Took me 5 years to do this font

Calma Display sample

Firstly I am a graphic designer. One whose type design skills are almost entirely self-taught and honed in those precious hours between work and bed. I am dedicated to the process and craft of making beautiful and functional typography. As a result, what sleep I have is typically only sufficient enough to get me through the next working day.

Developing a font not only means drawing a beautiful group of letters,(that’s about 20% of the work) but also considering the metrics, diacritics, kerning, hinting let alone developing the visuals to promote the font. And after all of this, perhaps even making some money. In my case, it has been fairly nominal thus far, but that hasn’t stopped me believing in type and how type has shaped my ability to tackle work and personal problems.

It is a challenging process and one that demands a lot of energy, discipline, and patience. In this text I will guide you through my process of drawing letters, developing fonts and will end by sharing some tips for designers.

Ever since I attended an open calligraphy class at the University of Fine Arts in Lisbon led by Jorge dos Reis, calligraphy and lettering have always been a great influence on my work.

It’s been roughly 5 years since that class and ever since I have been practicing my calligraphic skills both on paper and on screen.

It is a tough process and one in which you need to invest a ludicrous amount of time to even begin to see satisfying results. Finding the right pens, finding the right stock and indeed uncovering the secrets of how best to trace letterings into beautiful vector shapes, are just some of the first things one needs to address.

Before I discovered calligraphy, I was already playing around with font development. Discovering the in’s and out’s of type can at first be very frustrating. Things such as defining the kerning and creating the right shapes in seemingly impossible letters. The challenge of the bumpy “S” (no pun intended) and inconsistent thickness, to name but a few.

“Stroke widths” by Ian Moore

And then you learn things like an optical illusion, and dive into the theory behind typography, its history, the legacy of masters such as Paul Renner, Tony Dispigna & Herb Lubalin and how many different voices a simple letterform can carry. And that’s why I kept and indeed keep going.

I could have done as most graphic designers would, and apply these ideas through brand guidelines, a logo or in motion graphics, but instead, I chose the painful path of kerning, hinting and OTF features.

“Film Classics” by Tony Dispigna

For my thesis, I challenged myself to develop an experimental font that aimed to question the Latin alphabet as we currently know it. To summarize: a font that didn’t carry a message, but a font that also serves as a tool for producing knowledge.

IVO font sample

Here’s what I wrote about it back then:

This typography project assumes that there is a graphic evolution associated to the Latin alphabet.
With this assumption, the Ivo typography breaks the common graphemes that compose the Latin alphabet, elevating it to a whole new level of graphic formulation. It is upon this logic that the reader has an opportunity to learn a new graphic language, based on a reading process that is associated to the Latin alphabet (regardless of the language used.)
Ivo Typography is an interpretation of the graphemes used in the Latin alphabet. Its aim is to focus on a good differentiation between letters and the building of a harmonious alphabet.
Ivo typography aims to look for failings and flaws in the field of Latin literature. It enforces the notion that typography serves not only to facilitate the reading of the text but also to question and educate the reader about the alphabet being used.

In case you want to have a look at my thesis I can happily share it with you. Portuguese only I’m afraid!

In the meantime, you can always download the font for free (you’re welcome).

If you want to be blown away by the power of context, just apply the 3 levels of IVO [Level 1 for the 1st paragraph, Level 2 for the 2nd paragraph and Level 3 for the 3rd paragraph], and you will see how you can read something that just feels so strange.

At this point, I still couldn’t summon the courage to attempt a calligraphic font. Instead, the complexities of it made me want to practice on different styles.

This began with a Sans Serif and collaboration with Bruno Rodrigues. Together we developed BIG.

BIG sample

BIG is an elegant condensed display font created for strong and impactful headlines. It comes from a series of hand printed specimens taken from a wood type that reassembles an industrial Victorian style. This font has great OpenType features, allowing the user to compose the headlines in two different heights with matching punctuation and symbols.

Following this first approach to create a commercial font, I had the OpenType calling and felt the need to explore the world of swashes and ligatures. That’s when I created Memória.

Memória Font sample

Memória font was a great exercise on a production level. The modular structure of the letter allowed me more time to explore the complexities of OTF features like swashes. It is great to look back on a font like this and remind myself (and everybody) about the importance of kerning…and why there are so many free fonts… like this one! Download the font for free.

After I had finished Memória and while we were producing BIG, I started to work on another, no less challenging project: my own brand.

Creating your own brand, as most designers will know is far harder than it looks. You really need to know who you are and be aware of your impression in the world. Sometimes you have words, thoughts or even movements that help to define that. Even still, it doesn’t feel like enough material to visualize yourself. But if it is ample material for a client why shouldn’t it be enough for yourself?

At this point, it was pretty obvious to me that I had to develop my own font. That way I didn’t need to rely on the idea of a specific style to define myself. When I look at my portfolio, I don’t really fit in one style. I like to explore different media and styles, albeit with one consistent thread: the use of typography.

And this is how Natalia was born. A font that wants to push things forward and break conventions without dismissing legibility.

I wanted to create a font suitable for text (mostly in digital platforms), not something to use in posters or headlines. I wanted people to see my work even when there are no images.

So if you’re thinking about using Helvetica again for your minimalist brand with bright colors, think again. It’s 2016; I implore you to stay away from it as there are many good people developing amazing fonts for you.

I played around with other experimental fonts, allowing me to explore numerous concepts quickly. First with PixelParty and then with Phuc.

PixelParty started with the question: Why does a pixel font need to be boring and monochrome? This is not the 1980s!

