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Table of Contents

10, 11

T a b l e o f C o n t e n t s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5   i.   Summary English ...................................................... 7   ii.   Nederlandse Samenvatting ............................................ 813,   iii.   Introduction ...................................................... 10  

. . .17, . . 18, . . .19, . . .20, . . 21, . . .22, . . .23, . . 24, . . .25, 1 326,   1 .   W h a t i s a w r i t i n g s y s t e m . . . . .16, 2 .   2.1   2.2   2.3  

C h i n e s e W r i t i n g S y s t e m s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16, . . .17, . . 18, . . .19, 1 620,   The mystical appearance of Chinese Characters ...................... 16   Evolution .......................................................... 2125,   21, 22, 23, 24, Simplified ......................................................... 26  

27 21 26

26, 27

3 .   S t u d y o f L a t i n W r i t i n g S y s t e m s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 9   3.1   House Of The Ox .................................................. 29   29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 4 .   C o m p a r i s o n . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Error! Bookmark not defined.   4.1   Evolution ........................... E r r o r ! B o o k m a r k n o t d e f i n 29, e d .30,   4.2   Influences on each other and ChallengesEE r r o r ! Bookmark not 32, 33, d e f i n e d .   5 .   T y p o g r a p h y i n N e w M e d i a . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36, . . 37, . . .38, 4 239,  

6 .   F r o m T y p o g r a p h y t o G r a p h i c D e s i g n : T h e N e w M e d i a38, E v o l u t i o n . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 739,   7 .   C o n c l u s i o n a n d i m p o r t a n c e f o r g r a p h i c d e s i g n . . . . . . . . . 5 1  

8 .   A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42, . . .43, 5 444,   9 .   9.1   9.2   9.3  


A p p e n d i x . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 6   Interview with Tommy Li ............................................ 56   Interview with Jiang Hua ............................................. 60   Interview with Stanley Wong........................................... 6148,   47,

34 31 34 40 39 40 45


1 0 .   R e f e r e n c e s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 7  

51, 52 54

56, 57, 58, 59, 60 ,61, 62, 63 ,64 65 56, 57, 58, 59, 60 60, 61 62, 63, 64, 65 67, 68, 69, 70




Summary English The goal of this text is to discuss about writing systems and how and why they change through time. All writing systems do this, but here the Chinese script and the Latin script are taken as a examples. Writing systems are made of two parts: symbols and the methods of understanding them. A writing system consists therefore never of script alone, but requires people to know how it works. Obviously, for both script and method, there is a never ending evolution. Looking at the Chinese and Latin script separately we can analyse the nature of this evolution. For the Chinese writing system the evolution caused a change from the oracle bone script into several brush scripts, printed type and later simplified Chinese. Generally these were processes of standardisation and adaption to a new environment. It led to a unified structure of the symbols and a greater variety in the style. The Latin writing system evolved from the Semitic script via the Greek and ancient Latin to the standardised new Latin script used for many different languages today. For both scripts, the evolution is caused by mainly three factors: A new medium or tool, practical improvement and cultural change. For a change based on media, there are generally two stages. Firstly, imitation of the old medium. The first printed books imitated handwritten text and so on. The second stage is when the new medium is explored and used to its full potential.The symbols are adapted to the new medium. The medial environments of text are always evolving. This, including cultural change, might lead to an exchange of writing systems on the one hand, and a morphing together on the other. Certainly, the new environment will sooner or later shape the nature of writing systems. I propose, writing systems will get more dynamic for reading as well as for the production. To embody this probable new evolution, I will present a new tool.



Nederlandse Samenvatting Deze thesis gaat over schriftsystemen en hun evolutie. Om een zo volledig mogelijk beeld te geven van deze evolutie zal ik het ook hebben over hedendaagse schriftsystemen en hun potentiele toekomstige evolutie. Alle schriftsystemen ondergaan een evolutie, maar in deze thesis zal de focus op het Chinese en het Latijnse schrift liggen. Alle schriftsystemen bestaan uit symbolen en een bepaald systeem om deze symbolen van een betekenis te voorzien. Een schriftsysteem bestaat dus niet alleen uit letters, maar ook uit het vermogen van mensen om deze symbolen te begrijpen. Het wordt duidelijk dat hierbij een nooit eindigende evolutie plaatsvindt. Het Chinese schrijfsysteem veranderde bijvoorbeeld van het oracle bone schrift via verschillende schrijfstijlen met een kwast naar een geprinte versie. Het Latijnse schrift komt voor uit het Semitische systeem en veranderde via het Grieks en oud Latijn in het nieuwe Latijnse schriftsysteem dat tegenwoordig in veel verschillende talen gebruikt wordt. Ten grondslag van deze evolutie liggen de volgende drie factoren: Een nieuw medium (of schrijfgereedschap), het efficiĂŤnter worden in het gebruik van het medium en culturele verandering. De introductie van een nieuw medium wordt meestal gekenmerkt door de imitatie van het voorgaande medium. Een goed voorbeeld hiervoor is het boek: In het begin werd de lettervorm gebaseerd op de vorm van de kalligrafische letters. Pas later wordt het nieuwe medium begrepen en door een verandering van de schriftvorm volledig geĂźtiliseerd. Ik denk dat gecomputeriseerde schriftsystemen zich op het moment in het eerste stadium van hun evolutie bevinden. Het nieuwe medium is nog niet helemaal begrepen en is zelf nog sterk in ontwikkeling. Dit medium en zijn sterke technologische ontwikkeling brengen ook hevige culturele veranderingen met zich mee. De toekomst is zwanger met mogelijkheden, maar voorlopig lijkt het erop dat er enerzijds uitwisseling tussen schriftsystemen plaatsvindt en anderzijds ook een hybridisering van schriftsystemen. Wat er ook gebeurt het zal in ieder geval tot een grote dynamiek in het schriftsysteem leiden. Om deze nieuwe evolutie uit te beelden zal ik een nieuw gereedschap presenteren dat zal leiden tot een beter begrip van de huidige evolutie van schriftsystemen.




Introduction Mysteriously, almost every culture in recent times are using writing systems, but only a few people know why and how. I think this is caused by a misconception. I have the feeling that writing systems are not supposed to be as exciting as some action hero running around with a gun or the story of a tragic love. But writing systems entertained people long before there were firearms. Furthermore, writing systems are an important part of our culture, our daily life and future. I think everyone should get a view of the inside of different writing systems. Just to enjoy a basic understanding. For this, the Chinese and the Latin writing systems are perfect examples. With these two scripts I want to show you the beauty of letters and characters. I will take you on a journey through facts and mysteries to explore the different systems and moreover to learn about their similarities. Let them entertain you once more. Therefore sit down, relax and enjoy reading. The Chinese and Latin writing system are ideal to compare. We learn best by looking at extremes. And they are as different as they could be. They can be seen as two perfectly successful and relevant solutions with a long history that serve exactly the same purpose. This is often forgotten. By looking at their differences we must try not get trapped by cultural prejudice. For example, many people in the West think that the Chinese system is very mystical in origin and complicated to use. In fact, it is just that not many people in the West know how the Chinese system works. Everything gets mystical if you don’t understand it. The nice thing is that even if you start to understand a system, the myth doesn’t fade away. It just gets more interesting. And furthermore only ignorance claims to be on the right path without having a look around. It is always useful to understand how things can be done differently. Especially now, when the scripts find themselves more interconnected than ever in the same new medial environment. Interestingly, within the new media there exists a subsystem that is the same for all systems. The language of the machines. They all speak the same language – crazy, isn’t it? The Western alphabet, Chinese Characters, Arabian or Hebrew Abjad, Indian alphabets and all the other scripts that are used today – they’re all sustained by the same medial hosts communicating in universal code. How can it be that so fundamentally different systems like the Chinese and the Latin, feel both so comfortable in this environment? This must be a key for understanding the relation of writing systems with media. What is the difference between Chinese and Latin script? Most writing systems share the approach of a phonetic alphabet. Writing is therefore a transcript of speech. The Chinese system however is logographic. The shape of the character does not directly represent the sound of the described word in spoken language, but rather, each character describes the depicted thing itself. What it exactly represents is disputed. But whatever it refers to, it is interesting to see where the behaviour of the two systems overlaps. This might lead us to a better understanding of the essence of writing. We might learn about the general possibilities our new media provide, and take a potential glimpse on future typography. 10

With this thesis I try to document the history of Chinese and Latin script in words, sketches and images. I give my best to be thorough. But I also try to capture what it feels like. Culture is not purely scientific. There is a mystical vagueness about it. It cannot be explained with a formula or clear-cut essay.1 One reason for this is that culture constantly changes. This is different for exact sciences like physics, chemistry or biology. Of course, also these sciences evolve, but it is not the law of nature that changes, merely our understanding of it. For example, there was the moment when general relativity superseded Newton’s theory of gravity. The world did not suddenly behave differently to fit the new theories. It was already like that back in the old days when Newton was attacked by an apple. His ideas were just the best possible estimate to explain the sudden aggressive behaviour of an otherwise peaceful object. The theories of Quantum Mechanics could have probably been applied hundreds, thousands or millions of years ago, while the smartest creature on earth was a dinosaur called Ornithomimid2 and the only known uncertainty principle was the pure struggle to survive. Science represents our varying understanding of a static reality. It consists of approximations striving to be exact. With cultural sciences this is different. Culture itself changes over time, not only our understanding of it. To make it even more complex, culture is composed of individuals and means something different for every single one of them, which are moreover interwoven with each other through constantly dynamic relations. Culture is not exact and there is no static ideal which research could strive for. Knowing this, a thesis that seriously tries to deal with culture cannot aim to be purely objective and neutral. What about typography and writing? It is part of culture and at the same time it relies on science and on human perception. This means that typography is founded on two pillars. The first is how we perceive it. This is stable and can be scientifically analysed. Just think of questions like: “Which contrast in colour makes the text best readable?” or “Can we uedrnsnatd a txet even thugoh it is msisslllpeed?” The synthesis of human body and mind follows reliably the same principles. What changes is how we understand this. This self-reflection of meaning embodies the second pillar. It constantly adapts to the never-ending changes in our culture. A random south American nowadays will be able to perfectly perceive the shapes of a Mayan text, but he probably won’t be able to read it. The culture changed and with it the understanding of it. This documentation and explanation is not all I want to cover. The nose points to the future. I do no less than offering a solution. But hold your horses please. Before I can talk about my solution, give me a minute explain the problem. When I first came to China I recognized many western features in contemporary Chinese typography. I thought this shows the strength of the Western system. “See? Even the Chinese copy our system now. Because it is so good and influential”, I assumed. Especially since I didn’t find a similar influence on our system from the Chinese. “Of course, it’s already perfect”, these thoughts flew arrogantly through my head. But then I talked to some Chinese people, who interpret the same phenomena differently. The Chinese system is flexible enough to learn from the West,. this shows its power. The Western system does not allow adapting advantages in the same way. It’s a “fundamentalist” system.3 That’s why the Latin script might be not well prepared for the future. It is too stiff.


