Current 06/2009

Jiang Hua and Chinese Typography

It brought up many basic problems of the Chinese character design. This article is the first one to put the Chinese modern Meishuzi into the dialogue of international typography. The author started the research from the mode of the Chinese modern typography. Which kind of creative mode the Chinese typography that is different from the Western character should have? As one of the most basic issues of visual communication, the discussion about typography would lead to design method problem under the context of Chinese character.




The article first defined the basic concept of modern Meishuzi and also discussed its important meaning that was ignored before. Besides, it talked about its relationship with modern Chinese typography. Then, the article described the historical preparation and the background, for example, classical Meishuzi, the development of printed typography and the calligraphy's tendency to typography etc. While the gene in the Chinese characters, its construction structure and the writing tradition decided the "expressive" characteristic and "poetic" structure of the typography, which also proved that Chinese modern typography cannot use Western typography mode directly and this became the basic design logic of modern Meishuzi. In the main body of the article, the author discussed the wide space for the development of the modern Meishuzi since it is between printed type and calligraphy and its necessary choice, which decided the "organic" characteristic of Chinese typography. At the same time, the author talked about the modern method of Chinese typography-the general situation of modern Meishuzi, improvement in practice, design group and creation direction, especially the different practice of Chinese typography pioneer in the early days and the relationship between modern Meishuzi as a media and the enlightenment of Chinese society. Finally, the author tried to rethink the rationality of Chinese typography mode and its limitation through talking about the social situation of modern Meishuzi after the 1950s' and the problems and situation of typography field in the 1980s'. Through research, the author thought the modern Meishuzi was the modern typography of Chinese style grown up in the unique social historical situation with Chinese characters as context according to its originality, design method and way of expression. It is a continuity of Chinese writing tradition and design logic in the printing era. Based on the practice, the author revalued important typography document, rediscovery the logic and mode of Chinese typography to get the concept and method of Chinese typography, through which to prove modern Meishuzi has became important design resource we cannot ignore today. The contribution of the modern Meishuzi to the construction of modern Chinese typography knowledge and system would lead to the rethinking about the unique progress of the modern Chinese typography and its modernity.

Jiang Hua



John Bielenberg’s project M

Communication professional is a brand new - and popular - profession that nested itself steadily between client and designer. Maybe it helped the professionalism of design, but it certainly did not boost professional fun in general. The 'official' version of graphic design has become less attractive to many designers as a result. Maybe some clients should reconsider their professional relationship with graphic designers.




John Bielenberg was never much attracted to the big city variety of graphic design with its almost predictable marketing briefs and disproportionate infatuation with style fads. He always preferred small settings, close to nature, a direct contact with small clients and a pioneering attitude to what he felt was really needed, away from what marketeers of big organisations believed was needed. John attracted many young professionals with his attitude, ending up organising sort of courses for graphic designers. His, so called, project M is an intensive 14 days program for young designers who 'want to to good'. Away from the city, located in a rural environment and trying to figure out yourself what the world really needs as a professional contribution instead of others telling you. Below is a link John has sent me where you can read about his projects and about designers creating a small community centre that also sells pies. They called it PieLab - of course.

Edo Smitshuijzen

PieLab at Project M


Jean-Benoit’s US road signs shop



First created in 2002 on a self promotional postcard, it became available as a black and white font at the foundry 'Typebox' and finally just found the perfect online shop for 'print on-demand products' at, where those signs can be found on various t-shirts, jackets, caps, bags, mugs, clocks, pillows, framed pictures, on buttons or on greetings cards and even on underwears... Check it out under this link:




It is known that in the U.S.A., access to the driver's license symbolizes freedom. But once driving on the streets, a huge quantity of obligations suddenly appears along the road. Many complex signs and directions are given to the driver's eyes and brain. To arrive in a new country demands some mental adaptation. While reading the California Driver Handbook to pass his driver's test, Jean-Benoit Levy recreated a series of road signs by simply taking away  or replacing one or two letters of the original and official versions.

Jean-Benoit Levy

A Killer Design Contract


All copyrights in the Services to be performed by Independent Contractor hereunder and the results and proceeds thereof shall be a "work made for hire" specially ordered or commissioned by the Center within the meaning of the U.S. Copyright Law, and the Center shall own all rights (including, without limitation, all copyrights) therein, throughout the world in perpetuity in all

media. In the event that for any reason such services and results and proceeds should not be considered a "work made for hire", then Independent Contractor hereby assigns to the Center all of Independent Contractor's right, title and interest therein in perpetuity throughout the world in all media.


a) Independent Contractor represents and warrants that (i) Independent Contractor has the right to enter into this agreement and to perform the services and grant the rights granted herein and (ii) that the services created by Independent Contractor hereunder will be wholly original and will not infringe upon the rights, including without limitation the copyrights, right of privacy or right of publicity, of any third parties.

