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This dissertation is a study of multiscript typeface families, focusing on the analysis of existing contemporary examples. Starting with defining the scope of my research and introducing questions. I will aim to answer them by looking back in time, exploring the impact of the technology shift, global typography and market influence. The main part aims to investigate several recent designs of multiscript typeface families by focusing on approaches and influences. Supported by visuals, the analysis will lead to concluding how the harmony is achieved and through what measures. The last part of the essay addresses the future of in technology and education of typeface designers.


1.1 review o available literature

1.2 Research questions

To specify the scope of this dissertation it is essential to explain what I mean by multiscript typeface family. Its definition changes depending on the time in history. In the era of letterpress prinitng, families were not designed as one system, but they where used together on one page to set text in different languages simultaneously. Nowadays, the definition of multiscript family is one system designed to work together, either by expansion from one script or build as a whole from the beginning. They can be designed by different people, every one of them focusing on different script. By researching this topic I would like to learn how to plan designing this kind of system, what to take into consideration and how to choose the best approach. While presenting mainly well designed examples, I will also mention failed attempts to design a non-latin script to accompany the latin, to draw conclusions for a better design process. The topic needs also a look into the future. Stating all of the above, I aim to answer these questions:

- How to build a harmonious multiscript typeface family and how the approach to a design affect its outcome?

- How the shift of the technology changed the designs?

- Why do we need global typography?

1.3. Defining harmony and variation

To make my argumentation logical it is crucial to specify the concept of harmony and variety at the very beginning. What makes letter shapes harmonious? The term itself derives from music and means a 'pleasant combination of different notes of music played at the same time.' Can we apply the same deffiniton to type? Letters can be easily compared to notes, and text to the music.

Same way every song has a rhythm, groups of shapes have it as well; rhythm carries a pattern or regularities and irregularities. Variety breaks monotony, and makes a design visually more intriguing. It can be a part of a pattern or disrupt them. By bringing diversity, variety incorporates exceptions as parts of the design.

Harmony means designing shapes which complement each other, share a pattern. Nonetheless, to achieve harmony in typeface design (especially in multiscript typeface family), designer has to incorporate variety. Without it, design is lost in repetitiveness and becomes too modular.

2. Global typography (1k)

For a most part of its existence language was just a verbal mode of communication. From a need of making speech permanent, there came a need for developing writing. Robert Brinhurst defines writing as “[…] language displaced from the mode of immediate gesture or speech to the mode of the memento - something like the seashells and the driftwood and the footprints on the beach. Writing is leftovers - but of a kind some people prize as highly as they do the original meal or parent organism itself.” Later he separates the script from language - script embodies the language, but it might lose some of its meaning on the way. Language, writing and scripts are all living organisms. They have past and present, they exhibit the culture and society.

Nowadays we live in a global community, which blends cultures and speech. In almost every country in the world people live with several languages side by side, what can be defined as multilingualism. Thanks to that, we can exist in more united, globalised world - which couldn't exist without languages.

Although few might think globalisation causes more harm then good, it enables access to technology, in the same time helping local communities to preserve their language culture. Dialects and scripts will still continue to die out. But with the help of computer we can document their history and slow down the process. The real challenge connected with globalisation is how to protect the linguistic diversity and at the same time trying to find a way to connect them.

Why do we need multi-script typefaces? Global world is in demand of global design. Graphic designers and marketing agencies have to adapt to the larger need of complex script support. With more and more world-wide brands and businesses reaching foreign markets, they face a demand to translate in order to be successful and preserving brand consistency. This growth is becoming higher especially in the areas of Middle East, Gulf and India where Latin corporate identities are supported by regional identities. Furthermore, we owe the acceleration of script development to computer industry desire to place its products in societies, using scripts which are beyond Latin. There is also and issue not only of writing systems but also of typography styles. How do we translate documents from one script to another, when latin naturally uses at least two of them, and there is no support of secondary styles for different languages?

This discussion deserves to mention one important issue - the term ‘non-Latin'. Peter Bil'ak addressed the problem in his article, saying “Even today, typography as a discipline continues to be plagued by a Eurocentric bias. If any of the major typography reference books are to be believed, the development of typography has generally been limited to western europe. […] In other disciplines language and terminology have adjusted to the wider environment of the global village, reflecting the progress that the society has made in the last couple of decades. Only typography continues to display a shameless bias towards western civilisation.” With so many languages existing side by side, its high time to remove the term ‘non-Latin' form typographic nomenclature and treat them as equals. Both in speaking about them and in design them, we cant no longer treat scripts other than Latin as secondary. After all, Latin is only a drop in a sea of languages.