Now for the solution:



What is a writing system

Before starting to tweak the writing system, it is useful to know what it is that should evolve. So, we head to the most basic question: What is a writing system? Equivalent simple questions often seem obviously easy to answer, but mostly they are not. If you want to answer them adequatly, you inevitably have to deal with many subquestions. In our case for example: Can random drawings from a child be considered a writing system, or the pictures on airports that explain us where to go? Luckily for us, we are not the first who thought of this question and there is much written about it already. Mainly there are two different approaches in defining writing systems:

1. A system of graphic symbols that can be used to communicate SOME thought. 2. A system of graphic symbols that can be used to communicate ANY thought.4 The difference here is that the first defitinion includes more systems than the second one. It allows for systems with a limited variety of expression. This leaves the question what exaclty limits the possibilities of conveying thought in a writing system. Is it even possible to have a writing system that is limited?. The simplest writing system I know – binary – can be used to convey anything. Logically we might conclude that if even the simplest writing system can do this, any writing system must be able to do it. But this is not exactly true. For example, if I develop special symbols (see figure 1) to mark the properties in a family.

Figure 1: symbols for father, mother, daughter & son (from left to right)

Then this set of symbols would be a writing system in the first definition, because they allow me to say something like: “This is Mothers” or “This is Fathers” etc. But to make it part of the second definition, the system must be able to express anything else as well. For example:”I’m sorry but I think I left my wallet in the fridge.” Or .. anything else in an unlimited variety of things that could have been said within the limits of what can be thought. Egyptian hieroglyphs for example could be used to describe modern events like the discovery of the potential Higgs-boson in 2012. As we look back to, my system, it gets obvious that it is not able to communicate any


thought imaginable, therefore it is not a writing system according to the second definition. Stefan Sagmeister once used existing pictographs to tell a complex story. To do this, he combined them with common english text.5 This cooperation of pictographic symbols with common english text was able to transport thoughts beyond any limit. The pictographic symbols alone could have never done this. They were designed to communicate a specific piece of information only, because they are understood to communicate one specific piece of information only. Arranged in an order they are understood as a set of rules, rather than a story. Using them as a writing system becomes therefore very limited, though they themselves are far more complex than the symbols used in, for example binary. So, the range of thought that is exepressable does not rely on the complexity of the symbols. The range becomes wider, if the system is flexible enough to allow new meanings to be expressed. The power of thought-range is not in the symbols, it is in the system that uses the symbols. It is how we attach meaning that enables us to communicate. In binary for example there are only two defined symbols needed. And it does not even matter how these symbols look like or what they exactly are. As long as they can be distinguished from each other.6 Though, the system around them is seriously complex. You can experience this by looking at the binary content of an arbitrary file on your computer. You will see that you need a huge set of pre-information to be able to read the content of your file in binary. Most people don’t have the knowledge to encode this file in their heads, so they use computers to access this information. This can be seen as using other people’s knowledge to be able to read the information. The set of preinformation that is needed to read the pictograms in an airport is,compared with binary, extremely low. Concludingly, if you need a writing system to be universially applicable to anything you want to express, the meaning is not in the symbol, it is attached to it by the culture that uses the writing system.4 Oh, and just to be sure, writing system is not a synonym for language. The latin script for example can be used to write either Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Italian, English or even Chinese. Also the Chinese script is used for many languages. You are not able to read a text if you merely know its language, but not the writing system and the opposite is also true. For example; if you are able to speak and read traditional Chinese, it does not mean you can read pinyin, which is Chinese written in latin script. Though, you might be able to read Chinese written in traditional Characters. This shows that a writing system is a replacable part of a language. In short I will give you a final definition of a writing system: A writing system consists of a set of graphic symbols and the knowledge of their use. It is able to communicate anything. The symbols alone are not the system. If symbols and knowledge are separated from each other, the writing system is without function.




Chinese Writing Systems


The mystical appearance of Chinese Characters

Figure 2 Wooden Shang Dynasty Sucoeban's Turtle and a bowl of blood

Once upon a time, some 3500 years ago, a small temple in the capitol of the Shang Dynasty was covered in the smell of fresh blood. Some of the smell came from a turtle that was killed by a Zhen Ren7, a priest. The diviner stripped its bones from flesh and then rubbed them with blood that was brought to him in a bowl. This was human blood of course. The shell was meant for an important purpose. The diviner did not dare to provoke the ghosts by using just animal blood. You can never be sure enough about these things. Especially, since the turtleshell had to be prepared to answer a question from the king himself. The matter was delicate, for days already the king had an aching tooth. Now he wanted to know, which of his ancestors was responsible and how he could be placated. Probably, more slaves would have to be killed. For one reasons or other, dead ancestors like human sacrifices. ‘Although it is not really a sacrifice if you kill a slave’, the Zhen Ren thought. Of course, he kept this thought for himself since he didn’t want to seed ideas in the king’s head 8 10 that might get himself killed. – Thinking about these things the Zhen Ren carved the date of the day and his name in the bone as was the tradition. Next to it the question. The last act before he was ready, was to make a pattern of notches in the back. In a ceremony, the shell was heated with a burning stick until it cracked. The diviner interpreted these cracks, carved his prophecy on the same bone and read it to the king. The symbols he carved in the bone are called jiaguwen, ‘甲骨文’ or oracle bone script.11 This was the first appearance of the Chinese writing system that we know. And could have happened like this according to what we know today.12, 13


Figure 3 oracle bone script: turtle shell with a) pattern of notches and b) engraved oracle bone characters. Also visible, the heat induced cracks during the religious ceremony.

We know very little about this script. Thethe writing system of the oracle bone script was already so advanced that there must have been a lot of development before that led to this script. But there are no traces of the steps of this evolution. There are findings of earlier pictographs, but not of a writing system. Remember, a writing system consists not only of the characters. The method of putting them together is just as important and this is nowhere to be found.

Figure 4 Cang Jie, the legendary inventor of the Chinese script

Nevertheless, that there are no evidences of its’ youth, does not mean that it was born adult. There are many scenarios that can explain the lack of findings. Earlier writing systems might have used


to write on decomposing material like wood or bamboo.14 Or they might have just not been found yet. In the end, the origin of the oracle bone script is a mystery which cannot be solved yet by experts. Though, they try and dispute, there is no definite answer.14, 15   Science leaves us here with nothing substantial to count on regarding the first origin of Chinese Writing. What else can we do now than to believe in the ancient Chinese legend? It says that before there was a human writing system, the gods used to encrypt secret codes in nature. Everything in nature was therefore considered to be the trace of the gods communicating with each other. Only gods, ghosts and divine men were able to read them.16 Cang Jie (see figure 5) was one of these divine men and he was extraordinary. Cang Jie was endowed with the vision of four eyes instead of only two. But not only had he more eyes than others, he obviously also used them better than anybody else. He studied nature, the language of the gods. Due to his skills and intellect, the legendary Yellow Emperor called him in his service to keep track of everything that happened. There was no writing system yet, so Cang Jie refined the old technique of tying knots in cords, and fulfilled his service this way. But tying knots was confusing, because once you forgot what they stored exactly their meaning was lost forever. Distinguishing the cords by colour was a help, but no solution. So the Yellow Emperor gave Cang Jie the 17 assignment to figure out a better system. Cang Jie knew that this was a difficult task, and he started to think about what this system might look like. One day he was walking around in the woods, as he did often. He rested on a stone and looked around. His mind was clear as the cloudless sky and his eyes were aimlessly wandering around. Then the upper left of Cang Jie’s eyes spotted a footprint of a legendary flying beast on the ground. A second later his bottom right observed the footprint of a small bird. The other two eyes perceived further animal tracks, so that with each eye he saw a different footprint of a different animal and he realized that if every single of these footprints can represent a particular animal, then he could create symbols that represent other particular things. And so Cang Jie, the four eyed half-god, went to live in a cave for several years and created the first Chinese characters, footprints of everything around him. He called them( 字 ,“Zi”, characters)17, 18 and thus invented the first Chinese writing system. The divine Heavens were so shocked and surprised by this invention that they let millets rain from the sky and the Ghosts cried through the night.19 Writing, the former exclusive activity of Gods was now in the hands of humanity, and no one knew if that was a good thing. With one exception: the humans, of course.17 They never stopped worshipping Cang Jie for his vision and genius ever since. Cang Jie understood the essence of writing to be a footprint of the referred – his system was pictographic. Because there were (already then) so many things on earth, he needed many characters. As many as “ten litres of rapeseed” the legend says. I calculated myself what this would be: With one rapeseed to be approximately one mm in diameter20 and thus roughly one cubic millimeter in volume this would result in a creation of at least ten million characters. Probably even more. But even ten million characters is more than just a lot. In modern Chinese there are around three thousand characters in everyday use.11 Needless to say that despite Cang Jie’s persistent efforts to teach everyone in the country his characters, no one could remember all of the ten 18

million. Even the great Confucius was only able to memorize seventy percent. It was then Confucius, who generously gave away the rest to other countries. In this way all the other countries also had a writing system.17 Now, I might have to surprise you. You thought this was all legend. Fiction. In other words: Not true. But this is too easy. Actually, the story mirrors what happened in a deeper sense. You have to look at it like a footprint of history. Cang Jie’s characters tried to transpose things from our world into another medium, the written word. He relates this to footprints of animals, which give information about the living animal. In the same way we can learn from legends, which try to transpose what happened into a story. This is not to be confused with reality. Just like we cannot eat the footprint of a deer, we cannot believe every word a legend tells us. But the footprint may lead us to the animal, and the legend may lead us to the truth. If you like to know more about what we definitely know about the oracle bone script, I can tell you this. We don’t know who was able to read or write the symbols.14 Of course, the priests or diviners possessed this knowledge. But who else? If they were the only ones, this surely would empower their position in the empire. Maybe this is 21 why later kings would sometimes carry over the writing themselves. But despite the fact we are unsure as to who was able to read oracle bone script, its purpose was clearly not to encrypt messages, but to reveal them. The shapes try to represent their meanings, and often mimic them. For example the character for “fish” is a simplified drawing of a fish. And this is true for most characters.11


Figure 5 Development of the character for “fish” from from left to right. Oracle bone script, bronze script in variations, seal script and traditional Chinese.  

Figure 6 Development of the character for “elephant” from early drawings on Chinese pottery, oracle bone script, bronze script and seal script to traditional Chinese from left to right.

This tells us that the script was designed to truly communicate, rather than to be an exclusive tool for diviners to enrich their power in the kingdom. There is even evidence of ‘schools’ that taught how to write oracle bone script.7   So, we just learned that characters like “fish” are based on the image of a real fish. John DeFrancis said that this logographical nature of the Chinese script often leads to the false conclusion that all characters somehow magically integrate the meaning that they communicate,22 somehow this is true. It is not a coincidence that


writing was an apprentice of religion for so long. Back in the old days there was good reason it was associated with magic. The first Chinese characters can be placed in two groups: pictographs and ideographs.23 Simplified pictographs are pictures of things and ideographs are pictures of ideas. While pictographs like “vehicle” (see figure 8a) can resemble the shape of a real object, ideographs have to invent the shape. So there are things and there are nonthings. But it’s not that easy. “Kill” (see figure8b) for example is an ideograph. While another non-thing – “happy” – (see figure 8c) on the other hand is a pictograph of a smiling face. It is a nested character. It resembles the expression that resembles happiness. “Kill” in comparison tries to translate itself directly into shape. To understand this, we can compare it with the spoken language. Nested pictographs are like saying “ha ha” instead of laughing. Pictographs are like saying “peng” to describe a shot, and ideographs are like the sound of “kill”. They were probably chosen either by chance or subjective reasons.

