Megumi Seki’s article on the Japanese font-maker Morisawa ‘Fonts of Knowledge’ in the ‘Design Reports’ section of the current issue of Monocle is a fascinating insight into the booming Japanese company famed for its attention to detail and meticulous approach. As the article points out, Morisawa has been known to spend up to four years and hundreds of thousands of pounds getting a font exactly right. It’s an approach that, in Morisawa’s case, has paid off since its fonts have become as ubiquitous in the Japanese-speaking world as those familiar fonts in the West that come embedded on every new computer.
Once again, Monocle’s international outlook provides a correction to our Eurocentric view: we all too readily forget that even something as taken-for-granted as a font exists within entirely different parameters the minute one enters a culture in which Western alphabets are not the linguistic default setting. Not only does Seki’s article raise interesting questions about entirely unfamiliar economic circuits – building a font empire in regions where the company’s name is famed whilst remaining a niche legend on the other side of the world- but, in getting under the skin of Morisawa, it additionally reveals some of the fascinating concepts –philosophies even- underpinning the Japanese approach to making a beautiful font.
For a start, the challenges are entirely different. The Japanese live in a society where they uniquely use four different types of character systems: kanji, hiragana, katakana, and the English alphabet. So it’s not exactly as straightforward as producing a font based purely on the standard twenty-six letters of a Western alphabet and a handful of punctuation marks and accents. Furthermore, given the hieroglyphic nature of many kanji, and their specific relationship to very particular Japanese aesthetic ontologies, producing an on-screen font enters a whole different dimension.
Megumi Seki’s article offers both insight and prompts food for thought in considering how the very notion of ‘product design’ or ‘graphic design’ translate in a contemporary global context so reliant on particular technologies, let alone the implications for so many other aspects of design in a truly global economy.