Typeface by non-white designer/typographer?

Saara's picture

Hey typophiles,
I'm looking for typefaces made by non-white/non-european/non-western designers/typographers? Feeling a bit ignorant with this question, maybe there's an ocean of those that are super easy to find if I would just know where to look. But anyway I'm looking here for help!

Looking forward to replies!
S

Theunis de Jong's picture

Are all currently famous fonts created by notan typographers, then? I can't see the difference.

hrant's picture

Sara, there are degrees of non-ness... What about an Indian guy living in the UK for example? For how long is OK? Then there are westerners who have moved out - do they count? And what about people from/in countries on the border, like Lebanon?

Theunis, what do you mean by "notan typographers"?

hhp

Theunis de Jong's picture

Bad play on "no-tan" :D

The OP seems to assume common typefaces are in fact by "western" designers -- why? For all I know, Matthew Carter could be Australian, and you can't get much further east without ending up at the west again. Also, I wouldn't care if he is. (Just picked a random name, by the way.)

Possibly related to: the discussion a while ago on "why are Latin fonts predominant in the type industry" (or something alike). I cannot recall if that thread reached a conclusion or a consensus of some kind. Personally, I think a similar point could be made on a Chinese forum discussing their predominantly Chinese fonts, and by Chinese as well :-)

Saara's picture

hrant, you're completely right, and I'm also interested in all the in-betweens, the gray zones if you wish.

The history of famous typographers (as well as graphic design in general) as presented to me during my education and beyond has been exclusively a Eurocentrist/American one. And I wish to learn what a question on this board can bring up in terms of other histories/perspectives/advice/links. If you have knowledge to share I'm really grateful!

Thanks riccardO

Saara's picture

Theunis,
If the OP means me, I do assume that common typefaces are in the large majority made by "western" designers, please prove me wrong!

hrant's picture

Theunis, I don't condone racism (although my definition is stricter than that of most... westerners :-) and as I hinted this is an extremely thorny sort of thing with a superb spectrum of grays, but to me it remains that we are in large part a result of our respective cultures (with each of us always having more than one) and as a result so is our output. And that's not a bug, that's a feature.

hhp

Theunis de Jong's picture

Hrant, of course I'm with you. That's why it reminded me of the 'why do latin fonts rule' thread: it may only be from our point of view they seem to.

It's possible the answer for the OP (sorry, Saara: that's Forum Speak for "Original Poster") is the same as was mentioned in that thread: Money, Technology, Opportunity. But if that is the reason, it kind of acknowledges the statement "common typefaces are in the large majority made by "western" designers" to hold valid, and (a) I'm not convinced of that (but I'm not interested in the cultural background of the designers of my fonts so I never looked into that), and (b) I still wouldn't care if the designer of one of my favourite fonts turned out not to be the WASP I assumed him. Or, gasp, even turned out to be a woman (to take yet another turn).

altsan's picture

I could be completely off base here, but I get the impression that Europe has a longer and deeper history of typefaces in general due to having a longer and deeper history of using movable type. I gather movable type took off in Europe more readily than in other cultures because Europeans had simpler writing systems. For instance, ISTR reading that movable type was invented in China some time before Gutenberg but just didn't see any significant adoption because it simply wasn't practical for a language with many thousands of common-use characters.

If that's the case, then European (and by extension Latin) text largely set the trends in printing and type design, and once the digital age came along (and computer character sets became standardized) the support of Latin text became embedded. The earliest generations of computers were Anglo-American and only supported ASCII (Latin). As new computer character sets were developed they were implemented as extensions of ASCII for compatibility purposes, and so virtually all character set standards mandate full Latin support, regardless of what other languages are covered. That logically extends to the computer fonts designed for them.

I've seen many references on myfonts and other sites to designers with Russian-sounding, Japanese-sounding, Middle-eastern-sounding, and other non-Anglocentric names. Even their fonts tend to include Latin, and that's what we see in the previews (usually). I suppose if they didn't, the fonts wouldn't be disseminated much outside their own countries/cultures.

