Once a designer, always a designer

In retrospect, my type choices as a kid were terrible. I suppose I can't fault my six-year-old self for using Comic Sans since it's a kid typeface and I was a kid. What's striking about those choices, however, is that I made them at all—that I cared which typeface I used, considered hierarchy, or thought about design. In elementary school spent hours at our HP desktop designing my own "magazines" in Print Shop. In middle school I would retype worksheets, setting the questions in the same typeface that the teacher used, but putting my answers in a font that resembled handwriting.1 You know, for clarity.

I remember once arriving to school early the day of the presentation and asking my friend Elizabeth if her poster was set in Trebuchet MS (it was, but neither of us could pronounce it). For years we had this strange ritual of trying to identify each other's typefaces. Of course the only fonts either of us had at our disposal were those available in Windows, which made the guessing pool significantly smaller than it might be otherwise. Both of us downloaded free fonts from the web occasionally, but generally had the good sense not to use them for body text.

The two of us also had a kind of unspoken competition with the design of our homework, presentations or otherwise. If we had to turn in a collection of papers in a pocket folder, the label on the folder would be carefully typed, printed, cut out, centered, and glued with a colored paper border. The labels on each of the pockets would have to match, the color scheme had to be considered, and each of the pages of the assignment had to be in the same typeface.

My obsession with letterforms didn't stop at fonts, however. I also had a strange fascination with handwriting, and of course of all the people in the class, Elizabeth's handwriting was the best. I once spent an entire summer trying to perfect my handwriting, rewriting each character over and over until it came somewhat naturally. After that I would change certain characters whenever I saw a new version that I admired. There was another girl in our class who had classic middle school girl handwriting—loopy with a massive x-height—whom I would occasionally try to emulate. She used to write all of her R's as capitals, whether or not they were intended to be read that way. I sometimes did this, or changed my A's from one storey to two. Sometimes I'd make the letters wider and with a larger x-height or narrower with longer ascenders and descenders, depending which classmate I felt like paying homage to at the time.

The the most absurd part about changing my handwriting all the time is that I always had to make a deliberate decision about what I wanted each letter to look like. It was not left to my unconscious to scrounge up the remnants of whatever handwriting lessons I'd had in grade school, I thought about each character as I wrote it. Looking back, I'm not sure how I managed to take helpful notes while focusing on such minutiae—or why I thought it was worth it. But thinking about it now, I realize that my interest in type is not a passing phase, it has been ingrained in me since childhood. Somehow I find that both exceptionally bizarre and extraordinarily comforting.


1 This was often Bradley Hand ITC, which I suppose served its intended purpose, though I can't say I've touched it in years.