Typeface choices for showing 15 languages (inc non-roman) simultaneously?

m-ga's picture

I'm designing a poster promoting Equality and Diversity in the work place. The key message is short, and I'd like to display it in 10-15 languages, including the major non-Roman scripts and alphabets.

What's the best way to go about this? I'd like the type to look consistent across all the languages. And I'd rather not buy fonts if I can avoid it!

Collections I have available: MacOS X and Vista bundles, Adobe CS 2 OpenType bundle, MS Office Mac bundle, Bitstream Type Odyssey 2 (TrueType), Storm design collection (TrueType), Linotype Basics I and II (TrueType), Tankard Bliss (OpenType), URW and Agfa TrueType fonts as bundled with a clip art DVD.

I'd also appreciate guidance on how to locate the characters in unicode. For example, I got a handwritten Polish translation and there are "a" and "e" characters with squiggles on the end which I'm finding difficult to track down.

Si_Daniels's picture

What app are you using to design the poster? If it's InDesign or Illustrator that rules out doing languages like Hindi and Tibetan without 'hack' fonts not supplied by the OS's.

How are you legally accessing the OSX and Vista fonts on the same machine?

Cheers, Si

m-ga's picture

Yes, I'm using Adobe CS 2. I'll be making the poster in either InDesign or Illustrator.

I'm not accessing the Vista and OS X fonts on the same machine. I'd have to outline and transfer. I mentioned that I have the use of both operating systems in case one of them is better for this type of thing.

Jongseong's picture

Making the type look consistent across all scripts will be difficult. The most obvious solution if one only considers the harmony of shapes is to use the most neutral monoline/sans-serif typefaces--preferably the constructed, geometric ones--for each script.

However, be aware that for each script there is a different set of scribal/typographic traditions that will trigger sometimes unexpected responses in native readers. Even sans serifs for the Roman alphabet, which we may associate with the qualities of being neutral and clean, were labelled 'grotesques' when they were being introduced because they were so different from expectations of what letterforms were meant to look like.

Having seen numerous posters of this genre--one that comes to mind is a library poster with the word 'read' in various languages--I can easily see how an inconsistency in tone could come about. (By the way, the designer of the poster evidently lacked a Hangul typeface to set the Korean word for the project, so s/he used what looked like a quick and dirty vectorization of a handwritten sample of the word. It wasn't particularly effective in maintaining consistency with the words in other languages which got the full type treatment.)

To counter this inconsistency in tone: either choose playful, fun typefaces (like Comic Sans! Woohoo!) for all the scripts or go for the serious, stately typefaces for all of them. A mix is just silly. Considering the content of your poster, I'd say go for the serious tone.

If you choose a serif face for the Roman, maybe going for those with less contrast in the strokes will help with harmonization with scripts that don't look right with much contrast. Then again, something like the Ge'ez script might not look too serious with diminished contrast...

If you're including Korean, the new Malgun Gothic that comes with Vista is a great Hangul sans serif face that prints well (when tracked tighter) though it was primarily designed for the screen. If you go the serif route, I'm not sure which Hangul serif faces you have, but the ones that come with your collections should be decent enough for the job (though they won't be my first choice picks, which are unfortunately only available through Korean foundries). Just promise not to use the atrocious Hangul glyphs in Arial Unicode.

If at all possible, try to get native eyes trained in graphic design to look at your work in progress. If the nature of your work permits, use the Critique section on Typophile.

As for the Polish letters with ogoneks ą and ę, the hexadecimal unicode values (with decimal values in parentheses) are:

Ą 0104 (0260)
ą 0105 (0261)
Ę 0118 (0280)
ę 0119 (0281)

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Some people will hate me for saying this (heck, even I'm giving myself a funny look right now!), but Arial Unicode might be a good choice for this type of project. There, I said it. ;-D

Jongseong's picture

You should at least know what you're getting into with Arial Unicode.

One day I saw a Powerpoint presentation in Korean, and from the get-go I couldn't get over how weird, unprofessional, and downright ugly the Hangul letterforms were. They were clearly imitating legitimate Korean sans serif designs, but looked like they were put together by people who had no idea what the proportions should be like.

