Designing for languages I'm not familiar with.

kosal's picture

I have a potential client who's in need of Arabic and Cyrillic typefaces based on my Merge Family. Sounds like a great opportunity, but I'm no way capable or educated enough to design non-Roman glyphs.

Not willing to dismiss a potential business opportunity, I'd like to get some advice on how to approach this. Should I commission the bigger, capable foundries to take my designs and expand it? Any other options?

Nick Shinn's picture

Many of the bigger foundries would hire a freelancer to do the work, so I would recommend you take that route.

John Hudson's picture

I'm not sure what you mean by 'bigger' foundries in this context, but I second Nick's suggestion that you seek out a freelance designer or small foundry with experience in these areas.

andrijtype's picture

nice font! and i can make a cyrillic

hrant's picture

Nativity is quite important. For some
scripts much more so than for others.

If you're good at Latin type design, and you mind
giving away the work, you can probably handle
Cyrillic yourself, BUT with an advisor proficient
in the script. In the relevant recent past I've had
two Cyrillic commissions (one for a computer game
design firm in the UK, the other a shipping-label-
printing company in Germany) and in both cases
I did all the work, then ran it by somebody with
nativity (who helped me refine it).

Arabic is a whole different story... Not only is it
much further from Latin in structure, but there
are serious technical hurdles to master. I myself
enjoy nativity in Arabic, but cannot produce a
working font on my own. So for Arabic you might
have to subcontract it entirely, or have a couple
of people on it: one for the forms, the other for all
the coding. If you do the latter please do consider
me for the design (although there are many others
who can do better -for example John- but most of
them cost more :-). hpapazian at gmail dot com

BTW, Merge seems well suited to Arabic! If it were
a more texty font you'd have more trouble making
the Arabic happy. Speaking of happy: many people
who make Cyrillic fonts would disagree, but to me it
should have a larger "x-height" than the Latin (even
though this refinement applies more to text fonts).

hhp

kosal's picture

Thanks, all! I'm in the process of contacting a few Cyrillic-capable designers.

John Hudson's picture

I strongly recommend making it a requirement of the Cyrillic design that Maxim Zhukov be hired as an expert reviewer. There are lots of people with experience of Cyrillic typeface design... and there are also a lot of not very good or really quite bad Cyrillic typefaces out there, including many designed by native readers. Maxim is a true expert in Cyrillic typography: former typographic coordinator of the United Nations, and consultant to ParaType, Microsoft, Tiro Typeworks and many others. I like the look of your Merge family, and it deserves a refined Cyrillic companion, not something cobbled together from bits a pieces of the Latin, which is alas what often happens.

For the Arabic design, consider Titus Nemeth (if he has time; he is working on his PhD) or our friend Hasan Abu Afash in Gaza.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

There might be more more than one man on earth being capable to comment on Cyrillic. – ?

hrant's picture

Not that I agree with him on some central issues
concerning multi-script typography, but Maxim is
indeed a -possibly the- world authority on Cyrillic.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

A world authority on Cyrillic is not necessary if one is sticking to basic encoding.
After all, would a world authority on Latin be necessary unless one is straying beyond the main encodings?
Why not approach some Russian/Ukrainian type designers to see if they’d be interested in extending your fonts?
You can see from their work whether they’d be sympathetic to yours.

hrant's picture

Well, I maintain that nativity is a factor. For example
if one has nativity in Latin, no outside authority would
be "necessary". However I do agree that when designing
in a non-native script, more than encoding, staying
within the confines of precedent does reduce the need*
for an outside authority. As I've opined before, it's only
when you try to break new ground (I mean structurally,
not stylistically) in a non-native script that you are in
effect taking too great a risk without native help.

* BTW, "necessary" is one thing, helpful is another.

Two examples from my own experience:
- When I made Akhalkalak, a highly stylized Georgian
design (so much so that it was basically new structures,
in fact inspired by the "broken" nature of Latin Fraktur)
I consulted an expert (although outside the field of design)
and he did find one seriously flawed form, which I fixed.
- http://typophile.com/node/34029
Unfortunately images aren't showing up right now... :-/

hhp

Andreas Stötzner's picture

> a world authority on Latin

this is GREAT!! I throw my hat into the ring.

John Hudson's picture

Nick,

A world authority on Cyrillic is not necessary if one is sticking to basic encoding.

