The project Bridge explores differences between Chinese and English typography from structure, meaning, and decoration three aspects.
In the field of graphic design, typography and fonts are crucial to effective communication. As an individual who switches between Chinese and English on a daily basis, I have a unique ability to investigate the cultural gaps expressed through typography and fonts. In this project, I analyzed the differences between Chinese and English writing systems. By exploring differences, I am pushing the boundaries between the two languages and identifying new possibilities for Chinese and English bilingual design. I hope this project will be a reference for people who share similar cultural backgrounds and encourage them to explore multilingual font design or other language-based visual communication methods in the future.
Chinese originates from pictographs. In hieroglyphics, the image is associated with the meaning of the word. Because of years of reform and simplification, Chinese is no longer pictograph-based, but the association between meanings and parts of characters has influenced Chinese characters today. Radicals in Chinese are still related to the meaning of the characters. For example, if a verb is related to mouth movements, such as bite, bark, and chew, then the verb is likely to include the mouth radical. Therefore, in Chinese type design, it is typical for an icon to be used to replace a radical, and this substitution will not affect the audience’s understanding of the meaning of the word. This particular method is not used in the alphabet.
In this type experiment, I first used an icon to replace a certain radical that has the same meaning as the icon in Chinese. In the Roman version, by replacing a letter in one word with the same icon, I tried to reinforce the concept of combining written languages and images together in English. Images are a more universal means of communication than words. The combination of glyphs and images is a more accessible way of communicating. Images are repeated in both languages so that a monolingual audience can also gain some understanding of the meaning of words in the other language.
In this practice, since the alphabet writing system is phonetic, the replaced letters are vowels, so that the remaining consonants can still help the reader pronounce the word successfully.
Chinese characters are composed of radicals, which are usually semantic indicators. Rather than consider each character as a non-repeating glyph, we should consider them as combinations of unformed radicals. Therefore, the design of Chinese characters can also be understood as a structural module. Because Chinese type aesthetics are based on handwriting, splicing is extremely flexible in practical applications. Radicals are interspersed between sections, and the size of each section is not fixed, so it is not a strict module. However, the modular understanding provides some new possibilities for bilingual font design where a Roman letter can be used as a radical for splicing.
In this font experiment, I applied the concept of splicing between Chinese radicals to Roman characters, trying to compose a font for English that is visually similar to Chinese. The top-bottom structure and the left-right structure are the most common structures in Chinese, so this experiment mainly explores these two conventions. Other structures such as semi-enclosing would be suitable for other special cases, such as combinations including letters C and L. However, since they can only be applied to limited cases, this is yet to be explored further.
Although there are many arc-shaped structures in Chinese, they are all open, which means that there are almost no hollow semi-circular or circular structures in Chinese, similar to a round counterform. In order to design the font more like Chinese, I converted all the arc structures to slashes.
Chinese and English typography have completely different aesthetic standards. Chinese fonts often imitate calligraphy, including expansions caused by pressure from writing instruments. Even though the Song scripts were produced for printing purposes, the Fangsong scripts were produced later to capture a more handwritten vibe. Nowadays with the use of display types, there are still many cases of using calligraphy and lettering in handwritten form instead of digital fonts. Designers create fonts based on calligraphy for headlines. While English fonts originate from imitations of handwriting, many traces of handwriting were removed in the process to achieve a more simplified and geometrical aesthetic.
Because Chinese fonts imitate calligraphy, they contain more complex Dunbi (the swelling of ink caused when a calligrapher lingers the pen on the page), which correspond to the relatively simpler serifs in English. In this typeface experiment, I tried to make a Chinese version of a Roman typeface by changing the serifs to the Dunbi of the Chinese Song typeface.
The font I chose for this experiment was Voyage, a font with many decorative elements that are not typical in recognizable or more legible serifs, such as Times New Roman. The Chinese characters I designed also inherit decorative elements which harmonize with the original Roman version.