How to design your own script

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How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Fri 20 Feb 2015, 15:53

I have given some advice on con-scripting in the past in various threads, but I think it would be nice to assemble everything in one easily-accessible place and go into greater detail on all the points that I think are important. So, without further ado, here is my list of suggestions for designing a constructed script.

Step 1: Choose a direction

Scripts can be written in a number of directions. The reason it's important to choose a direction early on is because it can affect the shape of your glyphs and how they interact with each other.

The most basic directions are:
left-to-right, top-to-bottom
The majority of world scripts are written in this direction. The Roman alphabet follows this direction.

right-to-left, top-to-bottom
This is common in middle-eastern scripts such as Arabic and Hebrew, and many ancient scripts associated with that area.

top-to-bottom, right-to-left
This is the traditional writing direction for East Asian languages, though nowadays, left-to-right, top-to-bottom is also very commonly used.

top-to-bottom, left-to-right
This is used for some scripts, such as Mongolian.

bottom-to-top
This is extremely uncommon, but there are existing real-world scripts that were written vertically. Both left-to-right and right-to-left examples exist.

If you are starting out, I recommend picking something basic from the above list. However, there are more complex directions as well, though they are all variations of the above basic forms. They include:

(Partially) diagonal horizontal
The Nastaliq form of Arabic script, which is the standard form of writing Urdu, is I think unique in the world by being written in occasionally overlapping diagonals. The letters are connected to each other in a string that moves gradually downward, and when a new word is started, the beginning of the word often appears above the ending of the previous word in order to fill up space and make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Boustrophedon
This is when lines of text are alternately written left-to-right and then right-to-left. This may be accompanied by a 180° rotation of the glyphs, a result of the writing surface having been rotated in the scribe's hands. For obvious reasons, no modern scripts are written this way, but if you are creating an ancient script, it could be an option.

Mixed directionality
Some scripts are written in more than one direction at the same time. For example, Many (but by no means all) Mayan inscriptions were written left to right, but only in pairs; after two glyphs, a new line is started below the previous one, leading to columns two glyphs wide.

Image

Sumerian Cuneiform was similarly written with mixed directionality. Phrases or sentences were written horizontally left-to-right within cells, but the cells were arranged vertically.

Variable directionality
Many scripts could be written in more than one direction. Ancient Egyptian was variably written in all sorts of directions, while Modern Chinese and Japanese are frequently written both horizontally left-to-right and vertically right-to-left.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Fri 20 Feb 2015, 15:53

Step 2: Choose your aesthetic

In this step, you will consider the aesthetic of your script. To understand just what this means, let's look at an example. Take a look at this sample script I have just designed:

Image

You will note that it really sucks. But why? If you are designing something you want to be visually pleasing, it's not enough to know that it sucks, but to know why it sucks. The reason this script is so bad is because it lacks any sort of guiding aesthetic. Each letter appears as though it was designed independently, without any reference to the other glyphs. There is no consistency from glyph to glyph, and as a result, when they are arranged together in a line of text, they clash, and just look like a collection of random shapes.

So how can we resolve this problem?

There is no one way to resolve it, because it is a creative endeavour. You will need to come up with your design aesthetic on your own. However, there are concrete suggestions I can give to help you in your decision.

1. Decide which strokes appear frequently
Looking carefully as just about any modern script will reveal that they each have certain shapes or lines or angles that appear quite frequently. Some examples:

The majority of Latin lower case letters are built either out of vertical lines, circles (or portions of circles), or a combination of the two. Six letters also incorporate diagonals. You will note that while the exact angles of the diagonals differ slightly, they are as close as possible to 45° while maintining an aesthetically pleasing form.

Georgian is similar, but different. It also incorporates circles and vertical lines, but it has fewer vertical lines, and many more c-shaped semi-circles.

Almost all Oriya letters have rounded tops. There are also a lot of circles, "n" shapes, and angled or very short straight lines

Most Thai letters have a small circle or two attached to them somewhere. Also, every single letter has at least one straight vertical line in it, and most have two. Also, similar to Oriya, the majority of them have rounded tops.

Arabic has many large cup shapes, many small vertical hooks, and of course, lots of dots.

Chinese has many straight vertical and horizontal lines, as well as gently-curving diagonals.

Glagolitic has circles and triangles everywhere. Yet, oddly enough, there is no letter that is just O or Δ.

Even something like Egyptian hieroglyphics reveals common patterns. looking closely at a lot of signs will reveals many curves, including many S curves, that gradually become wider and more open or flat on one side, sort of like part of a Fibbonacci spiral.

Mayan, by contrast, tends to favour very blunt curves. Nearly every round shape is squared off, like a square with rounded corners. As a result, there are very few real circles in Mayan, and all that do exist are small.


2. Decide which strokes appear infrequently or not at all
It should come as no surprise that if some stroke types are frequent, others may not be so frequent, or may even be entirely absent. Let's take a look:

No Latin letters have very open curves, like (. There are also very few horizontal lines: in the lower-case letters, horizontal strokes appear only in e, f and t; in upper case, only A, E, F, G, H, L, T and Z.