Thankfully, nowadays designers are involved much more in a design of scripts like Cyrillic, Greek and Arabic. Popular foundries start to create multi-script systems, enabling setting books and building websites in several languages at once. Design schools recognise the need to educate student about the global market. Type design competitions acknowledge are creating categories devoted to different writing systems, which additionally motivates designers to tackle the projects and research. Its time to go beyond Latin, and explore the possibles of other scripts, at the same time changing the approach to Latin - learning how to design it in a system of scripts.

There are plenty of factors shaping the script. Most of them are cultural, including politics, economy and religion. Culture and local tradition are transformed by dictators, colonial invasions or missionaries actions. The change of local authority is often reflected by modification in scripts. Bringhurst acknowledges also the deeper meaning of a writing system. He points out that scripts can be badges of national pride or faith: Hebrew carrying the badge of jewishness, Arabic of Islamic faith or Cyrillic of soviet nostalgia. Nevertheless, he states that badges can be removable.

That is the task of contemporary designers - retain the history of the scripts, but at the same time open up to possibilities of new design models. A chance to design of multi-script typeface is a great one - it helps to connect separate cultures. But at the same time it requires finding particular typographic solutions to challenges which may arise for scripts form different backgrounds.

Designer has to be sensitive to the life history of the script and culture. With easier access to historical resources there is a raise of awareness of dropping the Latinisation of scripts, which became popular especially in digital age with using the method of copy and paste. People who are not typeface designers are creating typefaces which are based on cultural bias or deconstructing popular designs. Instead doing that, focus on research and getting to know language background should be crucial first step to multi-script design.  

Due to the vast technology development today, we, as a designers, have a luxury of creating with almost no limits. Although, through hundred of years, the design of scripts beyond Latin was restricted by the technological development of Latin. In order to free them from one another today, it is essential to take a step back and look how production and print technology shaped scripts.

3. Technology shift - constraints and possibilities (3k)

▪ How did the technology influenced harmonisation between scripts?

▪ Can we talk about ‘multi script type families' before digital age?

One of the oldest examples of polyglot texts in the existence is well-known Rosetta

Stone. It's dated as far back as 196BC, and features priestly decree written in three

scripts: Hieroglyphic, Demotic and Greek. The text is an inscription, that's why we can't

call it a multiscript typeface family. Nevertheless it reveals that the need to present text in different scripts side by side existed long before what we know as an era of globalisation. The need survived throughout the years, and scholars kept on cultivating multiscript text on manuscripts, to finally, with the invention of movable type, reproduce polyglot texts on bigger scale.

3.1 Movable type and multiscript

Even though movable type printing in countries outside Europe existed in 16th century, the Old Continent was without a doubt the biggest producer or type. Due to the high demand of producing religious and scholarly texts, printers introduced ‘oriental types' to their specimens. The first example that we know of is specimen sheet form German printer Erhard Rat­dolt dated 1486 and it features latin and greek type examples. (picture)

One of the most known Greek typefaces from 16th century was cut by no other than Claude Garamond. His famous Grecs du Roi is and exceptional example of how to design a typeface which cultivates the traditional form of the letter shapes without latinisation. The punches were based on a hand of Angelo Vergezio, a Cretan calligrapher. Saying that it is important to point out that the typeface imitated handwriting almost perfectly, with all the ligatures and alternate characters, which were problematic and time-consuming to typeset. Even thought the amount of sorts didn't carry any limitaiton, typesetting needed a skilled hand of a printer. The beautiful  example of Greek du Roi in multiscript setting is Henri Estienne's “Thesaurus Græcæ Linguæ" (picture) Although Latin type wasn't cut by Garamond, its safe to say that typefaces are harmonised and create a good balance between harmony and variation. It can be attributed to the printer, who managed to typeset different scripts together, even though  they have different x-height and might not sit on the same baseline, text gives the reader the impression of cohesion. To quote Bringhurst: “Mixing scripts and sizes in the digital world it easy - but doing it as well as a 16th century master printer is something else again”.

The first religious polyglot printing of any part of the Bible was the book of psalms made by Petrus Paulus Porro in 1516 under the name of Polyglot Psalter. The eight-column text features 4 scripts and creates balanced spread due to fitting the types to the baseline and adjusting to the script with the biggest height - arabic.