Figure 7 Characters in oracle bone script for: a) ”vehicle” b)”kill”


This means the Chinese language does not follow only one rule, which makes it flexible enough to express anything very efficiently. We don’t know much about the origins of the Chinese writing system. This is not mystical itself. It happened thousands of years ago. Things easily go lost in wars, get buried and never found, or they just rot and disappear. This lack of information left a hole in our knowledge, a hole we later filled with legends. What we do know is that the Chinese writing system evolved to serve religion and bureaucracy. The characters evolved from drawings and picto-/ideographs, but the characters were more complex than drawings. They were changed to fit in the system of writing and standardized to be usable. Since the meanings that they should express was of various nature, the way that the shape of a character was determined was also of various nature. To simplify and conclude everything – be it a feeling, an object or an action – was represented by a graphic symbol that was compatible to all other graphic symbols. These could be arranged in a certain way to communicate thoughts. However the circumstances of its first appearance were, Chinese writing originates from drawing. Then it strongly changed through its adaption to the method of writing. The shapes of the characters do not directly resemble their


meaning anymore. This heritage is readers with etymological training.






Evolution does not start. It is just there. It is also a property of Chinese characters that always exists. Just like animals constantly adapt to their environment, the Chinese writing system constantly adapts to its environment. With the difference of course that there is not much discussion whether writing systems arose by themselves or with the help of a creator. Writing systems seem to be invented and created by someone and possibly this someone was human. Though, as we learned before, this is not entirely certain. Is it possible that some kind of God created writing systems? Yes, of course, it is. But it does not matter. It does not matter where its origin lies. Important is how it changes and why. When the Chinese writing system changed, it was changed by Chinese writers and calligraphers. They used tools like brushes or carving-knifes to write on media like paper, bone or wood. These media behave differently and had influence on how characters were written. Over time new tools and media were discovered. Their influence resulted in further evolution. Let’s begin with drawings from around 1600 BC. This was even before there was a writing system. Starting here makes sense, because these drawings were direct predecessors of the Chinese characters. Looking at their shapes (see  Figure  9a) you can see that they were often filled 23 instead of outlined and lines had variable thicknesses. This shows the nature of the brush. It was a good way to illustrate things as recognizable as possible, which was desired, since there was no writing system developed yet to help conveying the meaning. Pictographs are specifically styled after the original objects. For ideographs like “to gain” (see Figure 8a), the shape is not directly linked to a real object, so it is harder to recognize. However, the drawing has the same features of fillings and varying thicknesses. Later, there was the need to store more complex messages particularly for religious reasons, where detailed questions had to be asked of ghosts and gods via the written word. Maybe to preserve the script, or for some other reason this was done by carving the drawings into bone. Fillings became outlines and the lines of the drawings transformed into a uniform thickness and the shapes became simpler (see Figure 8b). It feels like the skeleton of the characters becomes visible. At the same time, the characters often lost much of their original shape, so that even pictographs were not easily recognizable anymore.23 A possible reason for this change is simply that it was easier to carve uniform lines than lines with a variable thickness. Imagine that you have to carve hundreds of characters in a bone or shell.


Figure 8: evolution of Chinese characters a) 1600 BC, brush on pottery, Pictograph “to gain”, pre-oracle bone script b) 1400 BC, carving on bone, Character “to gain”, oracle bone script c) 700 BC, brush on paper, Character for “to gain”, seal script d) 709-789 AD, brush on paper, Character for “man”, regular script, e) 868 AD, woodcut printed on paperf) 1960 AD, printing, Character for “to gain”,


Carving produces straight lines naturally, so you will probably try to have characters with many straight lines. Filled shapes will turn into strokes and outlines, because you will experience that carving fillings is very time-consuming and can easily be dismissed. The most important thing is that the symbols you use are distinguishable. Gods will understand them anyway (they’re almighty), and you as well (you created them). So symbols become more abstract. When you carve lines, you don’t want them to vary in thickness, because to add thickness you would have to go over each line several times. This explains the transformation of the drawings into strokes. You will change even more of the characters for you are smart and smart people don’t want to waste time., You will simplify the characters as much as you can. You don’t want to get too simple, otherwise it gets hard to read if everything looks the same. The outcome would be somewhat like the oracle-bone script and actually this is exactly what happened. The script was then perfected during the years to fit to the writing process. Unfortunately, as already discovered there is not much evidence left of this process and we are confronted with an already advanced writing system. When this new achievement, the skeletal script, was written with a 24 brush around 221 BC on paper or bamboo, there was no reason to change the characters too much. The writers knew the oracle bone script, so they repeated what they already knew with the brush. The result was an imitation of what they did before (see Figure 8c). Their writing was dominated by old habits and therefore they did not realize the new

Figure 9 Huoman covenants, brush and ink on metal: Various forms for one and the same character in one and the same handwritten text

possibilities the brush gave them. Nevertheless, this period of imitation that is known as seal script, was chararcterised by an evolution in structure. Namely it was widely standardized and delivered the structure of Chinese characters that should be used for almost two millennia.25 Though the style of writing heavily changed when the writers soon used the brush more naturally during the Han Dynasty around 200 BC–220 BC.26 (see Figure 8d). Like before the oracle-bone-script, the shapes regained the dynamic lines characteristic of brush work - though without the fillings. These new characters were based on the structure of strokes to fit in a writing system and are not images of objects anymore. Chinese Calligraphy is born, and it evolved into many different styles. When writing with a brush, the impulse of your hand on the hairs of the brush varies the thickness of the line. The lines changed with the force and action that was used. For example when you start a line it is naturally wider. When you end a line you can either let it expire in thin lines or accentuate


it.11 This clerk script was written on paper or bamboo, so there were almost no limits for the brush. Writing style became more fluent, and the lines rounder. No grooves were present anymore that hindered the brush to make sudden and spontaneous movements. The whole body of the writer was involved in writing. This led to a more dynamic appearance of writing. Moreover, the different styles of writing evolved, which could be applied to the purpose: Some more formal, some more expressive. They all visibly resemble their tools and media: brush and ink written on a smooth surface. For a long time not much changed. But then the printing machine was invented in 593 AD.27 Again, the letters first imitated the brush (see Figure 8e)11 although the characters were produced differently. They were not drawn directly on the material anymore, more steps were needed now. First, the character was cut into wood. This shape was then inked and pressed on paper, wood or metal to produce the text. There was a separation of the process that determines the shape and the process of producing the outcome. With the brush on paper and the carving-knife on bone this was one step. Now, it was two steps. First carving, then printing. This detached workflow is very important for the evolution, since the same characters could be repeatedly used. Of course you could also copy a character by hand, but with printing you were able to quickly repeat the exact same characters. You could take yourself more time with the carving, because the shapes could be re-used. This meant that dynamic lines and varieties in thickness were no crucial obstacle anymore. What was time-consuming before, could have been done now only once per woodblock. Furthermore, re-using the shapes led to a greater standardization of the characters. With handwriting, every written character can have an individual shape, based on context and personal style of the writer (see figure 10). When printing machines were used the characters could not individually change too much anymore. Moreover, cutting the characters out of wood is not spontaneous like writing with a brush. The shape is already determined, and there is less space for spontaneous individuality of characters. Also, they had to be re-usable in other contexts, so printers had to find the best general shape possible. This lead to the standardization of the structure and style. Each printer had a slightly different typeface, but mostly they resembled the Regular script. (see figure 8d) For a long time this was not changed very much. Also when woodblocks were substituted by removable metal characters not much changed. The print existed next to handwriting, which kept being the same. And the print imitated its appearance, while trying to have the ultimate shape. It took a while until the potential of the printing process entered in the character making. Later for reasons of readability and aesthetics “sans-serif” characters “黑体” (Heiti) and various other styles were invented(see  Figure  8f). “But I remember, in the old days we had a lot of typesetting, and it was fun. We made some new fonts this way. Everything was done by hand; by our own ten fingers. You had a very close relationship with fonts. Even you could touch them.”11

Tommy Li

By looking closely at these steps of evolution in Chinese Characters a pattern rises. It gets clear that with every new medium, there were two phases. In the first phase the style and shape imitated that of the preceding medium and/or tool. In the second phase, the shape and style of the characters evolved to fulfil new needs and possibilities that the new 24

medium provided and it makes sense. First, when a new tool or medium was invented, it was probably the same old craftsmen working with them. They used the new tools for the same purpose and treated them the same way as they treated to old ones. They transposed their old knowledge and method on the new circumstances. They changed only what was necessary. Later generations were not set in their ways, they were able to experiment and see new possibilities. As a result, their work with the new tools became more natural. There are other opinions as well. Not everyone agrees that new media or tools are responsible for the evolution of the characters.28 When I told Stanley Wong – a famous Hongkongese graphic designer – about my theory, he had a clearly different view. He said that applicability and effectiveness changed Chinese writing and its characters,29 of course he is also right. Convenience changed the characters and the system around it. It was very important what was written. For example, the different Chinese calligraphy styles principally use all the same paper and the same brush, but they look very different. Their style and even the structure of the characters is adapted to something else than media or tools: to the purpose. A formal treaty or an official letter must be written differently than philosophical art or an everyday note to a friend. I think these two different opinions can be combined perfectly: more effective thinking of the people led to the evolution of the tools: What led to the evolution of the writing systems? One point that emphasizes the role of practicality in evolution of Chinese characters is the recent major step known as the simplification. In 1956 the Chinese Writing system was simplified by the PRC government to make it more applicable and effective using the same media as before.




“With the cultural revolution they [the PRC government] wanted to break the traditional culture. They wanted to create a new culture, a new attitude. They knew that the education and letters were the foundation for their new philosophy.”11 Tommy Li

In 1949 the new Chinese government started to simplify the Chinese characters.11 After fifteen years, in 1964, they published the first set of the Chinese Simplified script. It was refined several times after the same principle. The main goal was to break complex characters down into more basic shapes and make writing more convenient. The method for this was different. For example, the traditional character for ‘noodle’ is a combination of other characters (See Figure 10a) One of them is in Mandarin also pronounced like ‘noodle’, but means “face”.11 But because of the pronunciation everything else was taken away. The result is that ‘noodle’ and ‘face’ share the same character (see Figure 10b).11 The whole simplification was very controversial especially in Taiwan and Hong Kong. There, the traditional characters are still used. Critiques feel that the characters which took 3000 years to 11 29 Since the introduction of Simplified evolve, were now crippled. , Chinese, there is an emotional debate going on in Chinese Countries, about whether the change was good or not.



Figure 10: Example of extracting shapes a) Character for “noodle” in traditional Chinese b) Character for “noodle” in simplified Chinese, extracted from traditional for pronunciation. Same character as “face”.

