ATypI 2012 Hong Kong: Day 3 Afternoon Sessions

These are live blog notes from the 2012 ATypI in Hong Kong, 12 October 2012.

Usual disclaimer for live blogging: These are informal notes taken by Dave Crossland at the event, and may or may not be similar to what was said by the people who spoke on these topics. Probably if something here is incorrect it is because Dave mistyped it or misunderstood, and if anyone wants corrections, they should email him immediately ( – or post a comment.

16:25 Black and white in Indian typography – D. Udaya Kumar

Tamil Nadu is a southern Indian state, its also an fficial language of Singapore and Sri Lanka. Its literary history starts in 300BC.

It has 247 letters with 12 vowels (life), 18 consonants (body) there are manyn vowel consonant conjuncts, loan letter sfrom Grantha script, some ligatures, and our own numerals.

All indic scripts come from Brahmi script; the Cankam script was 300BC-500AD. There were 3 great kings in india, and a kind promoted tamil as the official script in the 9th century.

There were stone carvings, copper plate etching, and palm leave manuscripts.

Stone, metal, palm.

A palm leaf survives for 300-400 years. There may be text from say 300BC but that has been destroyed by time. But every 300 years they copied the text to a new palm. The copying meant the script evolved. We can see the original forms because of the stone forms.

I tried to research these changes over time. Palm is used for many things in India, building houses even, and the palm leaves are boiled and dried. You can’t just take a leaf off at tree 😉 The processing various across india, north and south, and in S E Asia too, each have their own process. This is a processed and prepared leaf; its smoothed with pebbles.

Tamil has a unique way for using the medium. Here is a northern manuscript, and their tools of writing and script forms are totally different; a reed pen with an angular cut, that writes. THis makes the forms very calligraphic. Tamil is written with a pointed metal stylus that scratches the palm leaf, and then we apply the ink to the etching.

The manuscript is not written on a desk, its held in two hands. You must sit, you can’t write when standing. There is no ink in the writing stage. I believe there is thus no concern by the scribe about the black and white of the forms. Malayalam, you can see lots of curved forms, as a horizontal stroke is easy and a vertical stroke is hard to go across the palm lines. If you go horizonal, it will easily cut the lead. So the south indian scripts are rounded so that a scribe can QUICKLY write that overcomes the physical limitations of the medium.

Malayama is used in the neighbouring Kerala state.

So Indian typgoraphers like to use multiple bright colors, and lts of text effects. All the magazines have these effects. There isn’t a grid strucutre. We love to play around, use as much space as possible.

These are popular magazines in the south. At least 5 typefaces on the cover. This is INSIDE the magazine – each sentence has a different fore and background color!

This is a wedding invitation, I did it before all nice with a grid and helvetica and they said WHATS WRONG WITH YOU and did it the normal way.

A metaphor?

If I show this to my Mum, she says the traditional lady on the left looks good and the western lady on the right should stand properly, put more clothes on and eat better.

We want more ornamentation, more decoration, more colors, and we like it.


Modernism ideas are rejected. We should embrace what is there and understand the culture and do typography with that point of view. In Modernist type we look at the grey value, balance things and seek harmony. For the Tamil typographers these qualities may not be desirable.

I would like to thank my team members, Prof U A Athavankar, G V …

Thank you!

16:50 Simplified Arabic – Titus Nemeth

[nice quote]

Arabic type was slow to arrive. It was a slow and tedious process to compose arabic with movable type. 500 sorts, heavy kerning prone to breakage due to the pressure of the press. Until the mid 20th C the region wasn’t as supportive of typography beacuse colonial empires were in control. Ottoman empire.

This changed in the 1910s, a migrant arabic newspaper in brooklyn used a Linotype to compose its text. It was faster, a simpler workflow, but it imposed its own characteristics; it could not kern, it had a physical limit to character sets. 2 magaziens meant 180 chars. Reducing 500 sorts to 200 is a drastic reduction in type form variation.

Printed type remained marginal until around 1950. The biggest arabic newspaper at 1900 had 10,000 copies. Daily Mail in UK at that time was 1,000,000 copies a day. The region was fragmented with new and somewhat artificial national boundaries, and they sought identity. This is where arabic print really develops. This is what arabic typography as we know it today really developed.