b) Independent Contractor hereby indemnifies and holds harmless the Center and its trustees, officers, employees and agents from and against any claims, actions, damages, expenses (including reasonable attorneys' fees and costs), liabilities and costs arising from or relating to the Services of Independent Contractor under this agreement and the results and proceeds thereof.


a terrific design contract.jpg


During my professional life, I had never seen a contract as one-sided as this one. And this contract was issued by a cultural center baring the name of one of the most progressive presidents in the US. It made me wonder what had gone so dramatically wrong that cultural institutions in the US expect designers to sign this kind of contracts. I assume that cultural institutions are around to stimulate the arts, nourish and protect it from its often indifferent or hostile environment. This cultural institution has apparently developed a rather peculiar view on how to get there.

There are a number of things that puzzled me about the contract. First, there was the 'value' of the contract. The whole commission is at best about one month work for one person, so what are we talking about ? The contract feels a bit like caging a butterfly or casting a worm. Nobody could assume that the poor designer would consult a lawyer before entering the agreement, or even bother to negotiate this part of the conditions. I guess that most designers would expect that the contract would have fair or balanced conditions on these issues. Well, not in this case, there is nothing fair or balanced to be found in these clauses. A rather embarrassing conclusion.

Second, there are these legal absurdities in the clauses: an independent contractor who produces designs as if it was made in a work for hire working relationship? (in such a situation all copyrights rest with the employer, who is considered to be the true creator). Obviously, this is not the case at all, so why mention it ? Copyright into perpetuity ? The US lawmakers are trying to move legislation into that direction, but we're not there yet. The designer has no rights whatsoever to the results of the work under the conditions of this contract, nevertheless the designer warrants that the work is original and does not infringe on anybody else's copyright, right of privacy, or right of publicity. Finally, the designer indemnifies the commissioner against all claims and all related costs. The contract does not mention a limit to these claims. (Normally indemnity is limited to the total amount of the designer's fee incurred). In short, you are supposed to give away for free and into perpetuity to be used on any media anywhere on the globe the potential fruits of the ownership of your work but keep the responsibility of all possible disadvantages or costs related to that ownership. (Under the conditions of the contract you are not even allowed to expose your own work in public, because there is no longer any aspect to the work you can call yours, except when someone feels damaged by your creation).

Let's be clear, in most European countries this contract is illegal. No court would accept these clauses as binding agreements. And rightfully so. I'm not so sure about the situation in the US. I wouldn't be surprised that this would be considered there a legally binding document. We know that there are still some noteworthy differences at each side of the ocean. But what I find really sad is that all copyright related issues in most business practices are moving back to the situation we had during the late Middle Ages where the material owners of the work or its distribution channels were effectively the owners of the copyright and the authors of the works were not. Most copyright related contracts tend to move into that direction. Huge companies like Getty Images, Microsoft or Google effectively try to accomplish in some instances the same situation. They all try to seduce millions of authors to free contributions while offering fancy software or promising global exposure. They try to fill their troves with designer's treasures while having exclusively their own profitable exploitation of these huge free collections in mind and certainly not the interest of the authors, who are effectively building their castles on somebody else's land.

I believe that designers should take a firmer stand in these matters. The right of the author is a fundamental human right. In its core, it is a right exclusively given to the author of a work, and it basically garantees the right to be recognised as creator under all circumstances, the right to prevent deformation of the work (within reason) and the right to exploit it. Whatever one wishes to do to improve the regulation of these rights or make them more practical to use, it can never be a solution to assign these core rights to somebody else. That is an legal absurdity, You cannot make someone an author by agreement, just as you cannot assign your own acts to someone else. That was again only an acceptable option during less enlightened times, when somebody else could serve your sentence, for instance. Or are we moving back into that directio?

The other day, I read that one of our distinguished colleagues in the US was asked about what he considered being one of the most important ingredients of a successful design career; 'having a good lawyer', he answered. Such pity times, I thought.


Mysterious Typography

The (visually) unusual draws the immediate attention and serves our desire for the mystical. Profound insight isn't necessarily the result of hard intellectual labor, it can also come to us through a metaphysical experience. Where that experience is based upon cannot be grasped within the realm of reason, but rather what can be delivered after an almost effortless pursuit. So the supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual are popular. It is not very difficult to create the occult, it only requires a systematic denial of purposefulness.