One of the main points of critique was that simplified Chinese did not evolve naturally, but was dictated by the Communist party to serve as a basis for a new culture. Many new characters were seen as being distorted in their meaning. Reforms have already taken place since the beginning of Chinese writing to create standardized characters. The intention was clear, the reforms served communication. The question is why the simplification is disliked by so many, though the new characters are indeed built of less strokes than traditional Chinese characters, what speeds up the writing process. Moreover, the shapes of the characters do not directly represent objects anymore, they are not pictographs (though their shapes originally evolved from pictographs). In terms of practicality it does not matter so much, if a character means “face” or “noodle” as long as it is understood. But reassigning it to another meaning based on pronunciation works only in Mandarin. Other languages that 26

use Chinese characters might have incompatible pronunciations and this specific method gets completely meaningless. Also, since the simplification was done for partly ideological reasons – to build a new communist Chinese society under the leadership of the PRC – it gets attacked on ideological level as well. Ideologies can hardly be objectively right or wrong, they are beliefs. Questioning them on a reasonable level is mostly useless. This makes it very difficult to argue about simplification. The fact is that contemporary media are able to cope with traditional Chinese without difficulties. The practical reasons that lead to simplified Chinese are therefore not that pressing anymore. At the same time, the knowledge of traditional Chinese characters in China is very low, a reintroduction would cost much effort.28


infographic describing the journey of meaning from messenger via various media to receiver



Study of Latin Writing Systems


House Of The Ox

In contrast to the Chinese Characters, the shapes of the Latin alphabet seem somehow arbitrary. Their main function is to be different from each other, so that they can represent different sounds. But how exactly they look is irrelevant for their use in the alphabet.They live as pointers to things, while being at first glance empty themselves. Nevertheless, they have a forgotten meaning. For example the Latin “A” has its roots the Greek “alpha”. The Greek alpha means “beginning of anything”.30 Possibly, this meaning comes from its position in the alphabet. But the shape itself had another origin. Before there was the Greek alphabet, it meant “Ox” and was the first letter of the Semitic and the Phoenician alphabet.31 Actually, with a little fantasy you can still see it, you just have to turn the letter around (see Figure 1).

Figure 11: A modern Latin “A” with the head of an ox drawn over it.

For the “B” deriving from Greek “Beta” things are not that obvious. “Beta” means “the second of many things”,32 which might also be a result of its position in the alphabet. Though the predecessor “Beth”32 or “Bet”31 means “House”. Its shape derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph that resembled a floor plan. In modern Latin script this heritage is not clearly visible anymore (see Figure 2), but the heritage is still there.


Figure 12: Modern Latin “B” with the image of an house drawn over it.

Even though in its early days the alphabet was not standardized, letters now often have individual shape and character which differs from writer to writer and text to text.31 There might have been another version of a “B” with a stronger visual link to its meaning sometime. It is also possible that the idea of a “House” changed so much that for a viewer today the link is not visible anymore, while it could have been obvious for any viewer during the time the letter was given its original shape. Then this shape transformed into our modern “B”, where functionality and efficiency additionally distorted the link. Anyhow, at the sight of “A” or “B” no one thinks of a house and an ox. These origins of the letters are still there, but they form a secret world beyond common knowledge, which does not matter anymore in everyday use, this is only logical. The alphabet is a direct representation to the spoken language. It is only natural that the shape abandoned communication. The communication of the message is left to the spoken language it contains and to the style in which the letters are drawn. So, the beginning of the alphabet might be the first writing that represented spoken language instead of direct meaning. The question is also, what it will teach us. Currently, there is no doubt that the Latin alphabet has its roots in 31 the Phoenician alphabet. But then the evidence gets a little bit blurry. Even the ancient Greeks, which were thousands of years closer to the events, had different opinions about this. Around 450 B.C.Herodotus names the Phoenicians the creators of the alphabet. While a century later Plato sees in fact the Egyptian hieroglyphs as its 31 They sometimes used their symbols acrophonically,33 which origin. means that they took their hieroglyphs and let them represent the first letter of their pronunciation. In English e.g. “mouth” would stand for “m”, and “s” would be represented by “sun”. This way their hieroglyphs could be used as an alphabet. However, they did not recognize the potential of this discovery and stuck mainly to their ideographic system,33 which leaves us with the dilemma of choosing an origin for the alphabet. This task is a very subjective one, since the roots of the alphabet develop gradually and reach deep in the soil of history. This gets more obvious if we take a look at the earliest drawings mankind made that we know of. Writing did not exist back then. These drawings cannot be seen as an obvious symbiosis between writing and drawing, but they inherited social functions of writing.31


Figure 13 Images of battle scenes 3000 B.C. (drawing) and 1944 A.D. (photograph)

Around 3000 B.C. in the area of Karelia, the people drew pictures of deer and humans on rocks.31 The drawing that remained until today shows an exciting hunting scene, that can probably be seen as an ancient action movie. With the difference that back then images were perceived as much more powerful. The images were not thought of being only images, but the things they resembled.31 A drawn deer was as real to the people as the real deer. It was magic. If you think that you completely moved away from this way of thinking, I want you to perform a little experiment. Draw an image of a loved person on paper. If you don’t like drawing, just take a photograph of this person. Then, look at it and‌ rip the image apart. You will inevitably get an intense feeling of actually hurting the loved person. As soon as you make the connection in your mind, the image becomes part of what it resembles. This is the reason drawings were so powerful. This magic is still present in Egyptian Hieroglyphs, not so much in an alphabet. It is imaginable that the Egyptians did not want to give up this magic. In addition to that they strongly identified with their hieroglyphs. In this sense they were quite conservative, and this is a reason why they did not change their writing system much over the centuries, so that other cultures 34 had to develop the alphabet. Writing began long before the Egyptians, but they invented the first alphabet without being aware of its potential. When this was discovered by Phoenicians, it spread out quickly, so that today all alphabets can be linked back to the same origin and share basically the same systematic approach. The structure of an alphabets letter does not directly communicate meaning, because it does not have to. The meaning is communicated by the spoken language it represents. Many cultures found it necessary to modify the appearance of an existing alphabet to fit their language. This visual appearance of letters has influence on how the represented meaning is interpreted. Additionally, despite the fact that even the NASA Space Program could be written in Egyptian hieroglyphs or any ancient writing or alphabet,34 the shapes of letters and the complete writing system changed over time. In the next chapter I want to explore why this evolution has to happen. 31



The Phoenician alphabet was used not only by poets or diviners for cultural writing, but was just like Chinese Writing an important tool for accounting and trading. This is why it came in contact with many other cultures.34 But unlike Chinese writing it is very quick to learn. It takes years to master Chinese, while the Phoenician alphabet can be learned in a few hours. Of course it takes a little more time to adapt it to a specific language, but due to the power that came with its ingenious simplicity and flexibility, these other cultures then were heavily influenced and often they built their own alphabet according to its principles. This is why all alphabets of the world are essentially just variations of one and the same alphabet.34 The writing system more or less stayed the same. The specific variations mainly differ in shape and amount of their letters, to fit their language better. This need for adjustment came up since the alphabet is based on the spoken language. It is therefore not directly interchangeable35 like pictographic scripts as the Chinese Script. One of the greatest alterations might have been when the Greeks added letters that represent vowels. The original Phoenician alphabet represented only consonants, just like the Hebrew or Arabic alphabet do today. For example, the “aleph” in the Phoenician script stood for a sound that was made in the back of your throat. The Greeks did not have this sound in their language, so they reused it for the sound of “Ah”, which is important in Greek to distinguish between specific words. Also, the Phoenician script was written from right to left. The Greeks experimented with the directions. Sometimes they even changed the direction with every line in the same pattern as a plough turns over the earth in a field. This method is called ‘boustrophedon’, and can be spotted in several ancient scripts.36 ‘Boustrophedon’ means ‘ox-turning’, what is a well fitting term since it not only describes the method, but as you might have noticed ‘aleph’ means ‘ox’ as well. Anyhow, it may have been developed so that the scribes could write faster. But since reading direction and characters were mirrored in every second line it may took too much concentration to read and write this way. The Greeks then standardized their writing from left to right and the Latin script adopted this method. This change of direction might have been influenced by the technique of writing, and the convenience that came with it for right-handed scribes. The use of a hammer and chisel is naturally supporting writing from right to the left, due to the angle of the chisel in the left hand. Though it is more comfortable to write with a ink pen from left to right, because it affords resting the palm while writing - without smudging the wet ink. But these are just assumptions. The scripts that vary in writing direction are written with a technique that efficiently supports the specific direction. It is impossible to say if it was the technique that followed the writing direction or the other way around. Important is that they explain and support each other. Another great step was the further evolution of punctuation around 1400 AD when book printing was developed.37 Punctuation does what standardized letterforms in book printing can’t:


“[Punctuation] tells the reader how to hum the tune."37 Lynne Truss, English writer and journalist

The alphabet therefore evolved according to the needs and capacity that came with the medium of the time, to afford communication as effectively and in the most unmitigated manner possible. Punctuation makes it possible to convey an intuitive interpretation of the content. The choice of a question or exclamation mark, comma, semicolon or hyphen is able to transform the meaning of a text significantly. The rules hereby are sophisticated and languagespecific, but the function is everywhere the same and simple. It is to communicate efficiently by modifying how the content is perceived by the reader. Punctuation was therefore a conscious invention.

“Wenn ich dich sehe Komma Denke ich Doppelpunkt Der Junge macht mir Kummer Ich möchte Punkt Punkt Punkt Dass er mir sagt Gänsefüßchen Bitte komm mit zu mir Ja, wann denn Fragezeichen Heute um Punkt vier Oh oh Ausrufezeichen, es wäre so schön Ausruf Ausrufezeichen Klammer auf, Klammer zu Oh oh Ausrufezeichen, es wäre so schön Ich in deinen Armen, Gänsefüßchen und Punkt […]” Stereo Total, Dactylo Rock

Punctuation is such an effective tool that it finds its way back into song lyrics like that one above or in some cases even common spoken language. Period. Interestingly punctuation marks are intended to be neither logographic or phonemic. They characterize functions to allocate and affect explicitly a specific range of words. But with the rise of digital media they also inherited a different job, which they shared with letters from the alphabet. The emoticons. Emoticons became necessary, when written text was used frequently for casual conversations. There, the invisible layer of emotional tone in conventional typography plays an important role to prevent misunderstandings, or simply to allow a more lively conversation. Since the rise of private Internet,internet emoticons come in a great variety and differ between cultures. With more powerful displays they can be displayed as images as well. Though the function stays basically the same. Emoticons are graphic extensions of the conservative writing system to express complex emotions or feelings which are comparably inconvenient or even impossible to express otherwise. Since emoticons are used mostly in private conversations only, their rules are less strict.


â&#x20AC;&#x153;19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman From: Scott E Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>


I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(â&#x20AC;&#x153; Scott Fahlman, Research Professor for Language Technologies and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and possibly the inventor of the 38 emoticon

Upper- and lowercase letters also structure text and give meaning to words, but in difference to emoticons and punctuation they are part of the formal alphabet. Interestingly the two different shapes represent the same linguistic sound. Lowercase characters developed when the casual handwriting of longer texts transformed the letters into smaller and rounder shapes, while the first letters kept their formal appearance for a clear structure and refined aesthetic. Capitals therefore represent also a certain importance. All alphabets are variations of one and the same principle. The Latin script is written from left to right, because it made sense at the time of its development. Punctuation evolved to support versatile communication effectively. When they could not do justice to the mass of private, casual and complex text-based social conversation they were accompanied by emoticons. Upper- and lowercase developed to display importance. Most recent alterations of the alphabet therefore do not focus on changing the writing system, but on conveying additional information like emotion or importance.