The Al-Hayat newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon exemplifies this. Kamel Mrowa was a Shia muslim in Beirut, and it was a commercial success. In 1954, he approached LInotype for new machiens; he wanted faster production, to increase print volume.

He said he knew the arabic typewrite, around 50 years already, and they wrote arbaic with a simple tool. Unlike chinese or japanese typewriter, it had 45 keys and a shift for 90 total. From 500 to 90, it was a crude represenation.

Here’s how it worked.

Most arabic letters are connected, and can be reduced to 4 forms: initial, medial, final and singular. …

Walter Tracey was the type director at the time, he thought it was a good idea. Middle east was a new market for type manufactorers to enter.

Remember the wealth of letter shapes in arabic. Here are the 24 shapes a letter can take at the start of a word, changing based on how what is followed.

A typewriter reduced this to just 3 forms, singular and connected. (?)

LInotype was slow. They took an existing type and threw out some chars and modified existing ones. Kamel Mrowa was frustrated it was so slow going, and went to England to help. The University of Reading has in its collection some samples of this work.

It took years, but in 1959, simplified arabic was annoucned. It was big news for newspaper publishers, a 30-50% increase in output in a market where time is money is good. The author of the press release stressed that Kamel Mrowa was the author; perhaps Linotype wasn’t too sure about the invention of simplified arabic and put him with top billing. But in the following years, it was heralded as a great breakthrough by LInotype.

the type was expanded, an isntant sucess for the company. it found appreciation in the copmetitoin with imitation. Intertype had copied LInotype since the patents expired. Intertype was a total clone of linotype, to the degree it could exchange spare parts.

Intertype annoucned their simplified arabic a year later as ‘Abridged Arabic’

While Linotype had a patent on the system they didn’t go to court. The idae of shape reduction was copied by Intertype, and they improved the system; they added some characters to give a slightly more authentic, less simplified look.

Linotype took another route. They hired a calligrapher, to design a typeface specifically for this technique, and the Mrowa-Linotype Number 8 with 9 combiend the improvements of Intertype with a new design.

Intertype customers soon switched to Linotype since it was so much better, and by 1967 almost all typesetters were Linotype users.

In 1967 another type was released for the simplified arabic system, Yakout. A calligrapher was assasinated in his office and disappeared from Linotype marketing materials. It was the most successful and most copied.

In 1980 they had 80% of the general market and 90% of the newspaper market. You were guaranteed to read these types. This remains true today, with clones very popular.

But in moving to digital, the clones continued. Letters that are not the same have the same base forms, when there are no limits on digital character sets.

MS Arial and Times New ROman’s arabic used the simplified arabic system too. A typeface made for a narrow, specific cirumstance of newspaprs int he 1950s became a de facto stardard of typography.

A handheld device, it may be ambiguous and curious that this shares ANYTHING with the design for a linotype machine in the 1950s.

The quote from the start, we can subtitute script for type and writer for designer. There is no need to repeat the compromises of the past in the present.

Please learn the history, learn why things were done in the past, and consider how to do things newly today.

Jungshik Shin: You said the final and isolate forms were 1 form and the initial and medial forms were 1 form.

Titus: They CAN be treated separately.

Arabic glyphs in arial still use simplified arabic, just 2 forms?

Titus; Yes. The new font for a mobile has the 2 forms. There is no constraint any more for using more than 4 forms. Returning to my quote, its more work for the designer of course. If something contributes to the convenience of a reader, the designer or writer should do that.

Jungshik: OpenType has a restriciton on Nastaleeq?

Titus: yes, there are issues with opentype, it can’t handle everything – that is WAY further than simplified arabic.

Jungshik: Simplified Arabic ever used for urdu or pashtu region?

Titus: Urdu is a specific case. They use the arabic script in a different way, and until VERY recently, their newspapers were handwritten, and their websites are all single images linked, there is no real text. There is little or no use of ARial and TNR arabic by Urdu writers.

Jungshik: How do they do printing?

Tirus: Lithography. They handwrite on a lithographic stone and print from that.

Gerry; You can see a lithograph nastaleeq newspaper in the exhibtiion tonight.

