Type designers often use pangrams (a sentence with every letter of the alphabet in it) to design their letters and “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is undoubtedly the most famous. It’s supposed to be an easy way to see if every letter of the alphabet fits with all the others.
But in Text for Proofing Fonts, Jonathan Hoefler argues against that one in particular:
In years past, our proofs were full of pangrammatic foxes and lynxes and the rest, which made for some very merry reading. But invariably, I’d find myself staring down a lowercase J — and if I questioned the amount of space assigned to its left side, I’d set off in search of some confirmation in the proof. Each time, I’d be reminded that while pangrams delivered all kinds of jocks and japes and jutes and judges, even our prodigious list featured not a single word with a J in the middle.¹1 The letter J, rare in English to begin with, tends to appear in the company of familiar prefixes or suffixes. To the pangrammer, everyday words like conjunction, injurious or subjective are wasteful, because they burn too many commonplace letters in support of a single curio. Therefore jowl, jib, and the highly suspect jynx. For a time, I thought the mid-word J in my ‘Veljović’ pangram might help, but quickly discovered that in all capitals, the unfittable pair LJ is spectacularly distracting. I sympathize with the typographers of Ljubljana. I also started to notice that Xs had an unusually strong affinity for Ys in pangrams, because pangrams make a sport of concision. Words like foxy and oxygen deliver real bang for your buck if you’re out to craft a compact sentence, but to the typeface designer noticing that the pair XY looks consistently wrong, none of these words will reveal which letter is at fault. I’d find myself rewriting the pangrams, popping in an occasional ‘doxology’ to see if the X was balanced between round letters, or ‘dynamo’ to review the Y between flat ones.
His example that replaces pangrams are interesting because it gives us a bit of insight into how type designers see letters and it also shows us the mad, complex logic that is required to build such letters.
Behold! My newsletter—sent infrequently—about new things that I’m working on. Every so often it’ll contain notes about web design and publishing things that I’m interested in, too.