Friday, 29 October 2010

The pitfalls of letter design

Merging Japanese and English, or missing out on input from a native-speaker of either language when designing in the other (or at least input from someone au fait with letter-function in design in either), can lead to problems in cross-language design. I think something of the kind happened with the design of the logo of a local kindergarten. I'd seen their liveried van several times and wondered what the name of the school was. I wasn't even sure if the logo was Japanese or English – though the starting "S" seemed to suggest English.

This week I was able to see the name of the school printed below the logo – Shiragiku kindergarten. The logo above reads "SHIrAGIKU", with a lowercase "r". Perhaps the intention was a suggestion of Japanese in English lettering – the former lends itself more to simplified brush strokes. Separating the right-hand vertical stroke of a capital H and shortening an "I" (!) and similarly separating the left-hand upright of the capital K means that you can get an impression of the letter "い" in hiragana (pronounced "ee" – as heard in "shira" and "giku"). Perhaps that was an intention. The lowercase "r" also looks like the Japanese letter "ト" though this time in katakana and unconnected to the sound (which is "toh").

Unfortunately, it ends up between two stools and illegible in English. A pity, as the school looks bright, well-funded and with excellent priorities (including an emphasis on learning English).

Indeed, perhaps it was a contribution from an encouraged child at the school, or intended to look like that. Or, perhaps finally, just one of the starker warnings I've come across of the dangers facing bilingual designers.

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