Chinese characters entirely lack tight curves and circles

Buginese entirely lacks horizontal or vertical lines of any kind. All lines are diagonals, and although the script lacks any curved lines per se, all corners are rounded.

Futhark has no curves of any kind; all strokes are completely straight lines. It also entirely lacks horizontal lines.

Khmer has many small hooks, as well as flat M shapes on the tops of letters. Some letters also have W shapes on the bottom. Although these are all formed from diagonal strokes, the script lacks longer diagonal strokes that cover the height or width of a character.

Tibetan has many elongated descenders. It also has many curves that have one end lower than the other. Although many letters have horizontal lines on the tops, horizontal lines are otherwise almost entirely absent (only one letter has a horizontal anywhere other than the top). The most likely locations for non-top horizontals are instead occupied by the lopsided curves mentioned above.

Hiragana has relatively few straight lines, favouring curves for the most part.

Javanese never allows an entirely vertical line to appear on the left side of a letter; it always curves in at the bottom. It is also extremely hesitant about allowing a single vertical on the right side; usually, there will be at least two verticals pretty close together on the right side (though not quite always).

Some scripts don't have stroke types that they outright forbid, but there will always be a tendency toward certain strokes over others.

Think about it
Look again at that sample script I made up.

Image

Can you apply any rule at all to it? Is there any guiding principle such as the ones we have covered so far that seems to govern the formation of the characters? The answer is no, and the reason the answer is no is because when I designed the letters, I did not make any attempt to unify them in any way, resulting in an ugly, fake-looking mess.

Remember: this is a creative process here. You have to decide what you want to include, how frequent it is, what you want to eliminate, if anything, and so on. These are all just suggestions.

Please continue on to Addendum to Step 2: Side-effects of practical application of your script

Up next: more suggestions on increasing the uniformity of your script.
Last edited by clawgrip on Mon 23 Feb 2015, 03:26, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by Thrice Xandvii » Sat 21 Feb 2015, 00:20

I'd like to applaud your efforts on this! A great start to describing an area that confounds so many.

(I'd also like you to see you turn that abomination of an example into (at least) two decent scripts... though perhaps that's already your plan as you move ahead!)
Image
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Sat 21 Feb 2015, 04:08

Yes, indeed. Let's consider my suggestions, and look at how we can begin the process of improving my crummy script there (which, by the way, I purposely sabotaged by putting a bunch of problems into it).

Original version:
Image

Slightly improved version 1:
Image

I just took a few random rules, some of which I mentioned in the previous post, and applied them to the script, and ended up with this. The rules I applied:
  • horizontal lines exist only on the top
  • diagonals are all roughly unified (but not rigidly so)
  • curves are unified; end points of curves also unified so that they are similar to Roman <c>
  • when a curve meets a diagonal, the curve can broaden a bit (visible in the 5th glyph)
Slightly improved version 2:
Image
Some more rules:
  • curves nearly entirely eliminated, but
  • corners are all rounded
  • diagonals roughly unified, as above
Let's be honest here; these scripts are not going to win any awards, because they still have plenty of problems. The key here is that that glyphs are slightly more unified than they were before. It should be evident that there was at least some sort of design aesthetic behind their design. Every glyph looks at least somewhat related to the others (the boxy one notwithstanding). But there is hope for these scripts yet, even, I think, for the pitifully ugly version 2.

As always, though, don't feel you have to pick from the rules I listed and apply four of them, or anything like that. This is a creative process. Do what feels right for you.
Last edited by clawgrip on Mon 23 Feb 2015, 03:27, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by shimobaatar » Sat 21 Feb 2015, 04:51

Thrice Xandvii wrote:I'd like to applaud your efforts on this! A great start to describing an area that confounds so many.
[+1]
Thrice Xandvii wrote:(I'd also like you to see you turn that abomination of an example into (at least) two decent scripts... though perhaps that's already your plan as you move ahead!)
clawgrip wrote:Yes, indeed. Let's consider my suggestions, and look at how we can begin the process of improving my crummy script there (which, by the way, I purposely sabotaged by putting a bunch of problems into it).
I think that's a wonderful teaching tool - a script purposefully made to be awful so that it can be improved along the way to serve as an example for each lesson.
clawgrip wrote:
  • horizontal lines exist only on the top
  • diagonals are all roughly unified (but not rigidly so)
  • curves are unified; end points of curves also unified so that they are similar to Roman <c>
  • when a curve meets a diagonal, the curve can broaden a bit (visible in the 5th glyph)
[…]
  • curves nearly entirely eliminated, but
  • corners are all rounded
  • diagonals roughly unified, as above
(Emphasis mine.)