Hocus-pocus typography (Ambigrams) for Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, design by John Langdon


We have experimented endlessly in all human venture with the effects of the occult. Only a few examples: so called 'concrete poetry' strips the signs we use for written language from all semantic content. All professional endeavours have an unstoppable desire to create their own abracadabra. It brands the professionals as a group and it gives the impression of profound insight and power. The mystic desire starts already at a young age, we develop our own secret scribal code or parlance with our best friend(s), as a sign of a special bond. Symbolic acts reach much further than practical ones. Participation in rituals can be life changing events. We are a bit of a funny bunch.  

Poster by Anette Lenz 'Blühende Landschaften' (Flowering landscapes)


No royalty, religious or political group, or any other power in society can keep its position without a carefully maintained aura of mysteriousness. That power is recognised - and cannot be argued against - because it reaches beyond comprehension. That gut feeling needs some steady support. Artists and designers also tend to fare better when adopting some kind of oracle (or guru) role.

Typographic installation by René Knip


Logo Dutch Ministry of Education by Jacques Koeweiden


In typography, the simple trick of challenging easy comprehension or form convention can also work wonders. The popular books of Dan Brown (Angles & Demons) exploit the mystical power of meaningless or unreadable text. The French designers Catherine Zask and Pierre di Scullio have dedicated their professional lives to explore the limits of readability. Racing sports star & design guru David Carson in the US (who had a very short pit stop at AGI) made meticulously denying all typographic conventions a very influential style breakthrough (so to speak). Making typography with all kind of 'natural' elements like branches, flower leaves or stones is popular. In the Low Lands, René Knip and Jacques Koeweiden challenge readability with intriguing designs. But these are only very, very few examples of the large field of typography in search of the mysterious.


Sketch for the AGI Amsterdam logo Ben van Dyke and Hanneke Minten


Book cover by Pierre di Scullio


Poster by David Carson


Designing ambigrams are hot in the US


Eating soup with a fork

Spooning with a fork3.jpg


Regrettably, plentifulness leads to uneconomic use and feeds useless complexity. Scarcity is the mother of progress. These things crossed my mind after I received the latest instructions for the new AGI members applications and a simple questionnaire about speaker participation in AGI conferences. Although both documents had a very simple content, they were both attachments to an email message, requiring the possession of two different softwares to be able to read its content. Why so complicated? Why do we still need attachments to messages? It's like putting a letter in a letter. Many people answer emails by returning their comments between the lines of the original message (comfortably appearing in a different colour) as if the original was a questionnaire. So why make a simple questionnaire as a PDF file (which the author himself needed assistance to produce it)? Moreover, the PDF was - at least on my computer - a rather clumsy document. I could open it and fill it in on the computer, but I could not not save it. I could only print it. (I often wonder what goes on in the minds of the people at Adobe).  I wasn't the only one having this problem. The AGI secretary received faxes with the printed forms and forms that were saved as jpg documents or somehow transfered into a Word document. This is rather absurd way to deal with digital technology, throwing an overkill of technical options to such a simple problem. (Apparently, the majority of the respondents could save the PDF file after filling it in and send it back as an attachment). The IEC of AGI also suggested to send in ‘Word' documents for resumés of member candidates. To start, this advise is a bit inappropriate; it is like asking to send in only ‘Kodak' slides as documentation in the old days. Stronger, do we really need ‘Words' to be able to read a resumé? I think our club of self-proclaimed graphic design elite should embrace open format standards for our very simple communication needs. Or think of simple creative ways to shape email content. Microsoft and Adobe are on a commercial path that may be sensible to use for complex environments but for every day use it is more like buying a Hummer where a bicycle would do the job better. So-called 'office' software is approaching a complexity which we once needed for landing two people on the moon. It has gone far beyond producing appropriate tools. It has become a bit like sharpening your pencil with a particle accelerator. It works, but so does eating soup with a folk. There is no point in souping up technology, for the sake of technology alone. And we are supposed to set an example, aren't we?


Being part of the industry standard software that allows you access to the highway is crucial, and market potential of individual societies decides whether you are a part or not. That is why today cultural diversity is disappearing at a breathtaking pace. The core of any culture is its ‘written' language, so when your language has no written format; forget it. Also if it is not part of the industry standard, you're really done for. Languages are disappearing fast-UNESCO is trying to 'save' as much as it can of this intangible heritage, which by definition results in a mummified state of these cultures. The superhighway has created immense possibilities, but also severe cultural consequences.  