Even though offices printing with oriental types where based mainly in Italy, the prominent printer Christophe Plantin set up his workshop in Antwerp where he took upon himself one of the biggest polyglot productions of all time - the Plantin Polyglot bible. It's set in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Syriac and Latin. Most typefaces cut for printing the bible are attributed to the french type designer Robert Granjon. It is a persona who with a great deal of attention to detail and with care of tradition of the script approached the task of cutting oriental types. Though he spend time working for Plantin, the most prolific period in his life started after moving to Rome. There he started working for Vatican Press, which was producing types and books on and order of the Pope; Granjon cut exceptional Armenian, Hebrew, Cyrillic and Arabic types. The last mentioned script was pursued mainly out of three reasons: connect Roman Catholic Church with Arabic-speaking Christians by printing polyglot biblical texts, publishing editions of scholar texts in Arabic and, after all, making money.

The trend to spread religion continued for another hundred of years and in 18th century when foundries in Europe produces most types for academic publications. With the appearance of missionary groups in 19th century printing offices had to produce reli­gious texts in multitude of exotic languages. Fiona Ross mentions: “ Religious missions then, as before and since, provided both a demand for new types for indigenous writing systems and invented new writing systems where none existed. 19th century missionaries to North American aboriginal peoples were particularly inventive in the latter regard, but this too was nothing new.”

With the need of spreading the religion there also came a need of spreading languages. One of the  answers to that was a book 'A Grammar of the Bengal Language' published in 1778. It was the first time Bengali types used in print. Ross comments on the multiscript typesetting: “[…] the typography of the im prints was styled on Western models, and in the case of Bengali, the lettershapes of the first fonts contravened the customary stroke sequence of the penned hand. The notion of a baseline was conceived for ease of mixing with Latin types; Latin punctuation made its appearance in non-Latin texts; and interword spacing was introduced.”

When focusing on Bengali Fiona Ross presents a good example of ignoring the cultural traits - the Bengali specimen from 1819 printed by the lmprimerie Royale in Paris. She comments: “At first sight it appears to be a well-presented type specimen. However, this font of uncertain provenance does not bear close scrutiny. The text is decipherable but not readable: the propor­tions of the characters are incorrect; the weight distribution is dis­parate; the relationship of the diagonal strokes to the vertical strokes does not accord with Bengali penmanship; and the spacing is uneven.”

But can we really talk about multiscript type families in the age of movable type? In that epoch types were produces separately, with no coherent system in mind. I wouldn't risk the statement that type families existed at that time, but undoubtedly there was an intention to create harmony on a page with multilingual text.

The constraints of movable type relied purely on being forced to fit on the piece of led. It resulted in the lack of appropriate kerning, and in  joining scripts like Arabic it enabled perfectly blent baseline. For the scripts with a plethora of diacritic marks the punch cutter had to produce multiple combination of glyphs and marks which resulted in a great deal of sorts. Typesetting polyglot required more leading to place scripts with different measurements in a desired place. Nevertheless, the technology that was about to come after movable type presented greater deal of restraints.

2. From hot-metal to phototypesetting - adapting type to its' limits

With the end of 19th Century, the culmination of what we know as industrial revolution, came a demand for quick print reproduction. It was possible thanks to the development of hot metal type casters like Linotype and Monotype machines. But with all the perks there came also a big disadvantage in polyglot printing - the scripts had to be input  (footnote)  

The peak of hot metal production overlaid with Eric Gill typefaces development. It is essential to mention his designs in that era as en example of the lack of understanding of how to approach scripts different than Latin. His drawings for the Greek version of Perpetua from 1929 are a great lesson of ‘How not to' in typeface design. Next to his drawing there are instructions on how every letter was constructed using elements form Latin characters e.g. (μ (mu) - ‘u' with left stem lengthened, τ (tau) - 't' with straight top, α (alfa) - top of ‘q' with descender cut off). It is evident that Gill tried to reference latin when designing because these are the shapes that are most familiar to him. Exact same mistake was made by Dutch typeface designer Jan Van Krimpen in his drawings for Romulus Greek. Even though Van Krimpen is and exceptional type maker, he failed to acknowledged the tradition of a script and its distinctive features. He uses the “copy & paste” of latin script elements. Fortunately, both Van Krimpen and Gill designs were never reproduced and were left in concept phase. Though is they were, the hot metal machines wouldn't apply restriction on Greek script due to the amount of the letters of alphabet (23 in Greek) not exceeding latin (26 letters).

