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Significance of Optical Illusion, Optical Correction and Visual Balance in Calligraphy and Font Design

This presentation discusses various methods used by calligraphers and font designers to address visual imbalances caused by optical illusions. In visual language, there is a drastic difference between mathematical values and visual values. For example, the mathematical center and visual center of a defined geometric space are different. In many letterforms, overlapping strokes have to be optically corrected to achieve visual balance. The ascending loop of lowercase ‘h’ in calligraphy is a good example of how calligraphers adjust the overlapping strokes in such a way to create an illusion of visual balance and harmony. This strange phenomenon exists in Calligraphy, in many letterforms like lowercase letters ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘f’, ‘g’, ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘u’, and so on. If we look carefully at how calligraphers write ‘m’, ‘n’, and ‘u’, we can observe a seemingly unintentional method of adjusting their overlapping strokes to achieve legibility in the letterforms with similar structures like ‘n’ and ‘u.’ These fine adjustments of moving a diagonal or angular stroke upward or downward deliberately when it overlaps a vertical or horizontal is a deliberate, conscious, and well-planned activity to tackle the problems caused by optical illusions. They are adjusted by font designers also, irrespective of the language of the font. There are several occasions where a font designer has to consciously deviate from the mathematical grid created by the designers themselves, to achieve uniformity among all glyphs in a font. For example, the upper curve of the letter ‘O’ in upper case, as well as lower case, has to be adjusted so that it protrudes above the respective horizontal and mathematical grid line. The letter ‘X’ has a long list of optical corrections to be done in font design.


Sreekumar Vivekanandan

Professor IDC School of Design, IIT Bombay, India

G.V. Sreekumar is Professor and former Head of IDC School of Design, IIT Bombay. He specializes in typography, calligraphy, publication design, information graphics, design pedagogy, and visual semantics. He studied Applied Art at M.S. University, Baroda, and Visual Communication at IDC, IIT Bombay. Under the guidance of renowned typographer and calligrapher R.K. Joshi, Sreekumar has designed some of the most renowned magazines in India, including CHIP, Digit, Chandamama, Overdrive, Society, Savvy, and Banking Frontiers.