Carolyn Porter | Which is more difficult: Designing a font or writing a book?
On the surface, I see how the two projects might seem similiar: they are both creative pursuits, they both require lots of time sitting in front of a computer, they both require a certain amount of technical skill. And they both require tenacious commitment.
Typography, Font design, Marcel's Letters, Carolyn Porter, Marcel Heuzé, Writing craft, Author, Difficult, Marisa TenBrink
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So, which is more difficult: Designing a font or writing a book?

The question was posed as a curiosity, and I speculate the person who asked expected that after hemming and hawing for a polite amount of time, I’d provide some kind of easy, definitive answer.

On the surface, I see how the two projects could be seen as being similiar: they are both creative pursuits, they both require lots of time sitting in front of a computer, they both require a certain amount of technical skill. And they both require tenacious commitment.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Designing a font is akin to buying a plot of land in the middle of nowhere and building a house. By yourself (with the aid of YouTube videos and a User Guide*). Font designers do it all, often in isolation: they have the initial vision, they draw preliminary architectural concepts, then refine and revise the plan. Maybe they show someone else the blueprint, but often they don’t. They pour the foundation, then build the floors, then the walls, then the ceiling. If there is a problem, they might tear it all down and start again. Once the structure is in place, they tackle the wiring, then the plumbing (a.k.a., kerning and OpenType coding). The font designer installs the windows, shingles the roof, completes the masonry work, then paints the walls. Once it’s all done, they hang a picture or two.

Then the font designer moves out and lets someone else move into the home they lovingly built.

Writing a book is akin to buying a lot in a sub-development and working with a contractor to build the home. The home may be one of a thousand other homes being constructed at the same time, though each one is a bit different. The author has the initial vision and comes to the table with a plan and a direction. Perhaps an entire detailed, word-count-appropriate, adverb-less blueprint of each room and hallway and closet. Then a general contractor gets involved. A real estate agent, too, perhaps. Permits have to be pulled. The city inspector gets involved. Wiring, shingling, and plumbing might be done by subcontractors—or they will at least tell the author what needs to be revised. Once it’s all done, the author hangs a picture or two. If they are really lucky, the Parade of Homes might want to feature the home (for the cost of an ad, of course).

Then the author waits with their fingers crossed, hoping that a thousand people move into their home with them.

So which is more difficult: designing a font or writing a book?
It’s impossible to answer; the two are impossible to compare.

 

*Hat tip to font designer Marisa TenBrink for the addition of the YouTube videos and User Guide!

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