It took me a while to figure out that because the Powerpoint file was being run on a machine without other Hangul fonts, Arial Unicode was being used.

Let me say this; Arial Unicode is great for screen uses when you're displaying snippets of text in foreign scripts. It makes you able to read those bits (as opposed to looking at a bunch of squares) without having the support of all the specialist fonts--a useful 'unicode' font, as it was designed to be. But blow up the Hangul at least (I can't speak for the other scripts) for anything approaching display size, and the result is too distractingly ugly to find any uses for it. Let me try a visual analogy:

All this to say, please do not use Arial Unicode for the Korean at least. Use any of the specialist Korean fonts bundled by the major companies, but not Arial Unicode.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

That's good to know, Brian. I was not aware of the issues with the Korean characters. We used it for PowerPoint presentations at a translations company I used to work for -- it came in handy many times.

However, if it is best used for screen display, then it wouldn't be a good choice for a poster.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Arial has always been a poor choice for screen display - its relatively closed letterforms are not great for legibility at typical text sizes on screen. (Same for Helvetica and Univers.)


Jongseong's picture

I think my comment was misunderstood to mean that the design of Arial Unicode was suited for the screen. I only had in mind the computer environment where a 'Unicode font' with broad script support would be useful, and I was talking function, not design. Apologies for the confusion.

Thomas, Arial may be a poor choice for screen display, but the original Latin design is not what I'm talking about. Web pages that use Arial for Latin letters may not look expert, but will not look too unprofessional, either. It's even used by Google and other major sites.

On the other hand, if a web page were to display Hangul in Arial Unicode, the result will be legible (which is better than having a series of blank squares displayed), but ugly enough to trouble all native Korean eyes, not just the design-savvy ones. I'm guessing the difference is that the original Arial font was designed by actual native readers of the Latin script.

When I said Arial Unicode was great for screen uses in displaying Korean, the alternative I had in mind was the Hangul not being displayed at all. It's nice to have for the broad coverage of different scripts.

I've been checking the Arial Unicode Hangul glyphs again at screen sizes, and no, it has no design merits beyond the basic function of displaying mostly legible Hangul letters. The odd, inexpert proportions are if anything magnified and further distorted at 10 points on the screen. They show up fatally deformed, oddly bouncy characters. Ugly as I find the Arial Unicode Hangul at larger sizes, I can imagine it going over the heads of Korean readers who pay little attention to design. Not so with Arial Unicode Hangul at size 10 points; everyone will complain about how unreadable the text is. Using it when there are other Korean fonts available is just perverse.

m-ga's picture

I found a rather useful list of Mac OS X unicode fonts:


I think I'm going to choose one of the Chinese or Japanese fonts as a basis. Many of them contain Roman and Cyrillic characters as well. And by choosing other typefaces (eg. Arabic) with similar Roman characters I should be able to achieve some consistency.

Jongseong, I haven't been able to find a Korean translator. I used a sample of 300 people in my department for the other translations. Would you like to have a go? The text is as follows:

Government Offices for the English Regions

Equality and Diversity

Play your part! Look on the intranet for more details.

Jongseong's picture

M-ga, I'd be glad to help. Here is a preliminary translation:

잉글랜드 지역 정부사무소

평등과 다양성

참여하세요! 자세한 내용은 인트라넷에서 찾으실 수 있습니다.

Is there an established Korean translation for 'Government Office' in the UK sense? I used '정부사무소' above - a fairly literal rendering of 'Government Office' - but google search revealed other choices such as '지역통합사무소 (Integrated Regional Office)', '정부지역사무소 (Government Regional Office)'. Maybe seeing some other translations, especially Chinese and Japanese, will help.

Also, since Korean doesn't like to designate plurals, so it isn't immediately clear from the translation that there are not one but several government offices for the English Regions, but that shouldn't be a problem. I'm curious: why intranet? Does the poster target users of a specific intranet?

m-ga's picture

Thanks Jongseong!

The poster is aimed at our staff, who are 4000 people in nine regional offices across England. The full Equality and Diversity Plan is available on our intranet.

I'll post the Chinese and Japanese translations when I get them.

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