Living for five years in Japan, I can't say I ever noticed a particularly wide variety of fonts being used, for either English/Roman text or for pure Japanese. (Virtually every sample of English I ever saw written used either MS Mincho/MS Gothic or Helvetica; the vast majority of Japanese text outside calligraphy or custom logos always seemed to be either Heisei-Gothic/Heisei-Mincho, MS Gothic/MS Mincho or something resembling the M+ fonts.)

dezcom's picture

Saara,

Are you looking for designers of non-Latin scripts or simply non-caucasian designers of any script including Latin? I don't know of any listing by ethnicity but if you look for typefaces in Indic scripts, the names may tell you if they are of Indian origin.

hrant's picture

Even their fonts tend to include Latin

One reason is that westerners tend to actually pay for fonts more often...

Another reason though is that type design education is very Western, which means you end up learning how to make Latin fonts automatically, in fact typically before you make a non-Latin font.

hhp

PublishingMojo's picture

The Roman alphabet is itself an artifact of European culture [as Hrant observed while I was writing this], so it's perhaps inevitable that designing variations on the Roman alphabet is a profession mainly practiced by people of European origin or descent. I imagine us white folks are similarly under-represented in the ranks of those who design Kanji fonts.

Non-Europeans creating designs for the Roman alphabet is one measure of progress toward a more diverse society. Another measure--more important, in my opinion--will be more white folks learning to read non-Roman alphabets, and to respect the ideas they communicate.

Theunis de Jong's picture

Another reason could be that the entire technology an sich is deeply culturally biased towards the Western world. The ASCII table, for example, has been the bane of everything European for literally decades on end (the "AS" stands for " American Standard). After much deliberating, and various more or less succesfull hacks (e.g. the dreaded "code pages"), the 'world wide' embrace of Unicode put an end to accent related troubles. Or to a lot. Not all of them.
However, in that the Western culture also ruled supreme! Arabic characters, for example, have been coaxed into 'different' code points for their four different forms. If you think writing a case insensitive search routine is a bother for Latin text, you can quadruple the efforts needed for Arabic.

Another example of technology following culture could be the keyboard. Much as "we" are used to a Shift key to toggle between capitals and lowercase -- to the point where we can mentally extend the concept to toggling between the number "3" and the character "#" even though these are unrelated --, if the keyboard concept was of Arabic origin, one could expect it to have four 'shift' keys to alternate between initial (somewhat equivalent to "our" capitals), medial, final, and isolated form. (Two shift keys with a binary function may also work.)
But that's still imaginable for "us" Anglo-Europeans. What if the concept of machine input was inherited from Chinese sources? I'm not talking about the clunky 30,000 key typewriter (which is just Western tech projected onto Chinese target audience). In China, an age old habit in discussing ideograms is to 'write' them in the palm of your hand. Extrapolating that to a mechanical method may have led to the touchpad as the primary input source for a computer!

Coming to a point here: if the reason Western font designers are dominant, and there may be "not that many" non-Western font designers, it is because the entire technology, from storage to display, is based on Western concepts of data storage, text input, rendering, and font design itself.

This whole story only covers one of my three points, Technology. I'm sure a similar argument (long winded, apologies) can be made for the other two: Money and Opportunity.

hrant's picture

Good analysis, and interesting ideas!

BTW Arabic would need only two shift keys (giving the necessary four possible combinations)* but only if you could place any one of the four forms anywhere, which you can't; so Arabs are lucky that -assuming the necessary software environment- an algorithm can choose for them... and in fact they don't need any shift key! Although personally I happen to be a fan of reforming Arabic to support capitalization. In case that sounds jingoistic: you should see what I want to do to Latin. :-)

* This being something I actually implemented in the late 80s for Broadcast Titler on the Amiga**; and you had to hit the left arrow key after each keystroke. :-) Those fonts of mine were actually also used to set Arabic and Farsi ads in some ethnic "yellow pages" directories. Memories...

** http://www.themicrofoundry.com/s_multimedia.html

hhp

Theunis de Jong's picture

Another measure--more important, in my opinion--will be more white folks learning to read non-Roman alphabets, and to respect the ideas they communicate.

Absolutely. I learned to read Greek and Cyrillic scripts in practice (although I usually only have a vague idea what the text actually says), and appreciating the letter forms taught me a lot about font design.
I'm teetering on the edge of a similar breakthrough for Arabic (where other people only see random scribblings, I can discern the various letter forms) and I'm hoping to get some extended exposure to it so I can make the jump to actually be able to read it.

