everyone who has been part of the matd is probably much aware of how the year can be rather intense. To everyone else, let me try to depict it for you…
Our calendar is constantly filled with interesting lectures, seminars and workshops next to the usual work on our practical project. Apart from that we can spend our time researching in the incredible special collections or the well-stocked reading room, visit nearby archives or libraries or do something active by getting our hands dirty with letterpress printing or stone-cutting (the latter has unfortunately not been used enough… I hope to change that in the next year). In that sense, I find little time to update this blog. Given that we just completed the first term, I now hope to write about some of the experiences.
Cut & Paste
By now we already had two great workshops with Gerard Unger, each filled with invaluable practical experiences and interesting lectures (for example on the current state of type design or on the great W. A. Dwiggins).
Typeface designers often deal with abstract shapes, so during the first workshop with Gerard we were challenged to explore and experiment with these shapes in an unusual way. Instead of depending on our drawing or calligraphy skills we were asked to use scissors and coloured paper to create curves and shapes in order to construct letterforms. After a few days of exploring different directions we moved onto the computer and tried to develop a set of coherent letters based on some of our experiments.
While it might seem like going back to Kindergarden, I think that it was a very useful experience and I felt like I am thinking more actively about the shape and the counter shape as opposed to when I am using a traditional writing instrument. The whole approach went hand-in-hand with our previous stone cutting experiences and it was a good opportunity to train our imaginary skills.
Gerard will be back in January and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next time. Every visit is a highlight and has so far been filled with intriguing surprises and thought-provoking conversations.
Scripts of the world
During the last weeks we also had the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with various world scripts. Titus Nemeth introduced us to the Arabic script while Vaibhav Singh covered various Indian scripts. Most of us where never before confronted with these fascinating writing systems and it was very interesting to hear about historic and cultural aspects as well as how technology can influence the evolution of a scripts’ typographic traditions.
Before arriving in Reading I was very fond of the idea of creating a typeface for a script that I do not know, but I struggled with the thought of how one is able to do so without being a native reader of a language using a particular script. With the experiences from the above workshops, further reading [see list below] and first attempts at drawing I am now convinced that it is indeed possible. From my own observations I can state that one first and foremost has to gain familiarity with the ‘new’ writing system. It is crucial to find out how the characters in a given script are constructed, learn about linguistic properties and subsequently find and study good examples of existing typefaces. It is however important to be critical in evaluating the available resources. Technical limitations (such as a metal type body) used to have a big impact on the design of a typeface; so one has to draw a line between the original intention and the final rendering of a design depending on the used technology.
In the design of a multi-script typeface several questions arise and have to be taken into account before the design process:
- How should one balance different scripts to achieve a visual harmony?
- Whether one should balance scripts stylistically is an important question in itself which often depends on the intended purpose as the individual requirements may differ.
- Is it better to design multiple scripts independently or simultaneously so they can equally influence each other?
- As one script often covers multiple languages; which language(s) should the typeface focus on? Stylistic preferences may differ in different languages.
With my yet limited experience and exposure in mind, I can conclude that I believe that it is crucial to always keep the native reader and cultural appropriateness in mind when designing for a non-Latin script. One should not assume that common practises in the Latin script will work in other scripts as well. In terms of harmonisation it seems that the most important aspect is to establish an optical balance in the size and colour/greyscale of the scripts instead of forcing a stylistic link. Even though it might be possible to design a suitable typeface by yourself, one should ideally seek the help of experts and consult native speakers with a relevant involvement in the field of typography. By all means the task of proper research is the key for a successful and useful solution.
While it is most definitely a difficult task to design for an non-Native writing system, there are also many benefits to it. Apart from pursuing a personal interest in new territories there are other aspects such as a steep learning curve and new vital sources of inspiration one can find. On the other hand one can make an actual contribution in a field where there are little typefaces available. These new designs can help to improve literacy and subsequently increase education in many places around the world. In our increasingly globalising world the need and demand for new and useful multi-script typefaces is certainly growing as well.
Now that the theory is somewhat in place it’s all about putting it into practise. Exciting times ahead – wish me well!
Recommended reading concerning non-Latin typeface design:
☞ Design of Multilingual typeface families
☞ Sylfaen : Foundations of Multiscript Typography
☞ ‘Translating non-Latin scripts into type’, Typography Papers 3
☞ ‘An approach to non-Latin type design’, Language Culture Type
☞ Non-Latin scripts. From metal to digital type