What does "unified" mean in all these examples? I understand what you mean when you say:
clawgrip wrote:The key here is that that glyphs are slightly more unified than they were before.
clawgrip wrote:Can you apply any rule at all to it? Is there any guiding principle such as the ones we have covered so far that seems to govern the formation of the characters? The answer is no, and the reason the answer is no is because when I designed the letters, I did not make any attempt to unify them in any way, resulting in an ugly, fake-looking mess.
clawgrip wrote:Up next: more suggestions on increasing the uniformity of your script.
(Emphasis mine again.)

But I don't understand what you mean when you say something like "diagonals/curves are unified".
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Sat 21 Feb 2015, 06:18

Thanks for the feedback. I want to be as clear as possible, to make sure people can follow what I'm saying, so if anyone else is unsure of what exactly I mean at any point, let me know.

When I say unified, all I mean is that many glyphs share certain characteristics, while not too many glyphs have unique characteristics. It's okay to have a few glyphs with characteristics unique to one or two glyphs, like say, the bottom hook in ‹ɡ› and ‹j›, or the somewhat bizarre, double-story ‹g›, or the hook on ‹Q› which doesn't appear in any other letter. You just want to limit how many it glyphs have these unique elements, because if half your glyphs have unique elements not found in other glyphs, the script will start to lose visual cohesiveness, because the glyphs will appear too dissimilar to each other.

This is not only limited to lines, but also the types of curves or the angles of diagonal strokes. In my original script, the diagonals are all at whatever angle I felt like putting them at. In the slightly improved versions, I said that I had "unified the diagonals." Take another look, and you'll notice the diagonals are roughly all at the same angle, though again, I slightly varied it for aesthetic reasons, just like say, the diagonal strokes of y and z are not at exactly the same angle. For some scripts, of course, you may want to have all diagonals at the exact same angle, though.

As for unifying curves, it's a similar process. Remember when I gave an example strokes that don't appear in the Roman alphabet, I said that there are no broad, open curves like (. All the curves come around at least 180 degrees, or close to it (‹Q› in some typefaces is the major exception here, and ‹S›). In my original script, the curves are all over the place. Some are tight, some are open, and it looks like a mess because of it. In the first improved version, all the curves are not only at least 180°, but they're also all mostly the same size as well. The exception is the second-to-last letter, but it's still close enough that it looks like it belongs.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by Birdlang » Sat 21 Feb 2015, 20:58

You could also make an auxlang and add letters that are not yet in Unicode. That would be best using Latin script, or Cyrillic, because Greek script usually doesn't use extra letters. And encode the Latin and Cyrillic letters in a new Unicode block (I know this because I have seen Unicode proposals). But I do not know anyone here who would add letters from my auxlang, like an n with a reversed descender on the left leg for a velar nasal.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by Birdlang » Sat 21 Feb 2015, 21:03

clawgrip wrote:Yes, indeed. Let's consider my suggestions, and look at how we can begin the process of improving my crummy script there (which, by the way, I purposely sabotaged by putting a bunch of problems into it).

Original version:
Image

Slightly improved version 1:
Image

I just took a few random rules, some of which I mentioned in the previous post, and applied them to the script, and ended up with this. The rules I applied:
  • horizontal lines exist only on the top
  • diagonals are all roughly unified (but not rigidly so)
  • curves are unified; end points of curves also unified so that they are similar to Roman <c>
  • when a curve meets a diagonal, the curve can broaden a bit (visible in the 5th glyph)
Slightly improved version 2:
Image
Some more rules:
  • curves nearly entirely eliminated, but
  • corners are all rounded
  • diagonals roughly unified, as above
Let's be honest here; these scripts are not going to win any awards, because they still have plenty of problems. The key here is that that glyphs are slightly more unified than they were before. It should be evident that there was at least some sort of design aesthetic behind their design. Every glyph looks at least somewhat related to the others (the boxy one notwithstanding). But there is hope for these scripts yet, even, I think, for the pitifully ugly version 2.

As always, though, don't feel you have to pick from the rules I listed and apply four of them, or anything like that. This is a creative process. Do what feels right for you.
Can I make that script the ancient Bird logographs?
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Sun 22 Feb 2015, 04:32

Birdlang wrote:You could also make an auxlang and add letters that are not yet in Unicode. That would be best using Latin script, or Cyrillic, because Greek script usually doesn't use extra letters. And encode the Latin and Cyrillic letters in a new Unicode block (I know this because I have seen Unicode proposals). But I do not know anyone here who would add letters from my auxlang, like an n with a reversed descender on the left leg for a velar nasal.
Modifying letters of preexisting scripts is, at least for now, beyond the purview of this guide. You've already designed your letter ("an n with a reversed descender on the left leg"), and the design principles of Roman/Cyrillic/Greek obviously are already well-established, so there's nothing much for me to help you with.

