Notes on Lucida designs

(by Charles Bigelow, November 2005)

Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes began the design of the Lucida font family in the early 1980's with three main goals.

1. To create a new, original family of fonts for medium and low-resolution digital printers and displays.

Lucida typefaces have a big x-height in order to pack more pixels into the more important portions of text. This makes them appear larger than many other fonts (such as Times Roman or Baskerville) when composed at the same point size. The big x-height is an advantage for texts read mostly on screens, such as on-line documents and user-interfaces. (Lucida Grande, for example, is the standard user-interface font in Macintosh OS X, where it provides a high degree of legibility at screen resolutions.)

B&H also observed that technical publications seemed to make more frequent use of words in all capitals, such as acronyms, emphasized expressions, keywords, and the like. Therefore, the Lucida capital height was made a bit shorter than the ascender height (e.g. the height of a lower-case 'h' or 'l'), to reduce the distracting look of words set in all capitals.

Other adaptations for lower resolutions include larger and more open interior and enclosed parts of letters, such as the eye of the 'e' or the lower bowl of the 'a', and an overall simplicity and regularity of the forms.

2. B&H's second goal was to create an extended font family that included seriffed, sans-serif, and fixed-pitch (typewriter) designs. B&H believed that a more harmonious pattern of text could be achieved if the different styles of type were designed together as an integrated set. This principle has held up well over the years. All the Lucida fonts have the same x-height, capital height, and similar series of weights, which helps give a harmonious look to a page that uses different font styles.

Lucida Bright was first used as the text face for Scientific American magazine, and its letter-spacing was tightened to give it a slightly closer fit for use in two and three column formats. In book composition, Lucida Bright can be used at a relatively small size, but benefits from additional line spacing. When it is used in all capital settings, it benefits from additional letterspacing.

The fixed-pitch Lucida designs relate back to earlier typewriter and line printer technology. Lucida Sans Typewriter set at 10 point gives twelve characters per inch. Hence, it is 20% more economical in space than twelve point Courier, but appears to be the same size. Because Lucida Sans Typewriter is a stronger design, it can be scaled to a smaller size and remain more legible than Courier. The seriffed Lucida Typewriter sets 10 characters per inch at 10 point, the same as Courier at 12 point. It also is a more strongly weighted design that can be scaled to smaller sizes and retain legibility. Today, some users simply like the look of the Lucida fixed-pitch faces, which are different from more traditional monospaced types.

3. B&H's third goal was to give the Lucida family a harmonized set of mathematical symbols, arrows, and Greek alphabets, in several weights and styles. After Charles Bigelow went to Stanford to teach digital typography in association with Donald Knuth, B&H strived to make Lucida work well with TeX. Although Lucida looks very different from Knuth's Computer Modern or Hermann Zapf's Euler, two font families that resulted from Knuth's research, Lucida's mathematical characters benefitted from the close association with Knuth.

Later, in cooperation with Berthold and Blenda Horn of Y&Y, B&H augmented the Lucida math character set with many more of the math operators and arrows in the Unicode character standard. Y&Y also developed many careful adjustments to ensure that the Lucida math fonts worked well with TeX.

Lucida math fonts can be seen to good advantage in several well-designed publications, including periodicals like Notices of the American Mathematical Society and books like Non-Commutative Geometry by Alain Connes (Academic Press, 1994).

Although many of the Lucida fonts are text designs for serious publishing, B&H also created several free-flowing cursive designs like Lucida Casual and Lucida Handwriting. These share x-heights, capital heights, and weights with other Lucida fonts, but provide informal, light-hearted alternatives for titles, headlines, etc.

4. Useful Trivia. A fact not widely recognized is that the icons, symbols, arrows, asterisks, and geometric glyphs in Microsoft's Wingdings fonts were originally designed as Lucida Icons, Arrows, and Stars, so the characters harmonize with Lucida Sans and Lucida Bright designs. Those three Lucida symbol fonts were purchased by Microsoft, who remapped the keyboard layouts and changed the names to Wingdings, but the symbols still harmonize with Lucida fonts.

More information about the design of Lucida can be found in:

  1. Lucida family overview, by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes.
  2. The design of a Unicode font, by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes. Electronic Publishing, Vol. 6(3), 289-305 (September 1993).
  3. The design of Lucida: An integrated family types for electronic literacy. Bigelow, C; Holmes, K. in Text Processing and Document Manipulation, JC Van Vliet, ed., Cambridge, CUP; 1986, pp. 1-17

Some mathematical books typeset with Lucida:


$Date: 2009/01/12 00:12:56 $;
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