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Why So Square? The Practical Issues of Transcultural Chinese Typography

The traditional typographic principles are often challenged in the contemporary graphic design practice and need to adapt to different languages, cultures, times, esthetics, technologies, etc. Same as Chinese typography, especially with its heritage, but also complicated issues related to the different, complex writing systems and the influences from many others. Certain elements and principles from Western typography—such as italic/oblique, extended font, counter space/tonality, use of punctuation, glyphs, alignment—in conjunction with the “square”-based Kanji, all come to question.

The idea behind the experimental project called “Ruder’s Typographie in Chinese” by circlezine is to explore these aspects in relation to Chinese type design and transcultural Chinese typography in the modern context. The typographic principles of the West are reinterpreted using Kanji characters; some unique characters and symbols, not available commercially in Kanji design, were customized to seek potential in future type design development, and the typesetting conventions of Traditional Chinese were scrutinized and reinvented.

Through this investigation, we see more clearly the common ground between Western and Chinese typography, the different expressions of past and present in different regions where Kanji is used, and under what circumstances it is possible (and better) to break the “box” in order to achieve visual harmony and legibility when different languages are combined.


Jessie Chiuhui Chen

Jessie C. Chen is a graphic designer, publisher, writer, and lecturer currently based in Taipei. A graduate of Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles with a degree in Graphic Design, Chen founded way2creative design studio in 2010 and “circle”—a graphic design zine—in 2014. Starting in 2015, Chen taught communication design and editorial design at universities in Taipei and has given lectures and workshops at various educational institutes in Taiwan and China. She is now a full-time lecturer at Birmingham Institute of Creative Art (a partnership between Wuhan Textile University and Birmingham City University).

With her passion for systematic design and typography, Chen excels in brand identity systems, interactive design, and publishing design. She has also written articles about multilingual typography and design issues on various platforms. Chen is the recipient of awards for her brand and book design, including American Design Awards, Pele Awards, AIGA Best 50 Books of the Year, Golden Pin Design Awards, and Typographic Excellence from the Type Directors Club of New York.