Nick Shinn's picture

…maybe there's an ocean

hrant's picture

Learning other languages is awesome. But in our field mostly you need to appreciate the shapes, the script. For example I don't understand Russian or Greek but I'm familiar enough with their scripts to make usable fonts; this is the same situation with many people who design fonts for Arabic for example - they can barely read any of it (but make better Arabic fonts than me, even though I know Arabic). You don't even need to know about the sounds. To get an appreciation of this paradox, think about the severe mismatch in English spelling and pronunciation! :-)

hhp

Theunis de Jong's picture

Hrant, two shift keys are sufficient for four forms. :)
(1) None, for medial forms, because those occur most frequently; (2) ShiftA for Capitals, (3) ShiftB for Finals, and (4) both, for isolated (as I think that would be the rarest form).

Typing, by the way, on my iPad. Actually the "keyboard" implementation on this device is dreadful. I make far more errors than usual, and they are way harder to correct (to a point where I hesitate to do a quick spell-and-grammar check). Then again, it's Western technology projected onto a device that does not naturally lend itself to it. Were I of Chinese descent and finally be able to write down any ideogram I wanted, I would have been delighted.

hrant's picture

Nick, I'm curious about your link - but it doesn't work.

ShiftA for Capitals

Minor: better termed "initials".

the "keyboard" implementation on [the iPad] is dreadful

I hear you brother. Even my lowly Kindle with a physical keyboard isn't as horrible.

But that's not a technology issue; that an issue with a company caring mostly about sounds and pictures and not really caring about text (and other companies sheepishly following their lead).

hhp

dezcom's picture

It still seems to be a problem coming out of the sheer number of characters issue. Twentysix is just a much easier number to work with than 3,000. Even if you add the diacritics from Central Europe, it is much easier a technical issue than an Asian script.

Nick Shinn's picture

Try again Hrant, the server may be busy.

***

Race, technology and culture isn’t the whole story—size and circumstance have something to do with it.
Not every European country is as well populated with type designers as the relatively small Netherlands.
And in Canada, with its centuries of European settlers, Carl Dair’s first indigenous type design was not made until 1967.

Theunis de Jong's picture

Carl Dair’s first indigenous type design ...

Indigenous as in "made in Canada", or the very first Canadian Syllabic font?

Perhaps this question is too much like asking "why are most famous didgeridoo players of Australian descent", applied to fonts.

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry, I was going to mention the real first Canadian typeface, a rough piece of work made in the 19th century for a First Nations language by a missionary, but I couldn’t remember his name, and a quick Google didn’t come up with it.

BeauW's picture

@Nick : James Evans?

BeauW's picture

To answer the original question:
Akira Kobayashi is the first name that came to mind. (Or rather I should say- he came to mind, and then I had to search for his name.) I admire his work, and remember he had some really interesting things to say about designing a Latin typeface from a non-native perspective.

Joshua Langman's picture

Saara:

You should get a copy of a book called Language Culture Type which was published by ATypI a few years ago and celebrates the contributions of type designers around the world.

http://www.amazon.com/Language-Culture-Type-International-Unicode/dp/193...

hrant's picture

Akira Kobayashi ... had some really interesting things to say about designing a Latin typeface from a non-native perspective.

I'm a big fan of Akira as well, so I'd love to learn more details about this.

hhp

altsan's picture

I dabbled a little in Japanese calligraphy, although I always wished I could study it in more detail. (I was just looking into joining a local class when the earthquake and subsequent evacuations put paid to that, unfortunately.)

I have grown quite interested in looking at the internal consistency of Japanese fonts, with respect to how they combine the Latin and Japanese glyph sets. It's rare to find the Japanese font which uses Latin characters that aren't painfully generic. M+, which is IMO one of the more attractive Japanese text fonts, uses a Latin set that looks extremely similar to Frutiger and Myriad. (And that's one of the better examples - at least those are fairly nice Latin glyphs, if not very original.) Of course, it goes both ways - Monotype's pan-Unicode WorldType fonts from the 1990s, for example, use extremely generic Japanese characters (although to be fair, their Latin is pretty unimaginative too). One of the things I want to experiment with is in designing fonts with an internally consistent character style between Latin and Japanese (which still "fits" both writing systems).

hrant's picture

It's nice to be ambitious, but be warned: enforcing too much formal consistency between scripts almost always results in a loss of authenticity as well as functionality. It's not impossible for scripts to share attributes (I [try to] do that all the time) but the limits are typically pretty severe.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

enforcing too much formal consistency between scripts almost always results in a loss of authenticity as well as functionality

This is a hard lesson, but an important one.