Comparison “Some commentators have even suggested Chinese will surpass English as the world’s most common lingua franca.”39 Zhao Shouhui, Singaporean Researcher for Asian Languages and Cultures

The most obvious difference between the Latin and the Chinese script is that the Latin script is a transcript of spoken language, while the Chinese script is a visual link to the things it describes.3 This means that the Chinese script can be used by different Chinese dialects that do not share the same spoken grammar and idiom. Imagine that for example all European spoken languages would share essentially the same written language, so that a German could read and understand an English text without having to learn English. Even the international phonetic alphabet, which is able to represent the sounds of any spoken language cannot afford this. To be able to read and understand a text written in an alphabet, you first have to learn the spoken language it resembles. Nevertheless, Chinese writing does not directly link to spoken language. Apart from some minor variations for Cantonese and others dialects,40 written Chinese is universal for several languages and dialects. This does not mean that it communicates without demanding literacy,22 which means in Chinese writing not only to be able to link few visual shapes to spoken language, but to possess a wide spectrum of vocabulary. This visual vocabulary forms a language on its own, which is required to be learned before Chinese writing can be read. In Chinese, a word therefore has two separate incarnations. Once, as a spoken word and once as a written word. These incarnations are interconnected, but they do not depend on each other. But rather than affecting the practical use of Chinese writing, this characteristic creates an interesting and more intense emotional relation between Writing and culture. It can be experienced that Chinese have a different approach to the style of writing than Western people have.29 The practice of Chinese writing can be seen as a philosophy and many Chinese practice calligraphy as an intellectual and spiritual hobby.29 Writing is deeply connected with their cultural identity.11 Why is this special? Don’t Western people also identify with the Western alphabet? Yes, of course they do, but in a different way. Few Western people hang typographic posters in their homes to admire the shape of letters. If they do, then rather it is to admire the ideas that they resemble. I believe that this deep connection to writing in Chinese culture can be partly explained by the separation between written and spoken language. In the West the spoken word is ‘just’ projected into writing. There is an immediate focus on the connection of writing and speaking. Writing is conditional. The visual shape of writing is less important to understand its meaning, since it is a pointer to another pointer and not a pointer to the thing itself. Chinese writing on the other hand is not tied to the spoken language in the same way. It is


allowed a more independent life. The visual shapes do not refer to spoken language, but directly to whatever is described. This has its limitations,22 but it does create a unique kind of magic which is lost in the latin alphabet. Chinese writing has a greater focus on the individual properties of writing itself. How something is written gets more important, the style of writing has a stronger impact on culture.11 Another big difference in the Chinese and Latin script is the amount of graphic symbols. This has a practical consequence for designers of Chinese fonts.

“In western fonts you just design 26 letters and that's it. But in Chinese we have 3000. I mean, 3000 that we use everyday. All of them would be even more than 10000. So if you design a new font, you at least design 3000 of them. […] And they are not always simple.”11 Tommy Li, Hongkongese Graphic Designer

Due to the pure volume of characters, there are less complete Chinese fonts than there are for the Latin script. Though, Latin consists of more shapes or glyphs than just 26. For example Unicode lists of a total amount of 687 glyphs including variations of letters like u, ü, 41 ú, ù, û, etc. But these variations are on the one hand familiar to each other, and only few of them are used simultaneously in one language. There exist various tools to aid the creator during the tedious task of designing all these variations in Latin Script.42, 43 The complex structure of Chinese characters is indeed comparably difficult to deal with for an automated program. There exist also tools to help Chinese font designers, but these are rare, complicated and need further research to be seriously considered as a practical 44 45 tool. , This makes a big difference not only for creation of letter types, but also for the use of them. Since the making of complete Chinese fonts is comparably tough, there are simply not so many well developed fonts for running text. Though there are wide variations of few custom designed characters for logos, magazine covers and posters. Another case is that Chinese Typewriters for example are rare and sophisticated machines. Mostly only printshops owned them,11 while in societies that used an alphabet – be it the latin, arabic, hebrew or another alphabet – typewriters were at home in almost any household. Logographic Scripts like Chinese Writing encourage a deeper cultural identification, because of its autonomous nature which attaches importance to the mystified visual shape. Practically, the different natures of Chinese and Latin script result in a modulation of comfort. This influences the creation of characters, writing technology and reflectively writing itself.




Apart from the typewriter, Latin Script and Chinese Writing underwent a surprisingly parallel evolution since they always shared similar medial hosts. When a new medium was introduced, it first imitated the old one and then craftsmen adapted their usage to fit its potential.46 This seems to be part of human behaviour and is true for any script. This is fascinating and one of the most important aspects to consider, but these likenesses have been explained already. Now I want to focus on the distinctions between the evolution of the two scripts. I found it very interesting that there are lost words in Chinese where you don’t know the meaning or sound anymore.15, 47 All that is left of them is their visual shape. This is impossible in languages that use the Latin Alphabet, because you would always know how to pronounce it. This rises a new kind of question what a written word actually is.47 This phenomenon relies on a strong separation between language and writing, which has a crucial consequence for the evolution of graphemes as well. An evolution in spoken language has therefore less effect on writing. On the other hand, any European text (it does not matter which language) which is several hundred years old will spell words differently, partly because the pronunciation changed. Also the visual shape of letters in the alphabet constantly transformes. Recent examples are the German Sütterlin, the phonetic Alphabet, shorthand and Wim Crowels ‘New Alphabet’. How a specific alphabet is applied, is therefore tightly linked to a certain language and time. Opposing to this, the several writing styles of Chinese script developed in their beginning strongly, and then did not change much. Over thousands of years.

“Let me tell you something, this [Chinese Characters] is quite different from English, where you can make a new word out of letters. In Chinese there are very limited amount of words. There are maybe 5000 words. If we have a new word, we just mix the old ones. You use the pronunciation or you can use the meaning. So we don’t have new words. We just use original words, mix them and turn them into new meanings or letters.”11 Tommy Li, Hongkongese Graphic Designer

So there are two systems. One is the original one, where every character resembles the meaning like a drawing. And the second one is the presence of new words…

“… Which are a new combination of the original characters. So you might get different possible new characters. There are a lot of combinations that you can select from the old characters. We don’t need to design new ones. The creation of new characters stopped. Though old characters which are too complicated or don’t get used anymore disappear.”11 Tommy Li, Hongkongese Graphic Designer

The creation of new Chinese Words is twofold. Either, a new character is created, or old characters are reused or recombined for a new 38

purpose. The first principle can be compared with what we do in spoken language as well. In English, the word “lightbulb” reuses the word “light” and “bulb”. “Bulb” means “onion” and derives from the Latin bulbus.48 Also the word “Blog”, a new word for a certain kind of online journal, used to describe a type of servant boy. In the same way Chinese Characters can form a new word or take a new meaning. Rarely there are new created characters, just like in spoken language there are rarely new created words. There is no need of creating new Chinese characters. New words are combinations and reinterpretations of already existing characters. Writing that uses the Latin script develops more dramatically than the writing that uses the Chinese script, because it is directly resembles the constantly evolving spoken language and is easier to modify.


Influences on each other and Challenges

When I was looking for how the scripts influenced each other, I found mainly examples of how the Western typography influenced the Chinese. Somehow, in the back of my head I ignorantly assumed that this must be because the Western system is so strong and important. But I was corrected. It is not the strength of the Western system that lead to an influence on the Chinese, but the strength of the Chinese to be able to adapt.3 The Western system could not be influenced so easily by a fundamentally different writing system like the Chinese in structure. The Chinese system exceeds the Western one in flexibility. It’s ‘a piece of cake’ for them to adapt western punctuation and Arabic Numbers.11

“I think the revolution [of Chinese Typography] came with David Carson and computer technology. We [Chinese Graphic Designers] tried to use the computer to create a lot of experimental typefaces. We found David Carson’s work during the 80’s –of course it was in English–but we tried to do it in Chinese. It had a big impact. With David Carson came distortion, many directions and ways to create a typeface. Interesting.“11 The visual style seems to be a different story. Neither the Latin nor the Chinese script has a problem with adopting style. This means that visual style can be universally applied to writing with the same effect. Interesting would be a study of semiotics to analyse in how far the effect of visual style is indeed equal in different writing systems.49 Here, I will just assume that it is for an amount true that is relevant to us. “In the Western mirror they [Chinese Graphic Designers] will discover the nature of their true potential.”3 Jiang Hua, Chinese Graphic Designer

“I think very practical here. I don’t understand if someone uses a typographic style just because it is trendy. Look at


this here for example. It’s Dutch design, but it’s made in Hong Kong. It’s just a copy of style, it makes no sense. Fuck this. (he smiles) It’s very easy to follow trends. The result is empty design.”29 Stanley Wong, Hongkongese Graphic Designer

These two quotes outline the importance of taking other cultures as inspiration while avoiding copying. The heaviest influence between writing systems is their visual style, since it follows rules which are interchangeable between language systems and independent from the methods of writing. It can even live a life completely separated from common semantics of written language. This so called ‘asemic writing’ 50 communicates merely through visual appearance, even if it mimics 36 the hidden existence of an unknown meaning. It follows that visual style communicates on an autonomous layer. This layer, parallel to the tone of a voice or paralinguistic expressions e.g. a sigh in 51 spoken language , is not identical throughout all cultures, but compatible enough to be understood. Because of this compatibility, visual style affords easy and quick interchange, and therefore is a lively joint between writing systems. Its specific nature is not so much determined by the combination of writing system and language, but by the used medium and technique. T h e s h a p e o f a l e t t e r communicates additionally to the message. Its expression is limited only by its medium. A new medium brings different limits, and therefore changes the variety of expression a letter shape has.



Typography in New Media

The visual style of writing is what naturally connects different writing systems. But foreign writing systems are not the only influence on the appearance of writing. It is heavily influenced by the medium that is used for writing. This is a likely process, since style is limitless in expression. But it is bound by the potential of the used medium, of course. For example Gutenberg couldn’t have used kinetic typography in his bible, because his printing technique was not able to display moving letters. Here I want to explore these boundaries in what we call “New Media”.

“If we want to grasp the essence of modern science, we must first free ourselves from the habit of comparing the new science with the old solely in tens of degree, from the point of view of progress.”1 Martin Heidegger, German philosopher

The world today is not superior to the world hundred years ago... it is just at a different point of time. Progress is driven by the irreversible direction of change. And this is true for anything. Nevertheless, we get a complete different experience of the world today, since our technology supersedes itself periodically. My laptop today is more than four hundred times faster than my first computer. This makes me think that it is better. The iPhone 5 is more advanced than the iPhone 4, and we think it is better. This illusion derives from the ignorance of the changed environment when the two things are compared. My faster computer is nothing more than a consequence of its time. It seems only “better” if you put the old and the new next to each other and compare them directly. But you cannot ignore the circumstances that existed when they were built. Having a look at the circumstances, it gets clear that they are just different. 15 years ago there was not the technology to build a laptop like the one I have today. Moreover, no one needed it the same way it is needed today. To illustrate this I want to look at family generations. My grand-father and I both acquired a complete different set of skills. These skills are not only a result of us being different persons, but even more importantly these are attached to our time. The knowledge of computer programming languages for example would have had little use for my grand-father in the world he lived. You can apply the same thought to typography. The Helvetica is not better than the original Garamond. It is also not better than the writing style of the Cuneiform script thousands of years ago. We could still use the Cuneiform script for everything that we write.34 We don’t because it just does not fit the Zeitgeist anymore. The question is; What is our Zeitgeist and how might typography adapt to it?

