## Wednesday, September 08, 2010

### [cihrijcb] Letter design

Let's design some writing alphabets.

Under the hypothesis that people scan text not by looking at letterforms but by recognizing words by their pattern of ascenders and descenders, we start with the most basic alphabet.

Every letter has a mid section, an optional ascender, and optional descender, so is simply a vertical bar of varying height and altitude.  There are 4 possible characters.  Maybe throw in a serif somewhere to distinguish the baseline.

Next, assume people also see blobs of density for each of the 3 sections.  The ascenders and descenders may be not present, present but low density, present and high density.  The midsection must be present.  There are 3*2*3=18 characters.  The high density may be a horizontal crossbar across the vertical bar.

At this point, we notice that all characters consist have a vertical bar, and we hypothesize that people scan text and recognize words by also noticing the tracking or spacing or frequency of characters in words, made obvious by the vertical bar in each letter.  We already have variable width characters (no high density is thin), but now we play with where the vertical bar is within each character.

Instead of a crossbar, let's have a triangular flag hanging off high density sections, like a pennant on a flagpole. (The thin point of the flag helps denote which character the flag is connected to, which could be mistaken if rectangular.)  Any character with a flag can have all flags hanging to the left, or the right.  There are 18*2-4=32 possible characters (subtracting off double counting characters with no flags).

Kerning, if you accept it to be a good idea, is now possible.  For example, a character with right flags on the ascender and descender fits into a subsequent character with only a left flag on the midsection.

The triangular flags are vaguely reminiscent of cuneiform.

This is as far as I believe is reasonable to go, but we can go further.

Instead of forcing all flags on a character to point in the same direction, we can control the direction independently for each section.  This gives 4*3*4=48 characters.

We can allow descenders to be not present, no flag, left flag, right flag, and both flags.  Total 5*4*5=100 characters.

Someday I will get around to illustrating these.