Construct: A Display Typeface

A typeface inspired by the furniture of Wendell Castle.

Eric Wrenn, Typography IV

Construct is a display typeface inspired by the furniture of the late Wendell Castle.

In October 2015, I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Castle speak about his work at the Wendell Castle Revisited exhibition at New York’s MAD. His furniture and philosophy left an impact on me.

A major theme in Castle’s works was presenting a familiar form in an unexpected way. I wanted to transfer this into Construct by modifying the forms of the familiar alphabet, but not too much that it would be unrecognizable from their original letters.

Design Process

Many of my initial drafts for letters were thicker towards the bottom to mimic Castle’s designs, to give it a “sturdier base.” I eventually decided to use a tapering form throughout the letters, thickening out towards the center before thinning back out towards the base.

Process sketches

Working on this project made me think about how much language and the alphabet we use is a construct of society. How did letters gain their form, and what made them evolve and change between languages? How did the Phoenician letter Zayin, which was written like a modern serif “I", become a “Z” (Zeta) in Greek? The letter C is pronounced "sea," yet the word "cake” is pronounced more like “kake.” Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that some of our commonly-accepted language oddities are little more than the decisions of a bunch of bearded old men gathering around at a table.

In some cases, this is really true: the word “salmon," despite containing an L, is pronounced like "samon.” It originated from the Anglo-French samoun and was spelled as such. Then one day, some old men linguists more or less said “We want to go back to our Latin roots” and stuck the L back in, from the Latin root word salmo (fish). And thus the spelling changed… and the oral language did not. Language is a fascinating, complicated, and sometimes nigh-incomprehensible subject.

Although Construct’s letter forms are mostly embellishment, more complex than their “true” forms, and less practical as a proper writing system, it was a foray into the concept of how the letters we use could have taken another form in another timeline.