As for adding characters to Unicode, this is a long and complex process (I know, I am in the process of getting a script added). But no personal scripts will be added. Only scripts and letters that are or have been used consistently by many people have a chance of being added.
Birdlang wrote:Can I make that script the ancient Bird logographs?
I'm not sure why you would want to, since I purposely designed it to be visually unappealing, though I suppose it could work as a very old script, before any real design principles had been established. However, the goal of this thread is to help people figure out how to design nice scripts on their own, so just grabbing the first script you see and using it as is would not seem to be in the spirit of this guide. Try designing something yourself. I'm sure that with a little effort you can make something nice.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Sun 22 Feb 2015, 16:28

Step 3: Relative size and alignment

One of the most obvious problems with the sample script is that the letters are all of varying size. There seems to be no consistency between how tall, short, wide, or narrow any given letter is. There are many solutions to this. The following descriptions will apply to horizontal scripts, since they are more common. If you're doing a vertical script, just rotate my advice by 90°!

1. Equal height, equal width
Giving every glyph the same height, and giving every glyph the same width is a simple solution, and creates a lot of visual uniformity, but it's not always the most aesthetically pleasing. A few scripts nail this or are close to it, like Mayan, Carrier Syllabary, Santali, Oriya, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

Image
Notice how they all basically fit into the same size squares, though some are not quite the same height as others.

There are a number of scripts that come pretty close, but with a bit of variation, such as Hmong, Ge'ez, Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics (minus the final letter signs), Batak, Ranjana, Futhark, Roman capital letters, and several others mostly fit this pattern, but with some narrower or wider letters, and some taller or shorter letters.

2. Equal height, variable width
This is frequently found in many Indic scripts. Scripts that follow this pattern, (but maybe with the odd ascender or decender popping out) include Tamil, Persian Cuneiform, Balinese, Malayalam, Cyrillic lower case, lower case Coptic, Hebrew and so on.

3. Equal width, variable height
This is a fairly unusual style. Lower case Armenian comes close to fitting this, but I'm having trouble coming up with anything else. Don't let that stop you though, if you have an idea you think will work with this style.

4. Variable height, variable width
There are several scripts like this, such as Georgian, Arabic, Rejang, and others. You will notice also that my bad example script also fits into this category. So what makes it look worse than these ones? The answer is a bit complicated, and will take its own step. So please be patient!

I would say #2 is probably the most common style, but don't feel limited. Go with whatever you want. Again, it's just good to know that you're doing it.

How to deal with variation in width and height
Width:
Dealing with variation in width is not such a big deal, but there is still something to keep in mind. Pretty much all scripts that have variable glyph width divide up width along a bell curve, meaning the medium width is most common width, while narrower and wider glyphs are less common.

The lower case Roman alphabet, for example, has 2 narrow letters (il), 3 or 4 medium-narrow letters (fjtr), 19 medium-width letters (abcdeghknopqsuvxyz), and two wide letters (mw). You can see a similar progression in Malayalam, which has significant difference between wide and narrow glyphs. There are only a couple really wide ones, and a couple really narrow ones, but a lot more in the middle range.

Height:
There are several ways to deal with height. Most of the time, the cause of height variation is from ascenders and descenders, i.e. single lines that rise above or below the main glyph size. It's important to notice that ascenders and descenders are the same length in every letter they appear in . Let's look at specific examples.

Hebrew: This script has only one ascender, and five descenders. Notice that the ascender is the same height as the decenders.
Image

Roman: We know this one well enough. Again, the ascenders and descenders are roughly the same height.
Image

Things get more complicated sometimes.

Here is Arabic:
Image
There are many different heights here, and some don't quite hit the mark (most notably ‹ﻝ›). Nevertheless, it's clear that careful attention has been paid to the heights.

Some scripts really go crazy with various heights. Here is Khmer:
Image
It has numerous subtleties in ascender heights, but you can still recognize that they are all following a plan. Every ascender of the same type reaches the same height.

Now, if I take our two sample scripts from the previous lesson and adjust their proportions a bit, we can get something like this:

Script A:
Image
For this script, I have applied a uniform height for glyphs, but have allowed for variation in glyph width. I have also allowed for a number of ascenders and decenders. There are two distinct ascender heights.

Script B:
Image
Most glyphs here are the same height and width, though one glyph is slightly wider than the others.

Not wonderful, but an improvement over the original version.

If you have any questions or need any sort of clarification, just let me know.

So now we see that most scripts can be divided into rows like this. Next, we will be looking a bit at just what goes on inside of those rows.
Last edited by clawgrip on Sun 22 Feb 2015, 23:20, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by elemtilas » Sun 22 Feb 2015, 18:22

clawgrip wrote:As for adding characters to Unicode, this is a long and complex process (I know, I am in the process of getting a script added). But no personal scripts will be added. Only scripts and letters that are or have been used consistently by many people have a chance of being added.
Are you familiar with / in touch with Michael Everson over at http://www.evertype.com? He's active on Conlang and appears to be developing a conscript registry for Unicode and is already one of the coauthors of the Unicode Standard. If you don't already know of him, I'd urge you to contact him and perhaps see if there is any way you can join your conlinguistical forces.

