Recently I was looking at a UK designed brochure that had been recently translated and reproduced in Chinese. It was really interesting to see something that on the surface seemed so familiar, suddenly appear so unfamiliar.
As I was casually flicking through the pages, I was suddenly aware of something that, to my shame, should have probably been blindingly obvious, but the typeface used had no visual differential between uppercase or lowercase, all the characters were of the same height. I had just never really noticed or been aware of this previously when looking at translated material, or when looking at design that used Chinese type.
Despite my linguistic ignorance, I have had a long-standing curious fascination with Chinese and Japanese pictographic styled text. To me, it has an instantly appealing graphic and emotive nature to it that is hard not to be fascinated by!
OK, so my mini Chinese typographic epiphany set my mind thinking. How would my approach to typographic design change, if the whole western concept of upper and lower case type was removed?!
The use of upper/lower case type can often be a key (western design) element in creating an interesting distinctions in type design or in creating logotypes, but would not having it as an option at my disposal, force me into thinking in new and different ways? Would having less, actually make me more creative?
This is why I liked to be creatively and in this case, culturally challenged, it helps to develop the way you think or approach problems from a whole new perspective.
It brings it home that design is often not such a universal cultural language. What resonates in one culture, could easily be seen as being odd, irrelevant, ignorant or even offensive in another. Greater cultural understanding and awareness can bring a richness and diversity to our design.
Some interesting Chinese typeface facts/differences…
- The English alphabet only has 26 letters.
- The Chinese language has over 8,000 individual characters, of which about 3,500 are most commonly used.
- Chinese typographers, would not only need to design 26 alpha characters, but would also need to create at least 3,500 Chinese characters and their traditional/simplified equivalent.
Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as ever, it is much appreciated! Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments you might have on it…
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PS; With the Passion 4 t-shirt design shown above, I have to give a big thanks to my Taiwanese friend Asha for helping my understand a little more about Chinese type!