The Pros and Cons of dating Helvetica Uppercase ‘I' 

If you are planning to spend the rest of your life with ‘I’, you might as well have a closer look at his character! A clever article by Studio Dunbar's Liza Enebeis. Via Grafik whose typographic interface makes me totally swoon! In this article Liza takes us through the pros and cons of a relationship with Helvetica’s Uppercase ‘I’.

Two of the cons got me thinking about homoglyphs and wordshape recognition...

You might not recognise him if he is not in context
Competitive with the Number 1

*As an aside intypography, a homoglyph is one of two or more graphemes, characters, or glyphs with shapes that either appear identical or cannot be differentiated by quick visual inspection. This is common in faces with Uppercase I Lowercase l and the numeral 1.

Usually the Uppercase I is slightly more substantial (this is the case in helvetica as shown in the below gallery) where the cap I (on the left) is slightly bolder than the lower l but its not really noticeable at small scale (click for an enlarged view). So another way type designers treat the homoglyph 'I' I'll III issue is to reduce the cap height below the ascender line. So the uppercase I is a little shorter than the lower case l. this tends to be a more legible solution when at small scale.


Of course another solution is to put a tail on the lower l as is the case with museo... but even with tails, serifs and cross bars in play the type designer still has to wrestle with characters that are visually similar in structure. Australis carefully crafts each glyph with its own set of distinguishable features and personality. It uses the stem thickness, varying cap and ascender height and playful curves to ensure each character is distinct. Caslon is highly legible and yet we see strong visual relationships between the lower l, the numeral 1 and the lower i.

That is the beauty and complexity of type and type design. Each latin letterform must be recognisable as the symbol and sound it conveys. Each letter playing a functional role as code in the alphabet that we must be able to decipher. But conversely each glyph in a typeface should reflect and relate to the visual style and approach of the other characters so they speak in the same voice contextually. Type must be both unified and independent to be legible, readable and understood.

Click on any of the thumbnails above to get a larger view.
Top left through right - Helvetica, Futura and Futura Capital v. Ascender
Bottom left through right - Museo, Australis Pro and Caslon