Phuc is a font inspired by the unquantifiable nuances of a design that makes it look so beautiful. Awkwardness, indecision, and incompatibility can ultimately turn out to be the main reason why something works so well.

It was great fun to develop this font and after developing a couple of masters, being able to look at a whole family.

You can also download Phuc for free (no pun intended).

These were “full-package” experimental fonts. I engaged in many experiments, chasing the right way in which to present these fonts, not only through the image but also video. After all, who doesn’t like to watch something moving?

Calma Display sample

Calma Display is the result of the endless love and research for letterforms allied with current technology that allows us to improve efficiency in repetitive tasks.

Thanks to the wonderful people at prototypo and glyphs app this font is available sooner than I could ever imagine. As in my opening statement, I’m not a full-time type designer or a freelance designer. I’m a full-time senior designer at K&P, and this project was only possible because of the endless late nights working on it and some downtime at the agency. If you’re driven and believe in creating something tangible that will make you smile, you will always find the time to do it. Just trust your gut feeling.

Calma Display sample

We live in an era where everything is moving too fast, and I truly feel that time is a luxury more often wasted.

No one gets bored; we pass the time staring at a screen or curating our feeds.

Calma (meaning calm) is pretty much the opposite. It encourages the need for a more relaxed approach to this fast paced world; to plan your action instead of just reacting to what’s happening.

To sit back, relax and allow boredom. To remove yourself from the mundane and supposedly ‘useful’ gadgets, apps, and productivity tips.

After 5 years of developing fonts, I invite you to breathe in… breathe out… and enjoy the peacefulness, mindfulness, and elegance of Calma Display. My first font is available through MyFonts.

Calma Display sample

Message to all the designers: Please inform yourself on OpenType features. I can’t believe the amount of time that I’ve shown someone how to use alternate characters and specially real small caps.

Type designers spend an insane amount of time taking care of features that will make your design look better saving yourself a crazy amount of time while making sure that the typography keeps its high standards. I know that Adobe has been trying to hide these beautiful features, but they are improving the UI in a way that you can’t avoid the alternative glyphs that the font you’re using may have.

“Why do we need more fonts?” I remember the first person that asked me this. When I looked at his work, it was more than apparent why he had asked such a question.

A font is closer to being a tool than to a piece of design, the same way that a Type Designer is closer to a Developer than to a Designer.

Technology is evolving at an extremely fast pace, and these tools need to keep up the speed. Could you use a Nokia 3310? Sure. But for some reason you use an iPhone. But that doesn’t mean that you would have a far better conversation on an iPhone than on a Nokia 3310.

Better tools allow you to do better work and the amazing thing about a great font is that in many projects, that’s all you need to deliver a great piece of design. Right now, we are entering a world of variable fonts, which is probably the future of typography.

Forget about hairline, light, regular, medium, bold, black. With a variable font, you’ll be able to choose the ideal stem width of the font you are using, depending on where you’re using it. Just have a look at the crazy Zeitung Flex that Underware recently released.

Also, in the same way, you know the difference between JPG and PNG, you should know the difference between .TTF and .OTF (not to mention others).

Nowadays, fonts have great potential that is more often not explored by designers. I bet there aren’t many design projects where you didn’t use type, so if you’re good at tracking down the ideal stock image for your project (and paying for it), you should do the same with type.

Here’s a list of where you can find great fonts and what to expect from them:
MyFonts: No need to introduce this one.
Fontshop: or this one.
Fontstand: An app that lets you rent fonts. Pay as much as €4/month for a high-quality font. The first hour is free!
Fontsquirrel: Free fonts, usually of good quality and it is a good site to get free weights of paid fonts and explore their potential in your designs.
Type Foundries Archive: Most Type Foundries are listed here. Many of those only sell their fonts through their websites.

About the infamous DaFont: No.

I think these links will give you a good start in your search for great fonts. There are many others like; You Work For Them, Hype For Type, Fontspring,, The Designers Foundry, etc. Just keep on looking.

If you made this far: Thank You!

And I would like to go back to 2009 to finish this article and explain the reason behind walking fearless and how it’s still relevant to me after 6 years:

There are so many ways to see through the lens.
Observing new realities, capturing an expected moment all create a parallel universe based on ours…
An open mind is an open source to do whatever you want. You only have to ensure that you are walking fearlessly. If someone stops you, please have in your mind that it is not your last stop, because no movement brings no action.
A life without action is akin to a lake of fears, unknowingly preventing you from reaching your utopia/horizon.
Being passive and only waiting for the right moment is the wrong way to live.
But this is just me…

I hope that this may have helped you better understand what and who’s behind the fonts you use and how much care and effort we put into them.

Throughout this article, you can find many links with relevant information that people have put effort into gathering up and sharing with the world. They were really helpful in my learning process, and I hope they can be helpful to you too.

I would like to send a big shout out to all of them: 
@Scannerlicker, Prototypo, @Glyphsapp, @YouWorkForThem, @MyFonts, Fontstand, @TypeFoundriesArchive, @TDFoundry, @Fontsquirrel, Underware, and all of the others typophiles that I’ve met throughout the years.

Also, to all the Portuguese type design community that in a way or another helped me and/or inspired me to pursue such a beautiful thing. 
Finally, a very special thank you to Andy Forshaw from What On Earth! books for helping me to make this text even more English friendly!

You can support my ongoing type journey buying my new font, Calma Display (with 30% off until December 31, 2016), through MyFonts, YouWorkForThem, Fontspring or HypeForType.

João Miranda is a Multidisciplinary Designer based in London,