“Every generation has its new form of media that was built on the older forms of media. What we often discover is that whether it's new or old doesn't matter – what matters is: is it good or not.” John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design


New Media is fundamental to our Zeitgeist. Though the question what New Media is, is “surprisingly not so easy to answer”52. As John Maeda proposes, the key must lie in its value. This value must not be seen as a property but as a potential. As described earlier, value does not increase with development because it constantly transforms in a changing environment. This is because value only appears in relation to something. There is no value, if there is nothing else. It is impossible to describe any thing, if that thing is the only thing we know. We need to be able to compare, otherwise we cannot distinguish what is important and what is not. If we want to observe New Media, we need to have a look at what it relates to. “New Media” is not even a good name anyway. There is no doubt that New Media will be Common Media soon, so what sense does this name make? I must say it bluntly; I dislike the term “New Media”. But it reveals something important: the uncertainty of its nature. We don’t really know what New Media is. But we know that New Media relates strongly to computers. Without a doubt computers are a vital part of what “New Media” is. Their absence would make “New Media” – as we know it impossible. But what are computers? How do they shape our world? And with computers I mean all computational devices: PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets and so on. They are an invention that enlarges our natural capabilities. We can’t do what a computer can do and the converse is also true, computers cannot do what we can do. The result is not a decentralized symbiosis of man and machine, but the machine as a manmade plug-in to the human body. We use it as tool and medium for communication. The computer helps us to create things, be it a new medicine, a car, a new business model or even a new computer. All these things wouldn’t be significantly different or even impossible otherwise. The computer helps us here by overcoming some limits that we naturally have. Lately I’ve seen a great lecture of Richard 6 Feynman about the nature of computers. What Feynman explains, is that the computer is a very efficient file clerk. He stores and reads information in an unbelievably quick manner this6 is basically it. For the rest, a computer is a stupid thing. It does not know anything, it just helps us to access our own knowledge more efficiently. It does not really compute anything, it just looks up the outcomes of computational methods in a table. This is a very basic understanding of how a computer works. On a higher level, closer to the user, I always saw computers as a library of recommendations. Computer programs are the manifestations of ideas of programmers on how to solve problems. If I open a Wordprocessorprogram, it interprets my input in a way that allows me to easily write text. These are just recommendations, the Wordprocessor does not know what I want to do. It interprets my actions and looks up in a table what kind of output should be produced. This table is produced by the programmer. If I want to insert an image in my textfile for example, I have to define the properties I desire. How should the text flow around the image, where should it be placed. How should it react to changes in the document, should it stay fixed on its position or dynamically go up or down, or left and right. This is information that is either assumed by the program without the direct knowledge of my intention or that is given by me. There are many different types of information that have to be assumed and given for anything that is done with a computer. If we use computer programs, we use the ideas from other people. If we write computer programs, we 43

give a collection of instructions on how to interpret input. We like using computer programs, if its pre-installed instructions and assumptions fit to what we want to do. We profit from it because it can do these tasks insanely quickly, but this is not all that “New Media” is. It is also the connection of computers to a bigger network, the internet. This can be understood as building one giant computer that everyone is able to use simultaneously, this is exaggerated and simplified of course, but in principle we widen up the library of ideas and make it accessible to everyone with a computer and an internet connection. Using the internet, we get access to this enormous computer that has millions of inputs and outputs. It is a very efficient way of sharing knowledge all over the world. Like a huge library where everyone is allowed to write their own books and put them somewhere on a shelf for others to read. More so, this information can be updated anytime. All of this can be done very quickly and dynamically (of course because it is coordinated by computers). I believe this is the heart of New Media. On the one hand, insanely quick processing of given instructions andAnd on the other hand, a crazily huge amount of shared knowledge and dynamic access to this knowledge.

“The page is no longer a flat surface but a virtual field unfolding in time.”53 Kurt Brereton, new media artist

Until now, we have not talked about the content and how it is delivered to anyone who uses new media. The big change is that we have things like dynamically varying displays. There are moving images and updatable books. There is hypertext that gives an entirely new power and dimension to the written word, we can jump around and control the flow of information. There is a deeper merging of senses, a connection of sound and image to a new kind of experience. This happens in computer games, but also websites and interactive books and it leads to the fusing of various techniques that were separated before.

“Typography will play a decreasingly important role, because we have become such an image-centric culture. We used to have long texts with a few images, we now have short texts with lots of images. In my own work, […] I wanted to understand how feeling could be transmitted more than meaning.”54 John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design

Conventional typography will lose influence to other forms of communication. The tools and media for Typography have changed.42 But just like any other tool or medium that was invented, the new were first used to imitate the already existing ones. The direction where Typography must be further explored is the development of efficient tools, but also how typography can enhance the communication of feeling – through its dynamic nature. This is the way to go, these are the unknown lands that could be so prosperous for the typographic future and with it the future of writing in general. The first step into this direction is taken with the realisation that “New Media” are not there to improve or compete with books or other media, but


they are a new, autonomous medium, which has to be treated differently than everything before. This is not because it has a special position within media, but precisely because it does not have a special position. Just like film does not compete with books, New Media do not compete with them either. On the contrary, they complete the whole landscape. There are fascinating experiments done by visionaries like John Maeda, Letterror and others55â&#x20AC;&#x201C;59 but these have not yet infested the universal definition of our typography in New Media enough yet.42 The next step still awaits us. I wonder about the further possibilities that the computer provides for typography, and what this new definition looks like. This is what I try to explore with my project by applying the nature of contemporary media to typography and writing. N e w M e d i a i s d y n a m i c i n t e r m s o f i n p u t a n d o u t p u t and it is time for typography to follow and adapt.




From Typography to Graphic Design: The New Media Evolution

Figure 14 Eyeman, vision of the sight-only human

"[...] you have a message you want to communicate. How do you “send” it? […] if you use any visual medium at all-if you make a poster; type a letter; create a business logo, a magazine ad, or an album cover; even make a computer printout-you are using a form of visual communication called graphic design." 60 This is how the major Graphic Design Institute AIGA in New York defines Graphic Design. In my opinion, this definition covers only part of what a Graphic Designer should do. The question: “How do you send it?” reveals this immediately. To answer this question, you have to think about whom you are sending it to and how he is able to receive. If you treat this job purely visual, you treat your receiver as a visual-only being with no other senses. But this is not what humans are like - nor is it the way we look. We have more senses and although, the visual sense is a powerful one, it is ignorant to treat humans as visual-only beings. For example print media are dominated by visual aspects. But even there, every book designer would agree that the paper you choose is as important as the typeface you choose. Moreover the tactile sense of how paper feels is an important link to the receiver, it communicates directly and intensely. It is present. As a Graphic Designer you must know that, a book that is designed without knowledge and care about the feeling of paper is poorly designed. This is also true for posters. Once I stood 61 in front of a poster made by Hansje van Halem. It was printed with thick ink on rough paper that made the poster incredibly tactile. I stood there and wandered over the poster with my fingertips for minutes. So, even print media are not merely visual media. This 47

leads to the conclusion that Graphic Design is not graphic design. The word Graphic derives from graphikos (Greek for writing, drawing). Graphikos can be applied in various ways, but all of them are purely visual.62 This definition makes the term Graphic Design not entirely wrong, but incomplete and misleading. Applying the same logic, you could call your laptop a typewriter. You would get a very limited point of view. It would be likely that you would use it in an old fashioned way, following your definition. So we must change this definition. We can do this by looking at what Graphic Design actually does, communicate. Communication Design could be a better title. Interesting is now, how we can use this in our advantage. Our 21st century technology enables us to take care of even more senses in various complex ways. Graphic Design is an almost omnisensual experience. Our understanding of both the sender and the receiver must change. In search for a better understanding I want to inquire how new media and technology broaden the essence of Graphic Design. It is important that we donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look at how much better the technology is today, but how different. As Heidegger mentioned in his essay The Age of the World Picture1, to understand an age we must understand that change is not equal with improvement but above all: change. He said this in context to science, but the thought is, as I think, universally applicable. Graphic Design is remote communication and its appearance is defined by means of communication technology. Different technology results in different Graphic Design and New Media change the way we experience this technology.

Communicating media, a message is conveyed by a number of media

It is important that a piece of Art or Graphic Design not only uses a medium, but becomes a medium itself. It acts between the sender and receiver. The nature of this medium is not only defined by the technology it uses, but also by the technology that is provided by the environment it lives in. It is defined by the technology it could use. For example an ad in a newspaper is nowadays not only an ad in a newspaper, but also it is not a website or an App. It is not interactive and it is not creating sounds. This does not mean that an ad in a newspaper is not a good thing. But its creator must be aware


of its limitations and possibilities. For example it is possible to convey smell and texture with a newspaper ad, or even sample products. Cosmetics companies do this all the time. They couldn’t do it in an e-newspaper or website. Those have their’ own limitations and possibilities, for example their dynamic appearance. While a printed newspaper is controllable in its final appearance – all newspapers of the same issue will look, feel and smell the same – , websites will be brought to the user via an incalculable variety of devices. These different viewing technologies influence a websites appearance, things change if their environment change, especially if they don’t change themselves. Graphic Design that ignores the essence of its age will be different than it is intended to be. Technology is a means of communication. This is why technology defines Graphic Design, or rather communication design. The difference between Art and Graphic Design is that Graphic Design has to be reliably understood by the targeted audience. For Art this does not always matter. What I see exactly in a painting from for example Jackson Pollok is irrelevant as long as it does mean something to me. This can and will be probably different for every single viewer, but that does not decrease the value of the artwork. After being asked why he does not want to explain the message of his music, Kurt Cobain once said: “It doesn’t matter. […] I’d like to 63 know what they [the fans] have in mind.” Nevertheless, for Graphic Design the audience should have in mind whatever they should. There is a wrong and right that is much clearer than in Art. If the Graphic Designer does not control all forms of communication, he cannot control how the message is received. If he is not aware of the media used, he will fail in his job. To be able to control all forms of communication he must understand which senses the receiver has, and how he can trigger them. The receiver always uses all of his senses to receive. When he browses through a book, he inevitably smells the paper. This is why you can never ‘not communicate’. Therefore a future Graphic Designer has to be able to control all senses and technology available, even if it is not directly used in the piece of design. There must be an awareness of the potential that existing technologies provide. As a result, the role of Graphic Design is played in grounds that are th century Art tended to escape beyond being graphic. In the 20 previous categorization. Borders of genres were mixed or ignored, to explore what Art is.64 Graphic Design should finally follow this example. Most importantly it should stop its separation from nonvisual media. The receivers of Graphic Design are humans. T h e e y e is not the only sense they have, and it is not the only sense technology can approach. Thusly it is not the only sense that should be used. Graphic Design shouldn’t be just graphic design.




