TienMin Liao: Typeface design with multiple script systems

Published: 25 Mar 2020
Category: Interviews
TienMin Liao: Typeface design with multiple script systems
TienMin Liao (TL) is a New York based type designer. Her work has been recognized by the Type Directors Club, Tokyo TDC and Morisawa Type Design Competition. We talked with TienMin about her project and approach to typeface design with Laten, Kanji, and Kana.
NE:
Can you tell us about yourself?
TL:

I’m type designer based in New York specializing in custom letterforms, brand typography and logotype Kanji lettering. I grew up in Taipei and came to New York to study design. I worked in branding agencies for a couple of years and then now working independently.

NE:
What made you start typeface design?
TL:

My first job was a designer in a branding agency. Logotype design is a big part of my work. I realized my knowledge of typography is not quite enough, so I went to the type school (the Type@Cooper program at The Cooper Union) to study typeface design while working full-time during the day.

牛肉 / beef
NE:
Can you tell us about “Bilingual Lettering” project?
TL:

It is a project I started a couple of years ago. I travel very often between Asia and the US and noticed that a lot of brand identities are not visually well-translated, so I started a personal study about creating Latin and Kanji visually consistent for used as wordmark.

After working on 50 pairing exercises, I summarized the process and wrote it down as an essay. Both the examples and article are documented on the website BilingualLettering.com

Bilingual Lettering
My approach is to create a typeface that captures the visual essence of the Latin reverse-contrast.
NE:
Your Ribaasu typeface is very striking work. What is the differences and characteristics in designing Latin, Kanji, and Kana?
TL:

Ribaasu is a reverse-contrast typeface that I designed Latin, Kanji and Kana all together in one time. I created rules that can apply onto all these writing systems.

In a Latin reverse-contrast typeface, the normal weight distribution is reversed. The result is that the weight becomes concentrated along the cap-height, x-height, and baseline, creating a strong horizontal visual connection. Unlike the Latin alphabet, the weight distribution in Kanji and Kana is much more complex, and the weight is not just on the verticals. Many strokes are diagonal or curved, so the weight distribution varies on different strokes. Simply reversing the weight distribution may not create the same visual result as in the Latin one. Instead of reversing the weight literally, my approach is to create a typeface that captures the visual essence of the Latin reverse-contrast. That essence is the quirky personality and strong horizontal connection; thus, both can work together in a visually compatible way.

Ribaasu
Ribaasu
Ribaasu
NE:
What is the process like of designing typeface?
TL:

It depends. Sometimes I started a typeface from a lettering piece that I designed before. Sometimes I have a plan, sometimes it's just sketching. Most of the time it starts with a couple of letters/characters that I'm interested the most and then try to figure a systematic rules that can be applied across all the letterforms.

NE:
What typefaces did you design recently?
TL:

I am currently working on my typeface Min Sans, it's a high-contrast san serif to be used as titles/headlines. I’ve published the Regular and Bold on FutureFonts. I’m now working on the Italic and Bold Italic now, and hopefully will publish them soon.

Min Sans
Images © TienMin Liao