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Image

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Re: How to design your own script

Post by shimobaatar » Sun 22 Feb 2015, 19:59

Just so you know, the Balinese and Coptic links actually take you to the pages on Old Persian Cuneiform and Cyrillic, respectively.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Mon 23 Feb 2015, 02:11

Thanks, fixed.

Addendum to Step 2: Side-effects of practical application of your script

So in step 2, we discussed choosing what shapes should or should not be in your script based on how they match with the other glyphs in your script. What we did not cover, however, is excluding certain shapes or combinations of shapes due to practical reasons. What I mean to say is, when sitting down and laboriously designing a constructed script, it's surprisingly easy to forget that most scripts are meant to be written by hand by people. Writing things by hand can have significant effects on a script's appearance.

Consider the purpose of your script. If it is an epigraphic script, i.e. it exists mainly for important inscriptions and such, there is really nothing you need to consider here. Egyptian Hieroglyphics, for example, was an epigraphic script that was not intended for day-to-day communication. As a result, scribes wrote very carefully to ensure that their inscriptions were visually pleasing, meaning that any conceivable shape would be faithfully rendered in this script.

However, when they did use writing for more daily concerns, they were less careful. Unnecessary distinctions were merged or eliminated. The more mundane or plain and less epigraphic the script got, the more it was simplified. Observe the progression in this chart:

Image

This is not limited to Egyptian of course. Daily, handwritten script can get particularly simplified, obscured, and/or reduced to its most basic elements:

Image

So the big question you need to ask yourself is, if your script is intended to be written by hand, can your script survive being written by hand?

If the answer is no, then you need to adjust it. How you adjust it, though, is up to you. There are two choices: 1. You can alter it so that it is legible, or; 2. You can alter it so that it is illegible. Altering it so that it is illegible sounds insane, but this has happened with scripts in real life. We will get to it in a bit.

1. Altering it so that it is legible:
You will need to determine what kind of strokes are likely to get simplified or merged when written by hand. This is best done by actually writing your script by hand many times, quickly, and seeing if there are any elements that are really annoying or difficult to get right. Some hints though:
  • Don't have two letters where the only difference between them is a sharp corner vs. a curved corner (e.g. having ‹∩› and ‹Π› as distinct letters is probably a bad idea, though I have more to say about this below);
  • Don't have two letters where the only difference between them is the width of the letter;
  • Go easy on the spirals. If they are too complicated, they will probably get simplified. I would say a good measure of the extent to which people tolerate spirals is what you see in these: ‹6 ១ ಲ ಾ›; That being said, letters with complex, spiral-like (but not just a plain spiral) patterns don't need to be simplified: just look at ‹இ›.
2. Altering it so that it is illegible:
Take, for instance, the Pahlavi script. This script is variously described as ambiguous, indistinguishable, and so on. To quote The World's Writing Systems, "numerous letters merged and became indistinguishable, while at the same time, little effort was made to develop diacritical marks to distinguish them." Ligatures between various letters made this even worse. Here is an excerpt from the book:

Image

This is the origin of the dots in Arabic script: they are disambiguators for letters that had otherwise merged and become identical. Cursive Cyrillic does this sometimes as well, by placing a bar above or below certain letters in order to distinguish them from others.

Another technique, if you're not into adding diacritics, is to take differences and exaggerate them. I have a nice example I like from the Philippines. While not a disambiguator per se, it definitely shows one thing you can do if you need to add some sort of distinguishing features. Look at this sample of various closely-related scripts from the Philippines:

Image

Notice how there is a tendency to take a little bit of a wiggle and exaggerate it into an extremely wiggly line to increase the distinctiveness of the letter (often at the expense of making the rest of the letter less distinctive). You may want to do something like this. It doesn't have to be a wiggly line: it could be a ascender or descender, a sudden bend in the line, or whatever. As an example, remember the ‹∩› and ‹Π› above? If, for example, ‹∩› is written with a single stroke, but ‹Π› is written in three strokes, with the top portion exaggerated like in actual Greek handwriting (‹Image›), then these can coexist, especially if your culture has mechanical typesetting/computers/whatever that allow for higher distinctiveness in handwriting coexisting with subtle distinctiveness in print. So do what you can. Be creative!
Last edited by clawgrip on Thu 26 Feb 2015, 05:55, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Mon 23 Feb 2015, 03:25

In my original script, I sadly forgot to include two unrealistically similar letters, so I have gone ahead and added one. In Script A, I exaggerated it. In Script B, I added a distinguishing mark.

Image



Image
Image



Image
Image
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by Salmoneus » Mon 23 Feb 2015, 22:35

Just want to take issue with something here: the idea of equal-height ascenders and descenders. This may be true of modern digital typefaces, but it hasn't generally been the case in Latin scripts - indeed, even when I was taught handwriting, I was taught that we had two different heights of ascender ('t' and 'f' being half-tall). This is nothing though compared to many historic forms. I'm looking at the original Garamond here, for instance, and it has at least three heights of ascender (two of them only minisculy different!) and two heights of descender. A big reason for digital (and to a lesser extent printed) type having fixed heights is simply the limitations of the technology - more sophisticated fonts can use less constant heights in order to come closer to traditional calligraphic styles. I'm looking at Zapfino Extra Regular, for instance, which tries to emulate a traditional chancery hand: it has roughly four heights for letter tops (tall letters, then capitals (some of which are slightly different in height), then 't' and 'i', and then 'g' and 'q' (it only has one descender depth, although some of the other zapfino fonts, representing slightly different cursives, have two or even three). And on top of that the 'exits' from the letters are often minisculy over or above the line of the letters themselves.