I presume you mean by this the basic Russian alphabet plus Slavic extensions, i.e. not Turkic, Mongolian etc.. Actually, I'd say that it is precisely in designing this core set of Slavic letterforms that expert advice is most important: the extensions for Central Asian languages are mostly quite easy and derived from this core set of shapes, so if you get the basic alphabet right then the rest comes easily.

Despite having designed several Cyrillic types over the past fifteen years, and having won awards for Cyrillic type design in Russia, I still find Maxim's review of my work to be very valuable. Most importantly, he has an excellent grasp of stylistic idiom, recognising which forms of particular letters are most appropriate to a particular style of type, and vast historic knowledge that enables him to suggest appropriate design solutions that might not occur to less experienced and knowledgeable designers. And he has a very refined feel for relative proportion, especially with regard to the widths of letters, that is crucial to the texture of Cyrillic text. Over the years, my own feeling for this has improved dramatically under Maxim's guidance, but he still suggests improvements that I find it worthwhile to make, however small. These two areas -- stylistic idiom and relative proportions -- are typically the weakest parts of a lot of Cyrillic type design -- resulting in Frankenstein constructions and poor page texture --, even by native users of the script, and hence why I consider Maxim good value for money as a consultant.

would a world authority on Latin be necessary

If I were looking to commission a designer to extend one of my typefaces to any script with which I was not personally familiar, as is the case for Kosal with regard to Cyrillic, I would want an independent review of the quality by someone who is a knowledgeable and experienced expert in the typography of that script. Since such experts for many scripts are few and far between, they tend to be recognised as 'world authorities'.

hrant's picture

Indeed, the smaller the script the easier it is
to become/accept an authority. Apparently
yours truly was recently referred to as "the
autority" on Armenian type design (by a
respected authority in another non-Latin
script). Of course that's nice to hear, but I
have to admit it's not saying that much... :-/
Cyrillic isn't so easy.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

@John: These two areas -- stylistic idiom and relative proportions -- are typically the weakest parts of a lot of Cyrillic type design

That’s true of all type design.
But ideally, a new typeface creates its own idiom.
So why do you need someone else to tell you how much your design should conform to convention?

If I were looking to commission a designer to extend one of my typefaces to any script with which I was not personally familiar, as is the case for Kosal with regard to Cyrillic, I would want an independent review of the quality by someone who is a knowledgeable and experienced expert in the typography of that script.

That seems a bit unnecessary. If you hire a designer on the premise that he knows his stuff, why would you then have his work reviewed by a third party?

brianskywalker's picture

I'm working on a Hebrew design. I've found:

  1. As others have said, nativity is very important. I've had some some native speakers give me input and it's really helped.
  2. It's important to understand this history of the script you are working on, and the chirographic sources. In fact, I seem to have amassed 8 books relating to these subjects and probably near 100 links.

Hebrew has it's own peculiar problems that must be faced by a typeface designer, but I think those two points are very important for the design of any language you are not familiar with. It's also a good idea to become familiar with the language in question. :)

John Hudson's picture

Nick: So why do you need someone else to tell you how much your design should conform to convention?

Not necessarily to tell you how much your design should conform to convention, but to explain the conventions, illustrate the variety within the conventions, the relationship between different idiomatic styles (and hence the potential for crossover and hybrid solutions), etc.. Again, I see evident lack of such knowledge in a lot of Cyrillic type design, including that done by native users of the script.

If you hire a designer on the premise that he knows his stuff

If one is unfamiliar with the script, how is one to judge whether a designer knows his stuff? All too often, when it comes to non-Latin type design, being a native reader of the script is taken as sufficient qualification along with the designer's own claims. Or as a friend of mine, an Indian typographer, put it when approached by a foundry about designing typefaces -- something she has never done -- 'They think I'm the right colour for the job'.

quadibloc's picture

On the general topic, if Unicode had been a glyph set instead of a character set, it would have been much simpler for people to design fonts that covered many languages, since the intelligence of choosing which alternative glyph to use based on linguistic rules would be in the operating system, not in the font.

Of course, there's an obvious problem with that. That would mean, for example, that all Arabic fonts would have to be Naksh fonts - and never Nasta`liq fonts. Unless one had a separate set of code positions for that writing style, but, of course, that would mean that a certain, possibly imperfect, mechanization of that style would be, if not "set in stone", at least beset with delaying obstacles to change.

hrant's picture

Nick, you can break any rule you want,
but that's best done by knowing it first!

As John says, somebody with nativity
should only make you aware of issues,
then you decide what to do. That said,
I do agree with your view of "idioms".

hhp

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