements, much like the design of Helvetica (Gutjahr, 12; Testwit). We then added flared serifs to each letter, giving it a slightly fancier but still playful look.
The basic design of D, traced over the Arial letter in light gray. Note the flattened sides and the flared serifs on the outside corners.
We were both drawn to the idea of solidified mana and shaped each letter to resemble a crystal, with each letter containing crystal growths, highlights, and light shimmers:
While this idea partly landed up close, it lost its meaning farther away, compounded by the fact that some of the finer detail was lost when the individual letters were converted to a font on Calligraphr. We didn’t have any ideas on how to improve this design, and as a result, we decided to pivot entirely.
Instead, we detailed each letter to look like it was being enveloped by thorny, leafy vines. These vines split and join back together, wrap around each letter’s body, and even leap across gaps and holes:
Despite the intricacy up close, the small stroke of the vines didn’t overpower the letter. As the letters get smaller (or farther away) the entangled vines gradually resemble cracks, a byproduct that was not intended but helps give the letters a more 'weathered' look. Although this was not in the original list of inspirations provided by the client, we believe that the imagery certainly invokes feelings of medieval castles and structures thanks to the iconic non-coded embellishments, and hope that the client likes it regardless (Barthes).
One of the main challenges of making this font was actually settling on an idea to flesh out. We had some fairly grand ideas on how to detail the font without adding unneeded complexity, but these ideas turned out to be too complex to reasonably pull off in the time we had to finish our first draft. It took settling on an idea that wasn't perfect and continuing to revise that idea in order to get anything down on the page. Next time, it would have been ideal if we immediately started on this step instead of dwelling on the specifics before anything was on paper.
Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image.” Image—Music—Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill & Wang, 1977, pp. 32-51.
Benton, Megan L. “Typography & Gender: Emasculating the Modern Book.” Illuminating Letters: Typography & Literary Interpretation. Edited by Paul C. Gutjahr & Megan L. Benton, U of Massachusetts P, 2001.
Gutjahr, Paul C., & Benton, Megan L. “Introduction: Reading the Invisible.” Illuminating Letters: Typography & Literary Interpretation. Edited by Paul C. Gutjahr & Megan L. Benton, U of Massachusetts P, 2001.
Hustwit, Gary. “Helvetica.” A Swiss Dots and Veer production. Plexifilm, 2007.back