Anyway, one thing I'm surprised you didn't add is an explanation of WHY different scripts have different prohibitions, since from a conworlding point of view that would seem to be key. Others might be able to give other examples, but the obvious ones:

- writing by incision (on wood, stone, clay etc) is likely to be very angular, as curves are hard to incise
- writing by impression or contact (burning/branding, I guess also corrosion though I don't know if that's ever been used) is likely to make use of repetition of very few (ideally one) shapes, so that only one impression-tool is needed (the famous example is cuneiform, impressed with wedge-shape styli)
- writing with a brush is able to have curves, but struggles with tight curves, dots, and to a lesser extent with fine detail in general - it also makes it harder to keep things separate (the brush tends to drift over the page unless you intentionally lift it)
- writing on material with a distinct grain can have several effects. Some substances favour writing with the grain - carving on wood, for instance, favours straight lines along the grain. Others prohibit writing with the grain, because this can split the substrate - so writing on leaves you tend to get curves, or straight lines in one axis but not the other.
- some substances (leaves again!) can give you issues if you try to have lines that cross one another (because this can be a point of weakness)
- writing with a quil makes certain movements difficult - traditional Latin handwriting is always written from the 'top' of each letter, and curves are used to return to the top or to move to the left whereas straight lines can be used to move right or downward - because quils are inherently directional, and writing against that direction leads to the quil breaking
- moveable type encourages uniform heights. Because of the problems of casting metal type, it discourages fine detail

This things also influence the style of how the letter-forms appear. Carving or imprinting will favour uniform stroke widths, and carving will also give distinct shapes to the line-ends depending on the tool used and the substrate. Quils tend to give different stroke widths depending on the angle of the stroke ('with' the quil gives thick strokes, while at an angle to the quil gives thin strokes). Brushes can give constant widths, but they can also allow free variation of widths - one common thing is for lines to thicken at the ends, because the brush moves more slowly and allows more ink to fall. Alternative/additionally you might have thick (slow) horizontals but thinner (faster) verticals, or faster (thinner) straight lines and thicker (slower) curves.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Tue 24 Feb 2015, 00:53

Salmoneus wrote:Just want to take issue with something here: the idea of equal-height ascenders and descenders. This may be true of modern digital typefaces, but it hasn't generally been the case in Latin scripts - indeed, even when I was taught handwriting, I was taught that we had two different heights of ascender ('t' and 'f' being half-tall). This is nothing though compared to many historic forms. I'm looking at the original Garamond here, for instance, and it has at least three heights of ascender (two of them only minisculy different!) and two heights of descender. A big reason for digital (and to a lesser extent printed) type having fixed heights is simply the limitations of the technology - more sophisticated fonts can use less constant heights in order to come closer to traditional calligraphic styles. I'm looking at Zapfino Extra Regular, for instance, which tries to emulate a traditional chancery hand: it has roughly four heights for letter tops (tall letters, then capitals (some of which are slightly different in height), then 't' and 'i', and then 'g' and 'q' (it only has one descender depth, although some of the other zapfino fonts, representing slightly different cursives, have two or even three). And on top of that the 'exits' from the letters are often minisculy over or above the line of the letters themselves.
Certainly, ‹t› and ‹f› and maybe some others can have different ascender heights depending on the specific typeface. ‹j› can also have a half-height descender in some fonts. However, to be frank, the aim of this guide is not to descibe the full range of possible ascender heights in the various forms of the Roman alphabet; instead, I am only trying to illustrate the basic concept of uniformity of letter size. To this end, I selected a font with uniform ascender heights (Arial, for what it's worth) due to its familiarity and simplicity. The subsequent examples of Arabic (of which my description is suspiciously lacking in details) and Khmer should serve to illustrate that multiple ascender heights are possible, but when designing your script, you should at least consider the general heights of letter bodies and ascenders/descenders. Indeed, the sample script A has two different ascender heights.
Anyway, one thing I'm surprised you didn't add is an explanation of WHY different scripts have different prohibitions, since from a conworlding point of view that would seem to be key. Others might be able to give other examples, but the obvious ones:
...
I was debating where exactly in the guide to include this sort of information. I considered putting it early on, but I was worried about overwhelming anyone who really was not sure what they were doing. If they felt they had to be locked down to a specific medium right away, they may lose confidence, and it's possible to adapt letter forms to media once you have selected it (which I was going to describe later one). However, you're probably right that I should have covered some of this information earlier on. Anyway, we have your post here now, so people can reference it as needed.

