Rethinking The Letter “a”

This past weekend I became interested in the idea and potential of rethinking the letter _a_. I became interested in whether or not it could be pushed even further to share more similarities with other letter forms.

What is so fascinating about the _a_ is that it can share subtle qualities with other letterforms but also has the ability—in the very same sense—to take on its own unique qualities and quirks, which allows its character to vary greatly across typefaces. For this reason, I become interested in how might the letter itself be approached differently.


My interrogation began with questioning which letterforms can it more directly derive from? We can take _h_, _n_, and _m_ for example—is it possible to inject the characteristics of other letterforms into the _a_ in such a way that those letters do? Can it be like a reflected _s_? Does it trail off and have an open aperture like the _e_. Is the foot similar to a _b_ or even a _d_? Does this translate into italics?

It was in questioning how this translates into italics that sparked the reminder to return to original letter constructions which inherently forced the question of, does this make sense? While this ever-looming question exists, I can’t help but counter it with, does it matter?


Then as I began to explore it more from a calligraphic approach, I began to question my original motives. Am I instead pushing this further away from the very letter forms I was trying to mimic? So caught up in reflecting the _s_, I knew the contrast would shift and weight would be lost in the spine, but then I didn’t consider that the terminal of the _a_ would actually differ from the _s_, and would instead remain the same as it has traditionally been. Furthermore, the lower counter that I was attempting to open up no longer complements the small inside counter of the _e_.


This may not be the beginning of redefining an _a_ necessarily, convention is long set in its way and I’ve yet to really test this out in regards to recognition or readability. Despite these limitations I allowed myself to pursue the exploration.

Are you letting yourself do the same? Are you stopping yourself from playing and experimenting because the odds are against you? Even if you know deep down that your experimentation may not work, I encourage you to pursue it any way.

You never know what may come out of it—surprise yourself.

Accepting conventions and refusing to question/reconsider the standards of everything around us only breeds complacency and keeps our industry stagnant.


I don’t suspect this _a_ will gain traction, and I don’t suspect I’ll design my next text face using this new approach, but perhaps this can be used elsewhere. Maybe this can work as a new approach to stenciling an _a_ or perhaps this broken stem or new aperture can be pushed into other letter forms? Just because I may not have redefined the convention of an _a_ doesn’t mean the experimentation was unsuccessful.

If you’re willing to accept everything at face value, you’re holding back the design industry at large—you’re contributing to the mindset of dormancy where adequate and secure is valued more than the interrogation of our own conventions. Instead, let’s relentlessly push design forward, let’s question everything.

P.S. The mindset of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is total bullshit. And yes, we stand on the shoulders of giants, but at some point we must learn to leave them behind.