17:15 Notes of Helvetica Thai: loop-less terminal in Thai typefaces – Anuthin Wongsunkakon

I look kinda chinese but I’m not and I got help from a friend with the Chinese text in my slides.

I’m from Thailand, and we speak Thai there. Its a 513,000km^2 sized country, about the same size as france or california, 65M people, 95% buddhist. Bangkok has 6.5M people, a single state; capital, port, political center.

Think of Thailand? An elephant ride? People ask me if I ride an elephant to work 😉 but you do see them on the street for tourist purposes. There are the buddhist ruins, the floating market (that is totally far from Bangkok). Its like any big city, lets see the street typography; Air Asia ads, KFC ads, a loopless terminal type in both. CP, a big food company, blackberry, epson, citibank – all loopless in their ad headlines, and citi use it in text too.

Averege income, $490/month for someone with a BA degree. True? Yes. MA, $685/month. The foundry business, you think how much a person like that spends on fonts. 26 minutes a day reading, 40% prefer TV to books. So what kind of type we read in thailand in books? it doesnt match the street signage and billboard ads.

This is a knockoff of Interstate. This is street pedestrian signage in Helvetica stretched narrower, next to a looped terminal thai type. This bank poster and this Ikea signage is nicely harmonized.

This is a magazine spread, the way we teach in design school, you MUST use looped terminal type for text. Smallest use is 14pt, you do 1 full page col or 2 cols 50%. But they use loopless terminals for captions.

So if loopless terminals are so bad, why would we use them for captions? When you reduce point size you can say more, the area can contain more text. The loop terminal at 9 or 8pt, you see the little dots everywhere.

Thai Letter vs Thai Typeface

Old Thai stone carving lettering. This kind of text set the tone for what our type looks like. 700 years ago it was upright, then it became slanted like in this stone. But with movable type EVERYTHING became upright again.

It effected our hand writing. We all started writing upright, lost our little slant.

More bizarre, this is the face everyone in Thailand thinks is THE default type, if you want to type soemthing in an office, you use it. We call it French Face, designed by French missionaries, it is latinised a bit, euro style stroke contrast.

If it was introduced now it would be awkward but after 150 years its highly readable.

WE have looped terminal, this is Tonbori, the default Mac OS X thai type, and this is more ‘latinised’, Sukhumvit, with a non-looped terminal.

Wallpaper, Maxim, they use no loop. This ia school textboook with looped terminal.

This is a VTS station, its helvetica with somtehing that looks odd to me, not the looped terminal, but the way the classifications dont match.

This is more matching to me.

Legibility for the old generation? A latin type has a family of styles, weights. In thai, before digital type, phototype had little variety in weight. This estabilshed workarounds, so its acceptable to use a different type that is bolder to get emphasis.

This one, you see the outsider typeface; an old Ford newspaper ad. They wanted to look advanced, imported, reliable, modern. They used a type that looks like Futura Bold to me.

This concept crept in, people felt good to use loopless terminal in 2nd and 3rd level headlines.

Today, you can see morea nd more loopless terminal designs in text.

Many people mix it up, loopless is display+headline and text at 14pt with a looped terminal only type.

When you work in thailand, you may be as a co worker, or as a family business. If you dont have a true bold you use another type that is bolder, another example.

Helvetica in the 1970s, dry transfer was very popular here, an alternate way to get fancy type in your layout. That’s where this begins. Anuparp was designed to be Helvetica’s best friend, that I made. its looped terminal, monoline, with the same proportion as helvetica. Similar color.

But when helvetica wants to speak thai, what would he do?

Its born out of being a display font, so it went over the classification line into a text font. Differnet weights help with this. This is nutrition facts on a orange juice box. Its loopless narrow type. This is a loopless terminal in an Ikea catalog.

Capturing Helvetica physically, its not possible 70 years ago. But today its more and more used for serious text usage. You can copy and paste the forms from latin that are similar to thai forms. But it doesnt work very well. You can see thai text appears much too narrow in this way.

When I designed Helvetica Thai, i wanted to move on and design new forms. If you want to design something, you must make it new, not just copy. We have to keep the essentials, but the x height is different so I redrew everything. the text color and pitch is harmonised.

I did light, regular, bold, and the 44 thai letters. I also did helvetica neue version too.

Thank you!

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