For the next project in Typography 1, I have to create a ligature. All you clarinetists out there may be wondering why I don’t just go buy one, especially since the ones that come with clarinets are usually lousy and we all know a really good ligature can make the difference between a decent tone and a squeak. Those in medical fields may wonder why I’m dabbling in surgery or dentistry. I assure you, I am not.

While I was very familiar with the word, I’m amazed I hadn’t noticed until now that the same term is used in so many different fields, which led me to actually look up the word:

Ligature - as defined in Dictionary on Mac OS (Click for larger image.)

From the Latin ligat-, meaning bound, it’s perfectly understandable why two letters stuck together, hopefully in a pleasing manner, would be called a ligature.

I’ve found quite a variety of opinions about ligatures on the “intertubes,” from absolute love of the ligature to advocating against ever using it again. Design O’Blog loves ligatures, as evidenced by the glowing commentary of the examples posted, while Daniel Will-Harris has no love lost for them. A couple of his points are that ligatures are no longer necessary and, certainly in some cases, make the text harder to read.

According to Wikipedia, ligatures originally made transcribing easier (fewer characters to write) and later made typesetting easier (fewer characters to set). The other advantage was easier readability, especially for the character combinations fi, fl, ff, etc. Ligature use dropped off with the popularity of sans serif typefaces, as ligatures were no longer needed for readability.

I think ligatures still have validity in today’s design. For example, they show the difference between a well-designed book and one slapped together without thought to readability or aesthetics. As Font.com points out, decorative ligatures can “add elegance and individuality to a setting.” These ligatures are usually used in display type, as they would certainly make body copy harder to read. So, I’m excited by the prospect of creating a beautiful character of my own. I’ve chosen to use the typeface Bauer Bodoni Roman. Check back in a couple of days to see the fruits of my labors.


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