Conclusion graphic design




Writing systems are additions to languages. Languages evolve over time, and writing systems change in various ways with them. Nevertheless the development of the writing system is an individual process. Sometimes the structural system of usage evolves, like in the Chinese writing system when characters could be combined to form a new character or when they were used phonetically to express inherited terms of foreign language. At other times, it is the style of writing that changes. For example around 600 BC in China different brush styles were developed for different purposes. Or it is the matrix that changes; how the characters are ordered. This can be observed when the Chinese script was written horizontally as well as vertically, and with it from left to right as well as from right to left. These were all changes that did not affect the Chinese language as fundamentally as the Chinese writing system. These are separate things, though they need each other. The same is true for the evolution of the Alphabet. The different media and tools have themselves their own individual effects on the writing system. Mostly they change the style of writing. The carving knife simplifies and unifies the nature of the strokes. In return it allows the use of only one single medium, for example a bone or wood without the need of ink. This gives the writing a greater endurance to resist decay, but also a symbolic strength and purity. Using brush and ink on a surface allows a dynamic visual shape of the characters. Every single character can be slightly changed in correspondence with the meaning of what is written, with a small movement of the hand. It is quicker than carving and allows more expression. On the other hand, just like carving, reproducing a handwritten text takes a lot of effort. Every copy has to be given the same attention and work than the original, every character has to be written in the same procedure. Book printing on the other hand separated the creation of the character from writing. The characters are first manifested in wood or metal and then printed on the medium of choice, for example paper. Because of this separation, the first step has to be done only once, while the second can be repeated quickly almost unlimited times to reproduce a certain piece of writing. The writing itself adapted to this process in becoming more standardized and static. The individual characters must be able to be interchanged in various contexts. And since they were re-used, there is more attention paid to every single one of them. The importance of their execution rises, since their appearance will affect simply more pieces of writing. And then we have the new media theirâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; effect is difficult to describe, because they are very diverse and complex. They also combine many of the features of the other tools. This results in a great variety of possible styles and methods of writing. They allow dynamic appearance of the writing, like the brush, but also fast reproduction and an updatable outcome. Writing can be altered in its content or style in almost unlimited possible speeds. For example a website can change its context without being rebuilt. Basically this is comparable with using a letterpress that uses


exchangeable letters, but new media can do more. Their flexible displays allow animated or in combination with input devices even reactive writing. Furthermore the nature of its storage is without informational decay and can endure theoretically unlimited periods of time. The writing is separated from the creation like it was with printing, but the writing is also separated from the display. This requires compatible technology to create or receive it. Not all writing can be shown on a 4x4 Led display for example. In short, different media and tools present various possibilities and limits to the writing system. These lead to an adaptation of the writing system to those features. This process can be called an evolution of writing system. It is lead by the potential of the used media and tools, as well as by the cultural environment and convenience of the time when it is created. Writing always strives for the most effective use of the provided media for the desired purpose. This process often takes a lot of time after the introduction of a new medium or tool; and can be divided in two steps. First, the imitation of the old medium for convenience. The new appliances are not fully understood and explored, while the old is still established. Second, the writing is changed to fit to the new instruments, which become established and understood. Now they can be used in their full potential. Writing systems live today in the first phase of adaptation to a new medium. Not all of the possibilities are seen. For example there is a fundamental potential of the Chinese script that we do not fully use. It is the dynamic style of Chinese Calligraphy. When I studied Chinese Calligraphy, I realized that a dynamic style of writing could be irreplaceably efficient (not to forget, very beautiful) for communication. Theoretically, it would be possible to apply the dynamic to new media in a broader sense than it is already done. It is possible to write b o l d and italic in up to 32 variations or more per typeface, and there are millions of typefaces. And if you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t like the existing typefaces, you can make one of your own and even change the style for every single character. This is often done for purposes with not much text like posters, logos or book covers. This takes comparably a lot of work, and in the end the result is mostly static again, while the meaning of the text is rarely static. If you just imagine someone reading a book out loud, you will recognize that the voice will change depending on the text. And I believe this change has unlimited possible variations, not 32. This unlimited range of variation could be made visible through the style of the characters in combination with the structure of their arrangement. Furthermore, it would allow a natural merging of different writing systems together. As Graphic Designers and Typographers we would be able to enrich a text with a dynamic atmosphere easily. This allows huge amounts of text be dynamically designed without too much effort. With my developed computer application I aim to use this potential of the new media. My research once more revealed that the expressive potential of writing itself is without borders. Limitations are introduced with the used tools and media. New Media introduce new kind of limits. I want to e nclose some new contemporary possibilities and bring the development of writing systems closer to the second step: understanding what is in our hands and how we can use it.





Especially (in alphabetical order): Bart de Baets, Marjan Brandsma, Frits Deys, Geert Dumbar, Arthur Gerla, Tobias Gremmler, Michel Hogervoorst, Jiang Hua, Marvin de Jong, Elise Kessler, Roosje Klap, Tommy Li, Catelijne van Middelkoop, John Maeda, Marina Mihalakis, Ruud Kersten from PHILIPS, PIPS:Lab, Frederic Rodrigues, Hector Rodriguez, Eva Schlรถtter, Moritz Schlรถtter, Peter Schlรถtter, Niels Schrader, Tom Vermaaten, Esther de Vries, Stanley Wong and Tomas Yanicek. A warm dankeschรถn/dankjewel/thank you also to everyone else who offered support and/or friendly e-mails.






Interview with Tommy Li

Tommy Li is a famous Hongkongese Graphic Designer. His is mostly recognized for his work on branding, but he obviously has a love for Chinese Characters as well. I visited him on 9th November 2012 in his office in Chai Wan, Hong Kong.


The Western and Chinese writing systems are so different fundamentally. But is there something we could learn from China and apply to our fonts? Actually in some areas they are the same. You'll find sans-serif and serif in Chinese and Western Typefaces. There are heavy, light and fancy typefaces. Completely the same. But Something is totally different. In western fonts you just design 26 letters and that's it. But in Chinese we have 3000. I mean, 3000 that we use everyday. All of them would be even more than 10000. So if you design a new font, you at least design 3000 of them. That's not 26 characters. And they are not always simple. A dragon has for example close to 30 steps. It’s not minimal. It's like a building. So Chinese characters are difficult sometimes, but we like to play with the typefaces. We think that the Chinese characters are like drawings. 3500 years ago, originally the characters were carved in turtle shells. We call this ‘甲骨文’. What is the English name? Oracle bone script. Yes, so in the old days you the fish was like an image of the fish. And today it looks more abstract, but the image is still inside. Every single line has a meaning. Compare it with an ‘A’. An ‘A’ is nothing. But in Chinese, one part is the tail, another represents the head and again another the body. All characters are built like it. They come from the oracle bone script. This is ancient stuff, yeah? And it took very long to develop. But now after the Chairman Mao Period they have a very dramatic u-turn. The letters that we spent more than 3000 years to develop. After 1949 China developed a new typeface called ‘simple’. We don’t really agree with this. Because it took us 3000 years to develop our characters. Every single line has meanings. We tried to develop the best shape for each letter. But suddenly they spent just ten years to make a new typeface called ‘simple’. And it was totally wrong. What was the reason for it? Because with the cultural revolution they wanted to break the traditional culture. They wanted to create a new culture, a new attitude. They knew that the education and letters were the foundation for their new philosophy. 56

They said that drawing a dragon is wasting time. But this is not a matter of wasting time or not–this is culture. Can we just take out our faces if we don’t use them?–no! But they said, everything must have a reason. Otherwise it will fade away by itself. So they just broke it and said: this is our new font. Simple. And actually there came a lot of argument from it. For example ‘noodle’. In traditional Chinese it’s a quite complex character. The Chinese government said this was too much. By coincidence their pronunciation of ‘noodle’ is similar to a small part of the traditional character, though this part means ‘face’. But they just took away the other part. The pronunciation is still the same, but the meaning is different. Now I don’t know if I say that I want to eat your face, or noodles. Because this character has two meanings now. Simplified is not really simple. It is confused. So Hongkongese people disagree in simplifiedChinese. We need to keep the traditional characters. Now we have two versions. How did you type Chinese before the computer? Back then there were machines like a typewriter. But with around 5000 words. Have you ever used one? No no, we just sent our text out to a type-setting company. They sent us back papers, which we then used to cut and paste. Nowadays this all disappears. But I remember, in the old days we had a lot of typesetting– and it was fun. We made some new fonts this way. Everything was done by hand; by our own ten fingers. You had a very close relationship with fonts. Even you could touch them. I think the revolution came with David Carson and computer technology. We tried to use the computer to create a lot of experimental typefaces. Because before David Carson everyone only ‘typed’ the font and that’s it. During the 80s we find David Carson’s work–of course it was in English–but we tried to do it in Chinese. We looked at his work and it gave a big impact. With David Carson came distortion and many directions and ways to create a typeface. I find this quite interesting. For example one magazine that we did. Every issue had a different size and a different cover. I played with everything I liked. Sometimes we mixed Chinese and Western typefaces. It was a very experimental magazine. We invited a lot of different designers to work together. Not only from Hong Kong, but also Japan and China. And in the end this is one of the very influencing magazines. At the time we really enjoyed to do something like this. But after five issues we had to stop it. During day-time we had our jobs, and during night-time we made these magazines. What a hell, you know. What I see a lot is Western influence on Chinese typefaces.Do you think there is going to be a reaction back that we will take Chinese…


I don’t think so. In Chinese we always have new directions. And I don’t think it’s easy to influence this to the Western. Because the system is different. We don’t have letters. In English a dragon is made of 6 letters. In Chinese there is only one. And the system of combination is totally different. What is influencing each other is only the style. Like serif or sans-serif or distortion. In Chinese we have something that never happened in the Western system. We have two systems of composition. One is from left to right. Like as Western. But we have the other way, from the top to the bottom–we can do it! This is the original Chinese style. But this does not work in English. Also, vertical writing was banned in China. Another Cultural revolution tragedy. But in the old books, you will find the writing in vertical. But I like it! I think it is nice. I used it in my book. The structure of the layout is very serious. There are a lot of invisible lines. Every layout has a lot of invisible lines. The grid is very important. When you design a page for a book. Do you treat Asian type in the same way as Western type? Yes, the same. Exactly the same. But what we find in Chinese is vertical typesetting. I like it! You will never find this in an English book. .. because it would be very hard to read. Yes, but in Chinese it's allowed. It's a piece of cake. In english everything is horizontal and from left to right. We can do it in two ways. Also vertically from right to left. Interesting. Here (he points at his book) it is a combination. And a combination of a serif, sans-serif and the English sans-serif. Do you know if the Chinese and Western serif & sans-serif are influenced by each other? Yes, I believe there is a connection. If you use calligraphy for writing, you use force. When you start and stop, there is force and the letter becomes wider. It all just looked like this. Later they cut the typeface in wood. They had a lot of typefaces, and they all had serifs. It's an imitation from the brush. Exactly. So after thousand years they created a very simple writing form, much like a sans-serif. A Chinese Univers or Helvetica. This was new, because originally the horizontal strokes were thin, and the vertical strokes thick. This was the formula. But later they wanted to make it more modern, and there was only a tiny difference. Just a little bit. What do you think were this might lead in the future?


I don’t know. Because creating a new font in China is not easy. Change is not easy. Our new font style is influenced for sure by the Western system. But I don’t think it will work the other way. The system is too different. In Chinese all characters are square. In English this is different. There are capital and small letters, and the words have various lengths. What Do you think about this? What is the Chinese Font for you? I love Chinese Calligraphy. You have so many layers. You can see in the characters that the ink is running out of the brush, and you can see when the calligrapher is dipping his brush back into the ink. The force and speed is visible in the characters. All this gets visible. Yes, this is like drawing for them. So they have a history. Originally they are not writing ‘words’ when they were writing, but drawings. In Western this is different. Also I found it very interesting that you can have lost words in Chinese where you don’t know the meaning anymore. You just know how it looks, but not how it was spoken or what it is. You could never have this in the West, because you would always know how to pronounce it. ( I think that this is a crucial point in the evolution of writing, because it allows greater changes. You can easier decide to have a completely new drawing representing a ‘fish’ than changing the whole alphabet where other words depend on as well. ) (he goes and fetches a book that shows the evolution of each Chinese Character) This is an ooold book. Look at this. I really like the old days. Even the typeface in the old days is totally and how it is treated is different. Everything is jammed together. Oh, this is cool. When there is a title, you always have a special symbol. “chapter”, and under it is the name of the chapter. example, this comes from the stone-carving. And this turtle-script. And then you have running script, which calligraphy. Now, this turned to be art.

