Should symbols be geometric?

One thing I've been debating with regards to the design of the Gentzen typeface is whether or not I should keep most symbols to be strictly geometric or introduce some »calligraphic« flair. For example, consider this test I just tried for the design of a box symbol intended to be used as the symbol for modal necessity:

Gentezen box experiment

The weights probably do not match AMS Euler at the moment, but I'll adjust that later. At a very large size, the third version (on the right) does seem slightly plausible, but at smaller sizes on screen the differences are negligible. I'll try seeing how it prints tomorrow. Additionally I worry that straying from geometric shapes will hinder recognition. For example, I also experimented briefly with some variations on a circle to be used as the lax modality, and found anything other than a perfect circle risked being mistaking for a badly done »o«.

So perhaps, some symbols in Gentzen shouldn't try to be too fancy; reader input is welcome.  Still it isn't clear offhand whether symbols like the turn-style are safe to make calligraphic or not. More experimentation will be required.


  1. kitby said,

    November 30, 2006 @ 8:25 pm

    I like the plain and simple box on the left, for what it’s worth. I find the »calligraphic« flair to be distracting. Off-hand, I’m also a little dubious how often such a symbol would be rendered large enough for such details to be noticeable.

  2. washburn said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 10:43 am

    I guess the question is whether you like AMS Euler to begin withl I know some people don’t. As this is intended to be a companion symbol font, if you don’t like AMS Euler you are probably not going to want to use Gentzen. As AMS Euler has a very »calligraphic« flair to it, it seemed that it might make sense to do something similar with the symbols.

  3. kitby said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 11:13 am

    I think what I really prefer is a “unified” font family. I don’t like Computer Modern (stroke weight is too thin overall, amongst other things), but at least it wins points for providing all the various faces and symbols and making them look reasonable together.

    AMS Euler is, I think, a math font only? And in my eyes, it doesn’t seem to go perfectly well with anything. Not that it looks terrible when combined with other fonts, but it doesn’t look especially great either. That, and I don’t think I’ve actually noticed the symbols in AMS Euler having that much flair to them in practice.

  4. oxlahun said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 11:22 am

    Look at the symbols in context, rather than by themselves (or, worse, next to variants, as you have them here).

    I do notice that the sample on the Wikipedia page for AMS Euler has non-calligraphic + and =, and it looks appropriate. Obviously, I haven’t seen the alternative, so I can’t say whether it’s »better«.

    In fact, I’d say »better« is quite subjective. My first question is what you’re doing with ∃. Is it a reversed (or rotated) E, or is it geometric?

    If you want to make a calligraphic supplement to AMS Euler, make one. Call it Gentzen Calligraphic, and have fun doctoring every glyph you can think of. If you want a different supplement that’s all geometric, make one of those, too, and call it Gentzen Geometric. Just be internally consistent and no one can really argue with you—it’s your typeface.

  5. washburn said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 11:33 am

    In response to kitby,

    I’ve found AMS Euler goes well with Palatino or Minion Pro. But I’m not aware of any »experts« expressing their opinions. One of the reasons you may have not noticed that symbols having »flair« is because the symbols are essentially taken unchanged from Computer Modern. I have some samples I produced for comparison that I’ve been meaning to post.

    In response to oxlahun,

    Yes, I’ve actually got some examples prepared to start examining symbols in context, but this test was easy to crank out in Illustrator in a few minutes.

    How I’ll handle »exists« is a good question. So far I had been considering making it resemble a backwards capital AMS Euler »E«. However, just flipping it would look bad as the strokes would be weighted on the wrong side, so I’d have to redesign it some.

    I’m not looking to make calligraphic symbols just for the sake of having calligraphic symbols, I’m just trying to come up with something that goes better with AMS Euler than the standard Computer Modern symbols. Since I’m developing Gentzen using METAFONT, perhaps the thing to do is to make the amount of »calligraphic flair« a parameter.

  6. kitby said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 12:02 pm

    @washburn: Yeah, it would be good to see some actual samples. Is there actually a standard document used for these sorts of comparisons? (The Lucida Bright fonts package comes with one that seems to be based on something from AMS.)

  7. washburn said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 12:13 pm

    kitby, do you have a pointer for the Lucida Bright specimen?

  8. oxlahun said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

    I am not debating the existence of a slightly jarring effect from having Computer Modern for symbols in AMS Euler. But I disagree with your statement of purpose—you really are making the alternative symbols just for the sake of having them. You’re making them because you want them, and if other people appreciate them and use them, that’s a bonus. Ars gratia artis!

    So I say do what you want, and enjoy it. Get opinions (as you’re doing) as you go, and you will learn more about design and hopefully produce something more likely to be seen as »better« by more people. I’m far from expert, but I’m happy to contribute opinions where I have them. In context, of course.

    For the record, I think you’re probably right—some stroke weighting and such may greatly improve the look and readability of the mathematical (and other) symbols. But I’ll probably play devil’s advocate for the jarring effect of the geometric forms to keep you honest about how much you’re calligraphizing them; the square might look funny with serifs. 🙂

  9. kitby said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

    Lucida/LaTeX page:
    Page with samples:

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