Friday, October 24, 2014

Design notes: slashed characters ( < > # % $ )

From the various hairline characters and slashes we’ve designed, several more glyphs can be derived— ‘<’, ‘>’, ‘#’, ‘%’, ‘$’. These symbols, however, require slightly more artistic consideration, and their design varies much more among fonts than that of the hairline characters and slashes.

Greater than and less than symbols ( < > )

The greater than/less than symbols are chevron-shaped characters used in mathematics, computer programming, and occasionally as terminal punctuation, serving a purpose similar to ‘?’ and ‘!’.
Less than signs from various typefaces. The acute angled form is by far the most common.
Less than signs from various typefaces. The acute angled form is by far the most common.
The design of ‘<’ varies greatly among typefaces. There is no single angle prescription, like there is for ‘/’ or ‘v’. Most fonts compress the glyph vertically, rendering a shape that’s wider than it is tall (giving it an acute angle). Others arrange the arms at right angles, like Proforma does. Neither form is easier or harder to design than the other, nor is one form superior to another. The orthogonal form can be made from the ‘+’ glyph, its arms stretched to √2/2 times the x-height. The stretched form can be made from two rotated slashes, perhaps with beveling added to the vertex.
Some properties of the ‘<’, ‘>’, and ‘#’ symbols

Octothorpe (number/pound sign, hashtag) ( # )

The octothorpe, also known commonly as the hashtag, or less commonly, a “number sign” or “pound sign”, is a grid-like character which is usually paid little attention in type design. The octothorpe is smaller than the capital height, and centered within it. It is often, though not always, slightly oblique; less so than the slash though. The horizontal cross strokes may be made thicker than the vertical/oblique strokes. The four strokes should appear to visually delineate nine congruent spaces.

Percent sign ( % )

Of all the symbols in this post, the percent sign is probably the most commonly used in most prose. As the symbol evolved from from a vertical ligature of a dash and an ‘o’ (the ‘o’ later became duplicated, and the dash rotated sideways), the two loops of the character are very similar to the lowercase ‘o’.
The slope of the slash varies somewhat among typefaces. In some, it’s at the same angle as the slash, in others, it’s more horizontal. The two rings are letter ‘o’s shrunk to 80 percent their original size. The new bowl width, 80 percent of the original, is fine, though the hairline parts should be thickened to match that of the lowercase letters. Around the two loops and the slash should circumscribe a parallelogram whose upper and bottom edges are parallel to the baseline.

In a handful of typefaces, like New Caledonia, the percent sign is given a more script-like treatment, with the upper ring linked with the slash.
Linux Libertine, New Caledonia, and Century Schoolbook, among others, are typefaces with ligated percent signs.
Linux Libertine, New Caledonia, and Century Schoolbook, among others, are typefaces with ligated percent signs.

Peso sign (dollar sign) ( $ )

The peso sign, commonly known in the United States and Dominion countries (Australia, Canada, other former white British colonies) as the dollar sign, is similar to the percent sign in that it also evolved from a ligature. The peso sign was once written as a ‘ps’ ligature; the ‘p’ gradually came to be written over the ‘s’, becoming the ‘$’. A great deal of alternative theories exist, some of them plausible (a monogram of “United States”—with the ‘U’ superimposed on an ‘S’, or perhaps an abstract rendition of the Spanish Empire’s Pillars of Hercules), others pure libertarian crackpottery.
The ‘S’ in the peso sign is usually smaller (~90 percent) than a capital ‘S’, and it floats in between the baseline and capital line, usually closer to the baseline. The slash is very thin, thinner than the vertical bar. It overshoots the ‘S’ curve by about the width of the counters formed between the ‘S’ and the slash.

The peso/dollar sign is almost always rendered with a single vertical slash, though of course, two slashes is also acceptable. An incomprehensibly disproportionate amount of controversy surrounds the number of slashes on the symbol. For many Dominion-ers and Latin Americans, a second slash is apparently symbolic of American imperialism (idrk either), for others, the single slashed form is a covert attempt by the government to devalue the currency by taking it off the gold standard (ask your friendly local Tea Party nutjob). Some associate the double struck dollar sign with greed and capitalism, while the single slashed dollar represents currency in general.

The truth is, most typefaces render the peso with a single slash just because it’s easier to deal with, design wise. Two slashes tend to create a glyph that’s too dark, and can cause problems at small sizes and in bold weights. However some typefaces include both versions for countries like Brazil, where the dollar and the cifrão (Brazilian currency sign, always with two slashes) are distinct symbols.