Some further comments though:
- I've seen people say that inscription in stone tends to result in angular script, but I'm not really seeing many examples. The script is perhaps not likely to be fully curved, like Oriya or Sinhala, but most incised scripts I know still have plenty of curves, such as Brahmi script, Ikshvaku script, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Roman script, Kharosthi script, Gupta script, and so on.
- The thing about brushes is true about it being hard to lift the brush from the page; people stopped using cursive writing in Japan about the time they started using pens instead of brushes. Tight curves, on the other hand, I have to disagree with. Observation of hiragana and cursive Chinese/Japanese reveals a number of tight curves, as well as Korean, which has a pretty tight circle in two of its elements.
- I have read that leaf-writing is what led to the rounded tops of Oriya script.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by gach » Tue 24 Feb 2015, 12:59

clawgrip wrote:- I've seen people say that inscription in stone tends to result in angular script, but I'm not really seeing many examples. The script is perhaps not likely to be fully curved, like Oriya or Sinhala, but most incised scripts I know still have plenty of curves, such as Brahmi script, Ikshvaku script, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Roman script, Kharosthi script, Gupta script, and so on.
You might try to argue that using harder rocks might impose a different effect on the inscription than using softer rocks but looking around I can find no differences between inscriptions on for example granite and sandstone. Your preferred inscription style might also be the same as the one common to petroglyphs where you simply modify the surface of the rock. That style lends itself easily to a variety of forms and isn't too picky on the hardness of the rock.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by clawgrip » Wed 25 Feb 2015, 16:26

Step 3: Balancing and aligning strokes

So we have considered the average height and width of our glyphs, we have decided if we want them to have ascenders and descenders, and we have figured out how to align their heights. What's next?

This step is quite lengthy, and deals with two distinct elements: structural characteristics and aesthetic characteristics. In the first part, we will look at how we can analyse the basic structure of various scripts. In the second part, we will look at how scripts can bend those rules for aesthetic reasons.

Structural outline
The next step is to look at what goes on inside the "home row" so to speak: the main space occupied by all (or nearly all) glyphs. This is very easy to explain with the Roman alphabet, due to its relative simplicity and uniformity. Take a look at the lower case Roman alphabet, stripped of (nearly) all of its stylistic elements and placed within guidelines as before:

Image

You may have noticed that this image has one more guideline than the previous image, and that the new guideline runs directly through the middle of the home row (which is what I will call it from now on, for lack of a better term). With the addition of this single line, though, you will notice that every horizontal (or nearly horizontal) line, every juncture, intersection, and angle change occurs on a guideline. This is a rule that limits the vertical stroke density (a term I assume I have just made up).

"But wait! The circle of the hook g isn't quite on the line! the horizontal of ‹e› in Times New Roman is above the middle line!" you may say. I will of course get to this later, but for now, you should recognize that this minor non-conformity of ‹g› and ‹e› is an aesthetic, rather than structural concern. As I said, I will get to aesthetic concerns after I finish explaining structural concerns, which is more fundamental and needs to come first. The fact that there is a single guideline in the home row means there can be a maximum of one horizontal within the home row, even if it's not quite on the line.

Back to the image for a moment. We can make a small observation about the middle guideline. In all letters with a stroke that uses the middle guideline, there is something both above and below the stroke in question. this can either mean horizontals above and below it, as in ‹a g e s›, or diagonals stretching away both up and down, as in ‹k x›. This is not the case in Cyrillic, though, which allows letters like ‹ь› and ‹ч› which employ the middle guideline with open space above or below. As the designer of your own script, you get to define the rules (this could be a rule of the Roman alphabet or just coincidence, but it doesn't really matter).

So that is pretty simple. But maybe you want something more complicated. Let's see some ways that we can add a bit of complexity. If you want, you can just add more guidelines. Just make sure that you use them consistently. Look at Devanagari, for example, which uses 7 guidelines:

Image
Thank you, D'source

We can actually combine the simplicity of the Roman system with the complexity of the Devanagari system. For this, we'll take a look at Malayalam, which, at first, appears to follow the same five-line pattern as the Roman alphabet:

Image

At first glance, it appears to follow the five-line system fairly well, but with a little more scrutiny, this description does not hold up. For example, why does the loop of ‹ഇ› not connect to the line below it, since they both rely on the base line to govern their position? Why do the loops of ‹ േ› not touch each other, since their position is determined by the middle guideline? How can this system explain the coexistence of ‹ദ› and ‹ഭ›?

The reason is because Malayalam actually allows for the addition of secondary guidelines between the main guidelines, but, with the exception of only a few outlying glyphs, this can only happen when the guidelines above and below are already occupied. Sometimes, especially with older ligatures, these can even be further subdivided, but rarely, and only when necessary:

Image

So you can consider the guidelines not to be absolute, and add more when they become necessary.

