Just the right type

| Katie Hung 23 Nov 2018

Tomson Chan loves to play with words. Having contributed to the visual identity of Tai Kwun and RYES Seoul, a hotel that is part of Marriott International's Autograph Collection, the winner of this year's CreateSmart Young Design Talent Award is determined to make use of typography to tell stories in a more powerful way.

"Typography is like one's voice while the words are what we need to communicate," said the lead designer from a Hong Kong-based branding and design agency, Marc and Chantal.

Unlike a type designer who creates whole sets of font for computer use, a typographer uses typefaces as a layout tool for better message delivery.

Chan's company was in charge of Tai Kwun's branding and directional design and he was behind the current neat black and white logo. The idea of its irregular hexagon shape is a combination of the historical building and the new JC Cube. He also took care of the Chinese and English typeface for the name, ensuring they go well with each other. For example, he added two serifs to the capital "i" so as to match the Chinese characters.

The selection of typeface greatly affects how people feel about one brand, he points out. It wouldn't suit the image of Tai Kwun - a space for the public, blending in both history and modern times - if they had used a thin font like those for florists. "The principle is not our visual identity but all the experiences and happenings occurring inside Tai Kwun," Chan said. "What we did was to make the brand as subtle as possible while looking modern and easily recognizable."

Chan's sensitivity to text started from a young age, though the creative media graduate only embarked on a typographical journey after his university studies. "Whenever I hang out, I always look at words on signs to see what makes them ugly or pretty," he said, adding that his previous work experience in Joint Publishing as a book designer helped him tap into the visual communication world.

He joked that people who work on typography are inevitably those who pay heed to details. "I always think beautiful typography is the starting point of good graphic design," he said. "Because text is the visuals that you would first take a glance at. No matter how pretty the poster is, you always want to figure out what it is about. And then you would have a look at the headline. So typography is helping the tagline to speak up, and the way to arrange the text is to help people to read."

He noted that visuals, such as photographs, are always taking the lead in Hong Kong design. "But I think typography is the lead. It is something every graphic designer has to deal with, since there is not much graphic design that requires no text," said Chan. "So it depends on us designers to advance what good visual communication design is - and typography might be one of them."

Chan is enamored with Swiss typographic tradition as it is responsive to the nation's official trilingualism. Hong Kong is similar case, as it has English and Chinese.

A common approach for designers is to search for a Chinese typeface that looks coherent to the English as there are more English selections.

"Is there any English typeface that is created with Chinese readers in mind," Chan wondered. That's why he has designed his own, a Latin typeface design inspired by Chinese typography.

In Clatin, or Chinese Latin, the Chinese characters are distinctive with lots of strokes, hooks and curliques - unlike Latin type which is more round comparatively.

In order to make the alphabet fit in well with the matching Chinese characters, he worked on the details first. His concept was to put in common components seen in Chinese characters - such as triangular or squarish strokes and joints in the corners. The letter "c", for example, has an inward curved terminal with an angular feature in counter.

The young designer is going to The Netherlands for a year for an overseas work attachment with the financial sponsorship to the awardee of DFA Hong Kong Young Design Talent Award 2018 organized by Hong Kong Design Centre.

And he has more plans.

"Many people, even in between designers, are judging Hong Kong's design. There are people who particularly open a platform just for criticizing," he said. "But I would like to build a platform just for praising. It is not that no one does pretty work."

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