Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's hip to be Squarial

Kaleidoscope is a non-profit making organisation that researches vintage British television. Their publications are essential reading for anyone seriously interested in British television history. It also holds regular fund-raising events for the RNLI, where rare archive gems are screened and auctions of memorabilia are held.

I've done various graphic items for Kaleidoscope events in the past thanks to my friendship with the multi-talented Rory Clark. Rory recovers many of the domestic videotape recordings that Kaleidoscope discovers, and also compiles the videos and documentaries that are shown at their fund-raising events.

A bit of my past Kaleidoscope work

The last Kaleidoscope event was held jointly with the British Film Institute at NFT1 at the BFI Southbank, London on January 9th. Part of the event was a showcase of recently recovered programmes from the ill-fated BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting) service. Two of the main programme providers for BSB were Noel Gay TV and John Gau Productions. Sadly, nearly all of their programmes for BSB were junked. However Kaleidoscope has been busy helping track down domestic video recordings of lost BSB programmes to return them to the archives.

BSB corporate identity

Rory asked if I would like to contribute some graphics to help him out with the BSB segment, and I was delighted to be asked. The corporate look for BSB was designed by Martin Lambie-Nairn, and I think it was very nice indeed.

One of the key parts of the BSB corporate identity was a specially designed typeface. My first impression was that it looked similar to Albertus and Friz Quadrata. On looking at printed examples of the face, I decided it was an adaptation of the typeface Friz Quadrata, but I could not find a perfect match for in digital form. Therefore I decided it might be nice to make one.

To do this, I thought I'd go my usual route: I'd create glyphs in SVG format in the free software vector graphics package Inkscape, then I'd import my glyphs into the free software font design program FontForge 2.0 to create a truetype font file.

The first thing I did was think up a name - Squarial, which is a pun on the name of the Arial typeface and also the name of the distinctive square dish that you needed to receive BSB programmes.

The easy part being done, I then set to work. The first letter I looked at was the letter B. There were various differences I could see between this B and the B in Friz Quadrata. It was lighter, it had no flared serif at the base, the top loop was larger and there was an angled cut between the main vertical stem and the halfway line of the B.

Click to enlarge

The next letter I wanted to look at was the R, as this was another key letter to get right. As you can see, it is almost Agfa Rotis Semi Serif in appearance.

The other two letters I wanted to do were the S and the G. Once I'd got these right, I could use them as the basis for the rest of the alphabet.

I had to guess how some of the upper case glyphs would look, as I had no printed example, so I used the shapes found in Friz Quadrata as a base and modified them to match the letters I did have.

Click to enlarge

I've included some of my "guesses" above - hopefully they make some kind of coherent face when used with the other glyphs. Incidentally, I drew all the vector shapes in Squarial from scratch in Inkscape - the vector information in the truetype versions of Friz Quadrata I had was too messy and irregular to be of any use.

Due to the contraints of time, I didn't want to create lower case glyphs for the Squarial face, but I did want to add a small range of punctuation and some numerals so that Rory could use the finished font to caption the various clips that would be shown at the Kaleidoscope event.

One thing I thought would be nice would be to include Squarial-style squares as the points in the punctation. You can see some examples below.

Click to enlarge

Once the punctation was done I had a set of individual glyph .svg files all ready to import into FontForge.

The glyphs imported into FontForge with no problems at all. One of the things that saved me a lot of time when designing this font was keeping all of my B├ęzier control points on integer co-ordinates in Inkscape. I am now also much better at knowing where to put the control points so that FontForge will not need to add additional ones.

Sterling glyph in FontForge 2.0

And, after spending some hours kerning glyph pairs, I had a finished truetype font.

The finished font

The finished font, Squarial, is licensed under the SIL Open Font Licence (OFL) 1.1 and is available to download from here. Microsoft Windows users may need to use the free software tool 7-Zip to unpack the .tar.gz file.

The music accompanying the Kaleidoscope ident in this post is an excerpt from "The Iceman Cometh" from the album Grim by Maestoso. You can get hold of a copy on the Maestoso compilation "Uneasy Listening" which is available here.

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