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Subject: Re: propos de l'optimorphe [long]
From: "Hrant H. Papazian" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:TYPO-L Discussion of Type and Typographic Design <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 15 May 1998 09:41:11 -0700

text/plain (60 lines)

Charles Wahl wrote:
> I'd say that a tee without a crossbar would most likely be
> mistaken for something else, but where the middle stem of
> lowercase em ends is not really that important.

You're right that the level of strictness that I'm proposing
for optimorphism is something qualitatively new in type design,
and might be considered suspect.

The reason I find it necessary, however, is that the *nature*
of optimorphism as I see it entails the adoption of many
subtle modifications to the traditional alphabet. It's important
to state that the optimorphic alphabet is derived directly from
the traditional one, and many of the modifications could
simply fade away if they're not formalized.

For example, if we don't formally state that the "m"'s middle
stem should not reach the baseline, a type designer could
very well ignore that, and the "m" would come close to the "h",
among other letters. This counters the basic premise.

The raison-d'etre for these subtle modifcations rests on the
belief that our high-speed reading mechanism can benefit
from greater differentiation between letterforms, as well
as -probably to a lesser extent- greater adherance of each
letter to the visual "rules" of the alphabet, like the
existence of the baseline.

Why do these modifications *have* to be subtle? Why don't
we start from scratch and design a *really* optimorphic
alphabet? Because such a puritanical approach is doomed
to end up simply as an exercise, with no real hope of
adoption by readers.

My view of optimorphism is, first and foremost, a very
*practical* one.

It's also important to note that optimorphism is intended
solely for typography that had to deal with speed, for
example books and highway signs.

> when some supposed authority attempts to legislate rules which
> readers at large don't wish to conform to, they simply ignore them.

The good news is that the reader doesn't actively need to do
anything. It's the type designers' concern, which is what makes
optimorphism viable.

This is because the letters of the optimorphic alphabet are
designed to maintain as much of the original essence of the
traditional letters as possible. So, although a reader would
certainly need an open mind to start reading text set in an
optimorphic font, she does not need to actively learn anything.
This is a key concept.

Making such an alphabet certainly entails a tricky and even
subjective balance between maintaining essence and
increasing differentiation.

hrant h papazian

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