The University of Georgia, Lamar Dodd School of Art, Athens, Georgia  
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Project. Typeface Analysis

Purpose. To gain a deeper understanding of the nature of letterforms by closely scrutinizing their design structure.

Assignment. This project is given to a class in advanced typography and involves the design analysis of typefaces. The project can be purely typographic or may include images, photographs, diagrams, etc. Any of the following approaches may be taken:

1. A structural analysis of a serif or sanserif typeface.

2. An analytical comparison between a serif and sans serif type face of the same family, e.g., Stone, Lucida, Scala, or Legacy.

3. The structural difference between two weights of a given typeface, e.g., Univers.

4. An analytical comparison between two typefaces which might appear to the layman as being identical in style, e.g., Helvetica and Univers, Akzidenz Grotesk or Arial; Adobe Garamond and Sabon; Palatino and Aldus. It would not be helpful to try to compare typefaces which are stylistically quite different from one another.

5. A structural comparison between certain typefaces by one designer. For example, certain typefaces of Adrian Frutiger, Hermann Zapf or Eric Gill have some interesting family resemblances.

Some structural and comparative considerations:
The shape of the serifs and other terminals: What is their essential structure and are they perfectly symmetrical or absolutely identical between similar instances. Are they bracketed slightly or not at all? 

• Comparisons between letters—or figures—having similar forms: h m n u; b d p q; A V Y v y W w; C O Q; E F L B P; 3 8 5.

• The relationship between the h m n u counters to those of the b d p q and o; the counter of the m is almost always a bit smaller than those of the h m n u, and those of the b d p q wider.

• The proportional relationship between thick and thin strokes and between the thickness of the cap strokes and those of the lower case and figures.

• The relationship between the counters and angles of v y w and V W X Y.

• Comparison between the D O, C O and G O; between B P R and between the O o and zero

• Comparison of the O o to a perfect circle, to demonstrate asymmetry or deviance from a perfect circle, if the O o in the particular typeface appears close to being circular.

• Compare the overall widths of the H N U O, and the E to F.

• Compare the top and bottom counters of letters like E B S H or 8. The top stroke of the E is almost always shorter than that on the bottom, and the center stroke shorter than the one on top.  

• Illustrate how the curved parts of many characters go below baselines, x-heights or cap heights.

• What is the relationship between between the typeface cap height, x-height, ascender and descender? Are the figures the same height as the caps or slightly smaller? In Helvetica, for example the figures are about 90% the height of the caps. 

• Numbers are usually monospaced, meaning they are designed so that their overall widths are identical, allowing for tabular setting. Demonstrate these relationships.

• Are the strokes of characters perfectly straight or are they subtly curved, as in Optima or Eras?

• Show to what degree the diagonal strokes of characters, particularly in bold sans serif, are tapered in order to make them optically of equal thickness.

Format. Optional. Eight page booklet, a foldout, a series of double page spreads, or a large poster in any size.

Time. Three weeks.


Ronald Arnholm is Professor of Art at The University of Georgia Lamar School of Art in Athens, where he has taught classes in typography, advanced typography and color theory since 1963. He received his BFA in graphic design from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1961, studying with Malcolm Grear, Norman Ives, George Pappas and Alexander Nesbitt. In 1963 he received his MFA in graphic design from Yale, where he studied with Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson, Herbert Matter, and Alvin Eisenman, and received a Composing Room Award for Typographic Excellence. In 1965 he was awarded a prize in the National Typeface Competition, sponsored by the Visual Graphics Corporation.

Professor Arnholm is the designer of numerous typefaces, including ITC Legacy Sans and Serif, VGC Aquarius, VGC Fovea, WTC Veritas, and the headline and classified section typefaces for the Los Angeles Times.
He has received an Award of Distinctive Merit from the Art Directors Club of New York, a Certificate of Merit from the International Center for the Typographic Arts, and the Albert Christ-Janer Award for Creative Research from the University of Georgia Foundation. 

Professor Arnholm continues research into a vocabulary and syntax for use in creating, seeking and envisioning visual structure.

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Ronald Arnholm