The Logic of English cursive font, created by David Occhino Design, is a beautiful, powerful piece of design technology. Every letter connects correctly, accurately reflecting the cursive handwriting students are learning in Logic of English curriculum. It may well be the most advanced cursive handwriting font on the market.
And it was quite an adventure to develop...
Developing School Cursive LOE™
By Denise Eide and Liz Winter
In order to create a multi-sensory program that integrates handwriting as part of learning, it was necessary for Logic of English to develop a handwriting program. As a firm believer in the benefits of teaching cursive, I, Denise, desired to provide an option for students to learn cursive. However, I quickly discovered that this would require an accurate cursive computer font, which in 2011 when we were beginning was not available (more on the technical issues with cursive fonts below). In addition, I didn’t want just any font, I wanted a font that reflected what I understood to be best practices for teaching handwriting, specifically one where every lowercase letter began on the baseline.
After weeks of research, questions about if we could create our own font, batting around ideas on how to incorporate handwriting samples into the books, and running into one dead end after another, one late night I decided to read dozens of pages into the Google® Search “cursive font.” There I discovered David Occhino’s font design company.
I contacted David and explained our mission to create a reading curriculum which integrated handwriting. I described my desire for a cursive font where every letter began on the baseline. As a former educator, David has a passion for education and saw this as an opportunity to help a start-up educational company and to develop a cutting edge cursive font using the latest in font rendering techniques. The thing is, Logic of English could NEVER have afforded the design of this font. It can cost up to $100,000 to develop a complex cursive font with multiple character styles. And the need to fluidly and naturally connect thousands of different letter combinations made the font we had in mind one of the most challenging fonts ever to develop.
David decided to take on this project and create the School Cursive font to help the educational community. He also offered to charge us only for the modifications we made to create an LOE-specific font. Logic of English then had the ability to create a unique cursive and manuscript handwriting font to use in our materials which reflects the best practices in teaching handwriting and forms the center of our Rhythm of Handwriting and Foundations programs.
This is one of the many miracles that has made Logic of English possible.
The challenge of cursive fonts
As many of you using Logic of English already know, writing in cursive is actually simpler than writing in manuscript. The movements are more fluid, and there are fewer strokes and fewer times when one must lift and replace the pencil in each letter or word. On a computer, however, it is a different story.
The connector strokes, which make cursive easier to write, are the very same elements that make rendering a cursive font on a screen or creating it with a machine so difficult (remember that print letters were designed for the printing press). This is because different letters do not connect to each other in the same way. The traditional way of handling spatial relationships between different letters in a font has been through ligatures.
A ligature is a single character, made up of two or more connected letters, which replaces the individual letters in a font in order to render the spatial relationship between them more effectively. They date back to the days of manual typesetting, when certain pairs of letters were designed as a single unit with better spacing and alignment, but they are used in some computer fonts today as well. Font software automatically substitutes a ligature for the two characters it represents whenever they appear next to each other. For example, if you look closely as you type with some serif fonts (those with small decorative tails and finish strokes, like Garamond™ and Times New Roman®), the letters f and i are sometimes replaced by a combined ligature for fi, a single character in which the dot of the i and end of the curl of the f neatly overlap rather than bumping up against each other (see image right).
Even modern typeface fonts without serifs or ligatures are very sophisticated pieces of software. The standard computer fonts like Helvetica® and Arial® that we tend to take for granted now are the product of years of creative and technical work. In addition to rendering the letters themselves, and in some cases adding ligatures, computer fonts must continually adjust the spacing of the letters to maximize legibility so that texts no longer appear with mono-spacing as they did with typewriters. Without these adjustments,
The spacing adjustments that make bookface fonts flow properly is in itself quite an achievement.
Cursive, however, exponentially increases the complexity.
In 2011, when we started searching for a font and found David Occhino Design, the OpenType font rendering software had just begun to include the tools necessary to create and render such a complicated font. The demands of such a font are enormous: Instead of 26 letters with a few different spacing requirements and some ligatures, you now have thousands of different letter combinations needing a unique connection. The font needs to determine how to accurately render letters at the beginning, middle, and end of words, and what specific connecting stroke to use between all the different ending points and starting angles of different letters.
The old approach of making ligatures simply couldn’t meet this demand; thousands of ligatures would be needed for all the possible letter combinations in order to accurately model handwriting. A more sophisticated and more efficient solution was needed to manage all this complexity. (Sound familiar, reading teachers?)
David and his team needed to analyze every possible combination of letters that could appear in English (and other languages using the Roman alphabet).
They studied the anatomy of each letter in the Logic of English handwriting style and the geometry of the connections between them.
For example, cursive a and d both connect to b in the same way.
But b connects to a differently than to o.
And o connects to o differently than to m...
Ultimately, the team developed ten different connector types based on their findings. Then they categorized the cursive letters into twenty-one classes based on how they connected to different letters before and after them.
For every class each letter fell into, they created a glyph, or unique type character, of that letter. Lowercase a alone has 17 different glyphs — and that’s just for normal writing! With special symbols like accents and pronunciation markings, there are over a hundred. When you add in the 11 different styles the font comes with (including guide lines, stroke arrows, and more), there are 1,892!
Classifying all the connections and creating all the glyphs, however, was not all. The right one has to show up at the right time, no matter what word someone types. This is where things get exciting.
Once the glyphs were created, the design team had to program the font to know which version of each letter to display in every possible context and still connect perfectly to the surrounding letters. This is possible through the use of contextual alternates, an advanced feature of the OpenType font format.
With contextual alternates, instead of using thousands of ligatures that are substituted in, one for one, for the thousands of letter combinations they represent, the font’s coding works behind the scenes to choose the right glyph (or letter alternate) of each letter that will to connect correctly to the previous letter you have typed, and to the next letter. Contextual alternates enable OpenType to choose the correct letter alternate for the context that you, the font user, have created.
When you are typing in School Cursive LOE, the letters just appear and connect correctly as you go. It seems easy as pie, giving you no sense of the “under-the-hood magic,” as David Occhino put it, that is going on out of your sight, or of the thousands of hours of development work and precise design, programming, and refining that make such “effortless” connections possible.
As the design team worked on and refined the font, David kept us updated on the progress, sending samples of their drawings, and we were able to begin using the prototype software to create Rhythm of Handwriting and Essentials. The Logic of English team uses the Adobe® Creative Suite in our publishing work, and our software was rendering the cursive font beautifully. We were thrilled to be able to render such clear cursive text in our materials and looking forward to sharing this tool with those using our curriculum.
However, late in the design process, we discovered that neither MS Word™ nor Apple Pages™ currently had the capacity to render the most advanced OpenType fonts such as this one. This was the cost of being cutting edge: the font was so powerful that most home computers didn't yet have the ability to support it. Thus, while David Occhino Design was able to sell School Manuscript LOE, School Cursive LOE could not be used on consumer software.
Without full OpenType support, on consumer software the font would have looked a bit like this:
Though the font itself was outstanding, the software was not able to handle the contextual alternates and render the connections correctly.
This year, at last, both Microsoft® and Apple® have released versions of their word processing applications with the capacity to render even advanced OpenType fonts correctly! Now that the School Cursive LOE font can be used on widely available consumer software, the design studio has made it available for purchase. If you have the required software and operating system and are familiar with using custom fonts, you can buy it for your home computer, write in it, and create handwriting worksheets and activities to your heart’s content! And the connections, carefully and painstakingly designed and coded for each letter combination, will correct automatically as you type.
We are grateful to David Occhino and his team for the incredible gift they have given to the education community and to Logic of English in the design of the School LOE and School fonts.