Nick Shinn's picture

But surely a good design is formally consistent across scripts, without privileging any one to the detriment of the other(s).

How is this a different problem than consistency between letters in the same script?

It’s easy (with competent production skills) to produce a consistent alphabet—if you stick to convention.
(I believe this is Alex’s point.)
The hard part is to find a way to make the whole thing interesting and new, without the novelty of individual glyphs protruding.

hrant's picture

Maybe we mean different things by "formally consistent".

Let me try this example, which is something I run into regularly: if you're making an Armenian companion to a typical Latin serif font formal consistency requires it to be upright, and to have serifs in the same places; but this results in an ungainly, low-readability mess.

How is this a different problem than consistency between letters in the same script?

On some level at least maybe it's not!

hhp

dezcom's picture

"formal consistency requires it to be upright, and to have serifs in the same places"

Requires? I don't see it. Formal consistency must be incredibly rigid to you? Formal consistency is what you make of it. It can be lock-step rigid, as you seem to imply, or simply a kin to. There is a difference between identical twins and 2nd cousins but both are family.

hrant's picture

I myself do apply "formal consistency", just very gently. But the way Nick expressed it, it sounds like the sort of thing I hear from people who for example put too many serifs on Armenian ("too many" because our "x-height" has a much higher proportion of verticals).

It's notable BTW that some designers are much more restrictive than even I am: they feel that matching the color is the only thing that should be done. I myself think there's -usually- more room to play than that; in fact even color can actually be sacrificed if that helps balance the apparent sizes (which is more important).

hhp

dezcom's picture

It is mostly a visual thing instead of a measurement thing. The x height of Greek to Latin, for me, is not the same. People read with their eyes, not with a micrometer :-)

hrant's picture

The x height of Greek to Latin, for me, is not the same.

Exactly! But do note that most fonts do have them the same. Why? Because humans like to line things up, and when they're observing letterforms consciously = display typography, it's admittedly nice; but not for immersive reading; and sometimes not for cultural integrity either.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

But the way Nick expressed it, it sounds like the sort of thing I hear from people who for example put too many serifs on Armenian.

And that’s what also generally happens to me on the first pass of a serifed Greek lower case derived from a Latin.

But then the goal is to work within that parameter of having fewer serifs than the Latin, and nonetheless achieve consistency of overall text colour, and consistency of scale of detail.

Because, apart from overall “style” (e.g. shape of curves and ductus), those are the cross-script consistencies to aim for, or else the two scripts will look like different weights and different sizes.

dezcom's picture

" those are the cross-script consistencies to aim for, or else the two scripts will look like different weights and different sizes."

Yes, but how do you do this? I assume you have no formula or set of specifications to follow? I assume you just work on it until you feel you have achieved a sufficient family resemblance to make the differing scripts work together without being jolted out of conscious reading.
I think when we write down an exact recipe for consistency, that we are at that moment doomed to failure. Because different scripts came to be in different ways, there is no Rubrics' Cube solution. Type designer Humans just have to do the work so that other Humans can simply read it without having to consult a cypher.

hrant's picture

consistency of overall text colour, and consistency of scale of detail.

This is what I don't believe in, because the functionality of a [text] face doesn't come from formal attributes, especially when you factor in differences in how cultures see forms; such formal consistency ignores tradition (which harms functionality). For example, a "literal" Cyrillic Trajan cannot mean the same thing for Russians as Trajan does for Westerners.

To me -in a text face- the correct way to approach it is "multi-laterally": start form the scripts individually and see where they can meet; and very often they simply can't get close enough to satisfy the important requirements (which for one thing doesn't include the conscious appreciation of alignment) so you snap away (for example by not forcing the "x-height"s to align).

hhp

John Hudson's picture

It should be clear that formal consistency can mean different things; indeed, allows different approaches to the same design situation. We touched on this in another thread recently, when we discussed what makes it possible to create more than one viable companion for a type in one script in another script, each picking up different formal aspects of the common 'target'.

hrant's picture

Yes, that was/is an interesting angle and a good point*. However (and I'm not sure I ended up opining this on that thread) the closer your intentions are to "pure reading" the less room you have to pick and choose which formal parameters to play with.