The problem of cutting down the amount of characters in a script its a common limitation in Linotype and Monotype machines. This is evident in most Indian scripts which character sets exceed the Latin's highly. For quick newspaper composition Linotype machine could use the maximum of 96 sorts of type which became a huge issue for scripts like Devanagari, with no finite set because it is used for several languages e.g. (Hindi and Marathi. As a result of limiting the character set the designed typefaces were not suited to the native reader. Hot metal other constraint was inability to position subscripts and superscripts accurately. The technology of the machine compromised the kerning of letters and resulted in poor quality of newspaper print which was problematic to read by natives. Limitations of Linotype led to development of a new systems of typesettings. In Bengali, “setting vowel signs separately form their host character”. (image)

Problems faced while dealing with Bengali arose while typesetting Arabic. One of the most significant improvements which made printing much easier was the invention of simplified Arabic. The first hot metal Linotype machine was developed in 1908 in the United States. This invention was motivated my the Arabic diaspora in this country as well as growing publishing activity in the Middle East. The goal was to develop a  solution which would be easily readable to the native but would fit the restriction of the technology. The system of simplified arabic required reducing the character set form 470 to 90 available in the magazine and 90-button keyboard. Reduction was made by removing ligatures and  characters which made the script look joined. Due to that, some of the characters had to take up on multiple roles. The final character set had 69 alphabetic characters and additionally numbers, punctuation and spaces. The design was linear, with minimally curved baseline (that allowed for a better joining between characters and no visible gaps).

Hot metal typesetting was a great development allowing faster reproduction and by that the evolution of press, not only in countries with Latin-based languages but equally in regions using other scripts. Unfortunately, the technological constraints didn't give script beyond latin the freedom they needed to be accurately historically and culturally. Whats most important, it separated the scripts and typesetting multilingual publications didn't progress in any way. Going into 1960s, the emerge of optical typesetting brought an awareness to adapting typeface design to the changing of technology. With more possibilities and freedom, typeface manufactures abandoned restricting projects form hot-metal era and started designing typefaces for a modern technology.


The advantages of phototypesetting over hot-metal are immense. The new technology allowed for much faster typesetting, and most of all, there was a possibility to scale the type size. The printers were given a flexibility without additional costs of buying the masters. That led to being more economical and efficient. The image produced form phototypesetter was clear and sharp, enabled bigger character set, kerning and better positioning of vowel signs (subscribed or superscribed). “Over time they eventually became faster, cheaper and more efficient in terms space, money and time in comparison to the hot metal composition machines.”

In the mid-1960s producers started to  replace mechanical parts of phototypesetters with electronic components, gaining increased speed and flexibility.

The shift of print technologies required the change of type design to fit current specifications. Type foundries like Linotype (przypis) were adapting hot-metal designs such as Yakout (przypis) for use in phototypesetting. As stated by Timothy Holloway: “[…] non-Latin fonts adapted for filmsetting were never wholesale conversions of existing metal designs.” The increase in quality of designs were much more important than preserving the unity with the original model.

Setting complex scripts like Arabic was much slower than Latin due to the amount of characters.

To make it faster, the film layouts had to be rearranged so the most frequently used characters had to be put in the central positions of the film. “Faster setting speeds could be achieved due to fewer lens movements and less frequent font changes”. Multiscript typesettings had indeed better quality, but required more time to complete.

To correct the bad impact of hot-metal on Indian type Linotype commission Matthew Carter in 1975 to design a fresh Devanagari typeface for filmsetting. The character set was extended to over 300 glyphs.

Moving to the all-digital typesetters, the biggest limitation was the amount of memory of the device.

It was also a money issue, because the hardware was expensive. Manufacturers felt the financial pressure to make their typeface files small.

In the matter of global typography, writing systems of some quickly developing countries were an obstacle limiting contact with technology. Computer could not be used the way it was use in English-speaking world. Extensive character sets (e.g. Bengali or Chinese) is one of the main obstacles to spread technology to the whole world. 8

First computers gave users a 8-bit system, which allowed for a maximum of 256 characters. This number is too small to typeset texts in most of the world languages, because several writing systems need more than 256 letters. When talking about CJK scripts it is obvious that the 8-bit system is insufficient. A proposition to change that was to implement a 16-bit system which allowed for 65,536 characters. Nonetheless, this would still be not enough for CJK scripts. This was spotted  by the engineers from Xerox and Apple who in 1986 began to debate the solution to provide encoding which would allow for complex script use. At the beginning it focused only on Chinesse and Japanese unification, yet over the next year the idea expanded to “[…] the idea of a universal, fixed-width character encoding standard for all of the world's scripts and languages […]”. Published in 1990, Unicode finally enabled to provide unique identifiers for 1,114,111 characters.

Finally, in the late 1990's came the technology which opened up a door to freedom and efficiency, and made designers job much smoother. Opentype supports Unicode, and allows a single font file to contain multiple scripts and languages. Another advantage is the ability to be used across

several platform, maintaining consistency.

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