It is a sign for So you see for is close to the is used only in

Can everyone read this? No, not a lot of people can read it. But it is a good research, because you can find back the development. How we took 3000 years to make the typeface. How do you make new words? If you invent something new, like a ligh-bulb. Do you then draw a new character? Let me tell you something, this is quite different from English, where you can make a new word out of letters. In Chinese there are very limited amount of words. There are maybe 5000 words. If we have a new word, we just mix the old ones. You use the pronunciation or you can use the meaning. So we don’t have new words. We just original words and mix, and turn them into new meanings or letters.


So there are two systems. One is the original one, where every character resembles the meaning like a drawing. And the second one are the new words… … Which are a new combination of the original characters. So you might get different possible new characters. There are a lot of combinations that you can select from the old characters. We don’t need to design new ones. No new characters. It stopped. It is just that old characters which are too complicated or don’t get used anymore disappear.Some have lost meanings. Nobody understands what this is, nobody uses it. So it fades away. Every single year we have tons of new words that we mix together. Good! I hope could help you understand more about Chinese culture! Yes, yes of course! Thank you so much for your time!


Interview with Jiang Hua

Jiang Hua is an pioneer of Chinese Typography. He is well known for his study on new writing styles. I wrote him my questions via e-mail on which he responded. He lives and works in Beijing, China.


Since you are working both with Western and Chinese typography, what do you think is the essential difference between them? The difference between the language system of Latin and Chinese is that the one is based the pronunciation and the other based on shapes. What are the benefits and problems of a designer compared to your Western colleagues?



In general, Chinese designers have to learn from modern western design culture, and work hard to be a part of the world. But in the end, they will use these methods to solve the particular problems that are faced in China. In the Western mirror they will discover the nature of their true potential. The Chinese script is very old, and changed a lot through the centuries. How would you personally describe the evolution of the Chinese characters? Why did the script change? Chinese characters have a really long transformation period. In fact, there you can see that the character itself is energetic and of vibrant vitality. The system is more open than we expected. The digital era has given the characters new lives. Where do you see the challenges of modern Chinese Typography? The context of the relationship in modern Chinese typography, its inner methodology and design syntax, as well as the opening up of the border.


Do you think new media will lead to a further evolution of the Chinese script? Will Chinese characters change or become more simplified? If yes, could you imagine how? Yes, this is already happening. The Chinese and the western writing systems are both very important and widely used, but so different. Though the influence on each other is strong. For example the Chinese punctuation style or roman numbers used in Chinese script. Maybe this is a stupid question, but could you imagine them to merge into one? The logic of Chinese is based on a different methodology than the Western writing system, but it's more open and unified. So that I think it's possible that Chinese characters can easily adapt some benefits from Latin. In other words, the "self-learning capability" of Chinese character is much stronger, Latin is more fundamentalist and allows less adaption. Could you make a quick sketch of a character that resembles a possible future evolution of the Chinese Script or could you give an example? I'm expecting that too, but I find it difficult give you a clear description. Maybe the active exploration of every individual will help us reveal this future.


Interview with Stanley Wong

When I walked out of the Stanley Wong’s office, he said that I could always come back, or write him an email if I want more answers. He felt that he didn’t really answer my questions. I told him he did. I think that sometimes the right answer is an answer to a different question. We don’t always ask the right questions, because we don’t know better. But in in one thing he was right, there are many many more questions, and I hope that I will get lucky enough to ask them. He is a very successful Graphic Designer, but works as well as an artist and director under the pseudonym “anothermountainman”. I met him in his office in Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, where he took more than two hours to talk to me about art, design and Chinese culture. Hello Stanley, thank you so much for your time. How are you today? Fine thank you. (he sits down and now we sit in front of his computer. I realize that I have to ask something more specific. But then we start to chat a little bit about something nice that I already forgot.) How do you think New Media change Chinese writing? What do you mean with “New Media” (his eyes are sparkling)?


The new media that we have today. Computer, … etc. How does it change the way Chinese is written? Did not the medium always shape the writing system? No! Definitely not. The medium is not affecting the writing. Look at the different styles of Chinese writing from the very beginning. It was always the same brush. But the style of writing was different. So you don’t think that the way of writing will be changed, with the new tools that are discovered today. Look, the evolution of the Chinese characters was due to effectiveness and not due to the medium or tool that was used. With time, the set of characters was filled. The writing was refined, because it was needed for more purposes. More things had to be expressed, so the writing changed. There were different needs for the writing system, and so it changed. It changed with the society but not with the tools or the medium. Media did not change the script? Definitely not. It was effectiveness and convenience that changed the script. Interesting… I was convinced that it was the tools that changed Chinese writing. Because, when you had the oracle bone script, people where carving them into turtle shells. And so the characters were very simple and straight. Then they used the brush. Firstly they imitated what they did with the carving, but then they got to know the brush and what was possible with it. Then they used this, and the characters got more expressive in shape. The new writing system made use of the brush’s potential. … until here you are right … Then there was printing. And it imitated the brush. Hm yeah, no (he does not agree, explains to me but I fail to understand). […] I made a workshop and asked every participant at the end of it one question. It was a simple but not an easy question. Though I think a very important one. I asked: Why do you take photos? Erhm… I would say preservation.. No! It is not only preservation; it is more than that. You take a picture and what do you do with it? You show it to your friends. You upload it on facebook for example. But what do you want to say with it? What difference does it make? And does it interest the people, what do they get from it? In a way you are stealing their time with this. Uploading everything. ( I think, this is true, and also if you take meaningful photos you are not doing it by means of preservation. The photo will be different than the original. You make a decision of what you


make visible. You emphasize your own view by limiting the possibilities to look at it. You are not creating a copy of the photographed. You are interpreting it. But I didn’t say this, my mouth is way slower than my head. And my head already was not quick enough. ) You have to look for the purpose of what you do. Let me show you something. ( he shows me “Experience the sun: Jing Yat” a Shortfilm he directed. You can find it here: IT is very beautiful and I understand what he meant. Though I regret disrupting the film with a question. Though he gave a nice answer when the film finished. ) You are very broad In what you do. How do you define yourself? Are you a Graphic Designer, a Director, a Photographer, … ? I believe that you have to know many things, you cannot just look at one discipline alone. Otherwise you would limit yourself, get blind to your surroundings and your possibilities of communication. You don’t have to be a master in all disciplines, but you need to know what is there and how it works. Then you can know what you do. But which medium I use does not matter to me. You don’t care. Yes, I don’t care. I care about if I can communicate the right thing with it. This is why I chose many disciplines to be my home. Though I do not differentiate between media, I do separate “anothermountainman” and “Stanley Wong”. They are two different people. As the first I do personal work, and as the second I work professionally. Sometimes I do get paid, but I am free to do whatever I want. This is the difference. Professionally I have to think what the client needs of course. But if it is interior design, graphic design or something else does not matter too much. (I spot a nice old camera in the corner of the studio) Oh, you still use this? Why “still”? (he looks at me like if I asked why he is sitting on a chair) It’s a great camera. And it is so different how you use it. Nowadays of course you have the DSLRs which can make pictures of the same quality. But the process of taking the picture is different. This is what makes the photos unique. So you also develop the films yourself? No, I send them in. Scan them actually. What is typography for you? Communication. I think very practical here. I don’t understand if someone uses a typographic style just because it is trendy. Look at this here for


example (he shows me a folder that looks like it was made in The Hague). It’s Dutch design, but it’s made in Hong Kong. It’s just a copy of style, but it makes no sense. Fuck this. (he smiles) It’s very easy to follow trends. The result is empty design. Do you feel sorry for the maker or for the viewer? Both. But mostly I blame the client. They should know what to communicate and hire the right designer for the job. I always try to communicate also where the design comes from. I use for example very often the redwhiteblue colours. It is very “Hong Kong”. Yes, true. On the AGI website I read that it is unknown where the colours come from. Can you tell me something about this? It looks a little like the British flag, doesn’t it? I think more of the Thai flag when I look at it. Do you feel Hong Kongese or Chinese? It is both, right? Yes! If you are from New York, then you are still an American, right? Hong Kong is part of China. What do you think of the Hong Kong young designers? They don’t know what they want. They just follow the stream, “do what they like “ and not think about what choices they have. You should not just do what you “like”. There are normally so many things that you “like” to do. But you can only do one thing at a time. There you make a choice. I feel that they don’t think about this. Do you think about this? You have to know what is around you. For example I started to do calligraphy for myself. I am not a Master, and some people told me that I would waste my time with it. But I don’t think so, I learn a lot. You have to know that Calligraphy is more than just writing. Here, (He writes something in Chinese) “know” “White” “limit/care” “Black”.This means that you don’t make black lines, but you take away the white. And this is true. It’s philosophical, isn’t it? It questions our perception of things. Yes, exactly (he is happy that I understood). This is also what I want to do when I do typography. Here, look at this (he shows me experimental Chinese Characters, where parts of Chinese characters are combined with images). What do you see? Oh, nice. I just found it today on your website, I wondered what this means. It does not mean ‘ear’, right? (I’m talking about the first picture. There is an ear and a Chinese Character attached to it)


No, it is a combination. If you write ‘ear’ and ‘heart’, then it means shame. I exchanged the character for ‘ear’ with the image of an ear. The same is true for the others. This is for me typography. I play with what the characters mean, and what they communicate. Wait, I show you something. Here is a travelling notebook I made (he shows me a small booklet of maybe 30 empty pages. There are minimal but playful Chinese characters on the front, and the paper feels not too expensive but nice.). I give it to people, they give it back, I had nice conversations with Stefan Sagmeister for example. We communicate through writing. By the way, how much time Do you still have? Actually it is about time. I do need to get home. Thank you so much for your time! No problem, if you have any more answers, feel free to ask me anytime. Thanks! Yes, this would be great.. .. because I did not answer your questions. No no, you did! I enjoyed this very much! (I leave and when I exit the building I think: Sometimes it’s not the question you ask that need to be answered)


Questions for John Maeda

What do you think, how will the future of design and especially typography look like and what role do your many typographical experiments play in this development? Typography will play a decreasingly important role, because we have become such an image-centric culture. We used to have long texts with a few images, we now have short texts with lots of images. In my own work, I always tried to work with as few elements of type as possible as a way to understand how the computer could express itself with the symbolic aspects of type vs. the semantic aspects of type. I wanted to understand how feeling could be transmitted more than meaning. What is the meaning of "New Media" in relation to your work, or can you think of a term that fits better to its nature? Every generation has its new form of media that was built on the older forms of media. What we often discover is that whether it's new or old doesn't matter – what matters is: is it good or not.






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Bachelor Thesis Graphic Design (Bachelor of Arts) At the Royal Academy of Art (KABK), The Hague -> Written and designed by Jakob Schlötter Contact info: 0031 (0)6 129 211 58 -> -> Printed 2013 in Amsterdam Font: HyperTyper (dynamic typeface), Jakob Schlötter Inconsolata, Raph Levien & Kirill Tkachev -> Illustrations by Jakob Schlötter except for: Fig. 5 – drawn by Tommy Li during interview Fig. 9 – drawn by Jakob Schlötter, based on drawings by Imre Galambos, The evolution of Chinese Writing, Evidence from newly excavated texts Fig. 10 – drawn by Tommy Li during interview