Finally, some scripts seem to defy being defined by this sort of classification entirely. There are a few reasons why this may be:

1. The script is too complex:
For scripts like Egyptian and Chinese, there are just too many possible stroke positions to bother trying to align them, not to mention the fact that they can be written both horizontally and vertically. Instead, these scripts rely on a different technique, namely:

2. Glyphs are centred
Instead of aligning to a base line, like Roman or Arabic, or aligning to a head line, like Devanagari or Tibetan, a script may instead align to a central line. If it does, then a script may derive its unity through a sort of symmetry with its other half, without reference to other glyphs. This is common in vertical scripts. Nevertheless, unless the script is a logography, most glyphs are probably going to have a similar density of strokes.

Image
Horizontal Egyptian text is generally aligned along a central writing line.

Image
As you can see here, Chinese is not always based on the exact centre of the character, but the perceived visual centre based on the weight and shape of the strokes.

3. Writing direction has changed
Sometimes, script direction may change. This happened with Mongolian, but since all the glyphs were rotated along with the writing line, there is no real change. However, for scripts like Chinese (as mentioned) and Kulitan, when the writing direction changed, the glyphs were not rotated to compensate.

Image
Like Chinese, Kulitan glyphs are more or less aligned on a central writing line.

4. The progression of text is non-linear
For the Nastaliq style of Arabic script, which is the default style for writing Urdu, each word is written along a gradually descending diagonal line that often overlaps with the previous one somewhat.
Image

5. Some other reason
If you have some design idea that destroys this, then go ahead and use it. Maybe the ascenders of a single letter with multiple ascenders get progressively taller throughout the letter and then reset for the next letter. Maybe glyphs of varying heights stack and are squashed to fit in a consistently-sized home row. Maybe something else.

One of my own scripts, Naduta has a fairly light level of complexity for basic glyphs, but there are a couple different heights foor ascenders, and when glyphs are stacked, they will always reach somewhat higer above the head line than they will below the base line. The glyph on top will generally be lowered below the had line when possible to fill gaps in the base glyph, leading to a lack of alignment with the various upper and lower extents of glyphs. The Naduta Common script, which evolved from cursive Naduta, inherited a lot of the disorder of its parent script.

Aesthetic considerations
Everything I said above is only meant to explain how the letters are governed at their most basic form. Many scripts have aesthetic touches that can alter these significantly. In curved Roman letters such as C, the end points actually appear slightly below/above the head and base lines. In letters like ‹e›, where the lower curve angles up and approaches the middle horizontal stroke, or ‹g›, where the upper circle needs a little extra space to avoid looking cramped, lines may be pushed out of the way a bit to avoid clutter and create a greater visual balance.

You can also have different elements take different heights, such as different types of ascenders and descenders, or what have you.

As an example, if you try to apply straight, horizontal guidelines to the Georgian alphabet, you will give yourself a headache, because all the joints, endpoints, and so on fail to align neatly on the same horizontal lines as each other. However, you will notice that no glyph has more than two end points/junctions/angle changes within the home row. Additionally, any letter with a particular style end point etc. will place it at the same height as all other letter with the same type of element, but it seems that each different type of element has its own specific height at which it appears. For example, the letters ‹ვ კ ფ ც ჳ ჴ› all place the middle endpoint in exactly the same place, i.e. slightly above the base line; the middle endpoints of ‹ლ ო რ უ ღ› all stop at the halfway point of the home row, and the bottom hooks of ‹ე ვ კ ჟ უ ფ ქ ყ ჭ ჴ› all end at the same place, i.e. at the base line. You'll notice also that the presence of a descender shrinks the size of a circle, so, ‹ფ› has a smaller and higher circle than ‹თ›.

So what this means is that you can define the basic permissible shapes with the guidelines, but you don't need to follow them rigidly when designing the final appearance of the script. You can break the rules as much as you want, so long you do it in a consistent or understandable manner (even if the rule break is seemingly as arbitrary as "‹t› has a shorter descender because that's what I feel like doing").

Here are the new scripts:
Script A:
Image
I've given this one a single guidline inside the home row, and the lines are rigidly fixed on this line. This has caused me to eliminate or rearrange some strokes.

Image
This script has two guidlines inside the home row, but the lines are not rigidly fixed on them. They adjust their exact positioning based on their surroundings. In addition, there is a single letter that has an extra guideline.

I think we can say that these scripts have taken on a little character and are distinct form each other, but they are still lacking in strong identity. The next step is where you can add real character to your script and finish it off.
Last edited by clawgrip on Thu 26 Feb 2015, 05:57, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by loglorn » Wed 25 Feb 2015, 21:39

This guide is beautifull. I'll start creating scripts right now to test those stuff.
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Re: How to design your own script

Post by qwed117 » Thu 26 Feb 2015, 03:10

What do you think of my conscript (I haven't aligned it yet, but it is for the most part, on five different "guidelines")
The diacritics are vowels. An example of the conscript is at the top writing "Akuriga". The vowels are shown with the consonant "m-"
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My minicity is Zyphrazia and Novland
What is made of man will crumble away.
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