* In fact I can in retrospect say that that's how my Nour&Patria is built.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

…the functionality of a [text] face doesn't come from formal attributes…

By “consistency of overall text colour”, I mean between the two scripts, so that they both appear to be the same weight of font. This is a reasonable expectation for typographers to have, tasked as they often are with balancing the import of blocks of different-script text, side by side on the same page. You don’t want your Greek to look like Regular and your Latin to look like Semibold.

Similarly, with “scale of detail”, you don’t want your Roman to look like a body face and your Greek to look like an agate.

Weight and optical size are formal attributes of a typeface, and they have to be consistent between scripts, or else the settings of at least one of the scripts will require so much tweaking by the typographer that the font becomes dysfunctional for multi-script layouts.

hrant's picture

Consistent color is generally a good thing in my view, but thinking "let's start with serifs where they would be in Latin and maybe take some out so the two scripts look closer" isn't.

As for trying to match apparent size (which I've never heard of as "scale of detail") as I said I agree that it's very important (mostly because you don't want people feeling inferior). That said it's possible to counter-balance that with color (i.e. make one script smaller but darker than the other) especially if you simply can't make the apparent sizes close enough - think of combining Latin and Arabic.

hhp

Bendy's picture

Want to come back to the ideas of this thread later, once I've properly formulated the problem that's been troubling some of us all year in Reading, basically that the same formal characteristics of a design may be either very very conventional or completely alien in a different script. What some call the 'atmospheric values' of a typeface depends entirely on socio/cultural associations; where formal characteristics may connote a very different era or mood in a different script. For example the broad nib convention in Latin doesn't work well in Thai, where expansion serves the letterforms more historically accurately, as well as more aesthetically. Sorry, I appear to be speaking in fragments.

hrant's picture

Somewhat fragmented, but entirely valid. :-)

And a favorite example I like to use happens to be from Thai culture:
http://www.davestravelcorner.com/photos/thailand/Statue-Bangkok.jpg
(I couldn't find the picture I once took of those statues unfortunately.)
They look kinky-evil to Westerners, but not to Thais.

depends entirely on socio/cultural associations

Greatly, yes, but not entirely; there are still some things that unite us as humans, for example the power of the color red, the instability of the inverted triangle, and so many more things.

hhp

Bendy's picture

Ha, here's another one of the kinnari from Bangkok's Grand Palace.

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is the way that one needs to understand the traditions of a culture in order to avoid unwittingly imposing models or formal characteristics that have different associations. What this boils down to (at least for me) is that in multi-script typefaces, one may need to look beyond a single stroke model as the unifying element, and instead tie things together with atmospheric values, by which I mean the associations and preferences of the target readership, something which is very difficult for a complete outsider to grasp. One thing that I consciously kept in mind when creating Lumen Thai was to draw 'Thai' curves, which meant sometimes going against the shapes that came naturally out of my hand. Also it meant discarding the Latin stroke model and matching things in other ways: in terms of colour (though I've since realised Thai does need to be lighter because of the amount of superscript and subscript activity and lack of wordspaces), and by aiming for a humanist feel, though in the Thai the swelling stroke of a flexible nib is as conventional as the broad-nib in Latin, so the implementation of that humanist feel is executed differently.

hrant's picture

Kinnari, eh? Good to know the term. But you really need to show the tail, and I do mean tail. :-)
http://www.luxury-thailand-travel.com/images/Kinnari-5.JPG

in multi-script typefaces, one may need to look beyond a single stroke model

As you know I believe that's true even within just Latin. Without the "may". :-)

hhp

Saara's picture

Wow.
I'm happy to have kicked off such a lively and interesting discussion!
Thanks to everyone, so many great points and advice!

dumpling's picture

I am reminded of some Vietnamese brush calligraphy I once saw. It looked like, well, like Chinese brush calligraphy done in the Latin alphabet.

There you go.

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