25 July 2014

Typing with The Time Machine

My university library has a spectacular collection of rare books and manuscripts, and I have taken some time to visit and read through the original, hand written drafts of H.G. Wells manuscripts of The Time Machine. It was amazing for many reasons, particularly my personal love for sci fi and the chance to have a few thousandths of an inch of mylar between me and the origin of some of the greatest sci fi classics. Hundreds of handwritten pages, drafts with notes and cross outs.

Handwriting is becoming an obscure art. I've found sending handwritten thank you notes has become such a novelty that I almost always get a note (usually email) in response. I like the speed of typing, but I know I process information recorded by hand very differently, it's even been shown to have an impact on memory retention and how well you learn. I'm also curious if handwriting versus typing has changed the authorship process.

It has certainly changed engineering. Drafting writing used to be a required course. Some of my grandfather's notebooks have lettering that is as uniform as a typed font. Now, engineering handwriting is so bad, it's considered a joke. In grad school, I was desperate to avoid a teaching assistantship that would require me to grade anyone's handwritten homework. Now we type everything else, and the biggest concern is selecting a font that is both appropriate and will help reach a page requirement.

Fonts have an interesting history. I like the quick overview from Thinking with Type (pdf). I think they also have a book, but it has more design focus than I'm interested in. I'm particularly intrigued by the convergence between handwriting and fonts. After reading the H.G. Wells manuscripts, I started a project on that convergence. The library has digitized many of the manuscripts in the collection. I downloaded several of those, and used them to find all the letters in the alphabet.

It's very easy to make a font from your own handwriting using tools like MyScriptFont. After collecting all the letters, I loaded them into their pdf template, uploaded it to the website, and got a new font back.

Download the H.G. Wells handwriting font

If I were going to do it over, I would have optimized the letter placement so the tails were aligned and the font looked more like cursive script. It was also a challenge to have a consistent darkness of the letters, and I ended up having to recolor a number of them to make sure the entire font was readable.

If you are interested in the font, you can download the .otf file here.

If you need instructions on how to load an .otf so you can use it on your computer, check out these instructions.

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