A passion for huaren identity, culture is clear in good Chinese typography – Julius Hui

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As a senior font designer for Monotype Imaging, Julius Hui is dedicated to developing font designs more suited for practical use. As Hui sees, it outstanding font design for hanzi (Chinese characters) isn’t just about offering new possibilities for other design work and an artistic outlet for the designer’s personal style; the most important thing is to create an effective design that can be used in the daily lives of contemporary huaren societies.

Anyone interested in design would be familiar with Monotype fonts. A leading font foundry, Monotype’s MHei and M Finance fonts boast clean and flowing lines and a development structure focused on the real-life functional use of hanzi. Having surpassed a 90 percent share of Hong Kong’s users, Monotype has expanded into China and Taiwan in recent years; more and more huaren communities are using the company’s fonts. However, although hanzi font design seems to be blessed by the script’s strong visual foundation, the development process is not as simple as a layman might think.

Says Hui: “Taking mobile digital media as an example, new technology devices need the software design to match it. Appropriate hanzi design is particularly fundamental and important. The mobile screens that are common now are limited in their functionality. New media devices need a compact profile, which limits internal storage space. Audiovisual content that matches these restrictions is essential, and designers need to start from scratch in their designs. Just a basic hanzi character base requires at least 70,000 characters in storage space, so designers need to keep the size and storage space in mind and carefully compress the size of each character, so that every one of them can be used in appropriate files. That makes a light and convenient mobile media source possible.”

When he talks about his study into hanzi design and passion for the subject, Hui shows both rich experience and pure enthusiasm.

He offers a unique perspective in his analysis of hanzi design. The form of modern print hanzi fonts are heavily influenced by Japanese kanji, but the characters in Japanese writing in fact serve a unique function different from that in Chinese writing. Japanese writing also includes the kana scripts, which are more frequently used but seen as less formal. Therefore, typeface design for kana are usually more fluid, dynamic, and casual in their visual presentation, while kanji in Japanese are blockier, more still, more serious, and more visually striking. This combination in Japanese font design of dynamism and stillness, sparseness and density, allows the reader to immediately focus on the highlights of a text, drives emotional and attitudinal shifts outside of what is explicit in the text, and uses design to differentiate subtext, turning writing into a subtle guide for the reader. Therefore, the blocky kanji in Japanese writing represents a formal style and serious emotions. If huaren designers lack this background knowledge regarding the logic expression in Japanese writing, and only mimic the existing methods of presentation in Japanese fonts—that is, using Japanese design philosophies for Chinese writing, then the result will be inappropriate for huaren reading styles.

We cannot deny that hanzi fonts are growing more modular and homogenized. We’ve found that rigid and stiff hanzi fonts often provide a poor reading environment for readers, causing a serious, stressful, even paralyzed mental state when they are reading. Such an exhausting reading experience has become one of the reasons why young modern huaren communities reject in-depth reading.

With his dedication to huaren culture and professional knowledge regarding font design, Hui has started designing a new font with huaren reading habits in mind: the KongMing font. Hui says that the central design concept for this font is to blend the spirit and sensibility of traditional hanzi with modern printing technology, and to attempt to capture the existing sense of rhythm in hanzi. The kerning and line spacing will also be adjusted, increasing the white space between characters, to allow layouts to breathe better. This intangible breath will flow between every word through design, making modern hanzi layouts more rational and more appealing to read.

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Hui believes that good font design not only breathes new life into modern hanzi, but also allows the reader to feel resonance with huaren culture, appreciating the beauty of Chinese and ingenuity of hanzi. For modern huaren, this will foster a strong sense of identity with hanzi, huaren design, and huaren culture.

About Julius Hui

Julius Hui is a senior font designer at Monotype Imaging and the founder of Hanwentang. He was a font designer for Dalton Maag and a member of the Xingothic font design team. He is now in charge of external affairs at Monotype Hong Kong, including consulting, lectures, education, exhibitions, and advertising. In his three years at Dalton Maag, he led Chinese font design work and Chinese font consulting for HP and Intel’s brand typefaces. He moved to Taipei in 2014 and founded Hanwentang; he is now an active writer of typography-related articles and supports local typography education efforts. In the same year, he began the Kong Ming font development project. In September 2015, he was honored with a “10-20-30” Hong Kong Design Young Gun award by Antalis Paper Pacific.

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