Indiginous Arabic Type 2.jpg


Efficient communication today is impossible without representation in a typographic format. The visual quality of that format is an important carrier of a culture. Digital typography must be based on global industry standards. The development of the global industry standards for digital information exchange is almost exclusively an American affair. Microsoft and Adobe are effectively the global monopolies that have set these standards with the purpose to sell their products worldwide. The standard has two basic tools, a set of digital codes to make computers capable of dealing with human languages and a standard software to present these computer codes (for us humans) in a readable format. The Unicode is the global index of unique digital alpha-numeral codes given to each individual part of all important languages and scripts. Conformity to this code index allows all digital devices to 'read' all languages that are part of the Unicode database. The OpenType format is the 'font engine' that is capable of transforming the Unicode in a readable visual format presented in all typefaces designed in the OpenType format. Appropriate participation for each language in this system requires a suitable representation in the Unicode database, a font technician capable of working with the system, and a knowledgeable and creative type designer. Regrettably, the majority of the world's languages do not have indigenous professionals up to this task. Moreover, one needs to realize that the Latin script (used by all Western languages) has a relatively simple structure, while Asian and Middle Eastern scripts, for instance, have a far more complex structure. In fact, making a font for these scripts in the OpenType format can be such a complicated and tedious task that it can easily become a continuous assault on one's mental health. Given these circumstances, most non-Latin system (standard) fonts are made by western technicians / type designers close to either Microsoft, Apple or Adobe. Understandably, these designs have been primarily complex technical and/or formal exercises, the result not being anywhere near the richness, sophistication and diversity of Latin type design. Regrettably, sometimes not even meeting minimal standards for screen representation and formal consistency, caused primarily by the fact that all the big players in the market invest next to nothing in good typography for non-western languages. This situation will only change when indigenous designers will have had the opportunity to get professionally educated in type design and will be given the time to develop themselves. And local designers demand better quality. Being a native and living locally is important in this case. Developing all language related matters is like creating an indigenous kitchen. The French cuisine is developed by the French living in France; not for instance by brilliant Russian cooks living in the UK (although a few of them may be capable of serving excellent French dishes). This process of education and personal development is now under way, but it will take time to blossom, because type and language are also a profound expression of how a society is organized. All software related to the digital superhighway is entirely based on the Latin script. Unsurprisingly, this script is also by far the best represented. Time consuming indigenous cultural emancipation can only change this supreme dominance.

Silent Witness

A lot of professionals rely on their eyes which are trained to filter all the visual fuss out and to spot minute differences that nobody else would notice. Humans are a visual species.


silent witness1


In early spring I was pruning some bushes in my small garden. Unintentionally, I uncovered a perfectly constructed little nest with four eggs, coloured light greyish green with brown freckles. It all looked very tidy and neat. For a moment I was afraid that mother bird wouldn't return to her nest because it was now so much more exposed. Luckily, she did return, never approaching the nest directly, but always mysteriously appearing from behind. It took more than 14 days for four helpless, blind, featherless, wide bright orange beaked, tiny, unattractive creatures to appear. But they seem to be doing well, everything looked just fine. I had to leave for a trip abroad a few days later. Upon return I wasn't surprised (however a bit disappointed) to see the nest empty. It stroke me again how neat and clean everything was. No eggshells, not feathers; nothing. As if mom had meticulously vacuum cleaned after her kids had left home for good.  

silent witness2


And then I saw the many sharp cut marks in the trunk of the small tree nearby. These were fresh claw marks of a cat. And there were so many of them. You could feel the tension in the structure of the lines. I immediately realised the drama that had happened in my absence. A mother bird that had to feed her kids under the unrelenting hostile scrutiny of a nearby cat, Only just out of fatal reach. And four young birds that had as a first image on their retinas the head of a craving cat. It must have been the most horrible condition to put youngsters into the world. If these were humans and not birds, many therapists would have had work for years and maybe some of the offspring would have been on medication the rest of their lives. No idea how birds deal with these matters. A silent witness may have a dramatic story to tell.


Creative Destruction

Looking back, Paula has found that for herself occasional failure is crucial not only to move on but to be able to excel professionally. Without failure, there will be no success. She describes her career as a series of important failures and breakthroughs. Maybe not all successful design careers are necessarily so dramatic but it can also be her way of storytelling.


creative destruction


She says that she found that her male colleagues have problems in discussing these matters in the candid way she does. She may have a point, often Paula sounds like my mom, who always reassured her sons that we learn from our mistakes. (And we made a lot). My father was not quite of the same opinion, he thought that every mistake was one too much. The need for failure to serve further progression is called by the economists 'creative destruction'. And right now there is an awful lot of that sort of destruction going on, so it is uplifting to read about the hidden treasures to be found behind failure.

The interview



Thomas Couderc work updates

Thomas Couderc has updated their work, see it here.

Clément Vauchez work updates

Clément Vauchez has updated their work, see it here.

Alexandre Dimos work updates

Alexandre Dimos has updated their work, see it here.

Yu Guang work updates

Yu Guang has updated their work, see it here.

Alan Chan work updates

Alan Chan has updated their work, see it here.

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