Thursday, 13 January 2011

A 100-year-old face

I went to see the exhibition at Ginza Graphic Gallery of 100 years (99, in fact) of a font by Dai Nippon Printing called Shueitai. Excellent show: one display tracks a family tree of the font in development from 1912 to the present day, others range from hot metal (an original, scarily complex, Japanese type box) to the iPad, and showing the font's use over the decades in adverts, posters, books etc. The amount of work in a Japanese font is revealed not only in the full chart of thousands of characters (featuring only a couple of lines for the English alphabet design within the font) but how, even in 2009, each kanji is checked and marked up for tweaking by hand.

The first part of the exhibition is a large selection of newly commissioned posters using the font around a mostly seasonal theme: a black poster featuring black grass covering a spelled-out white moon in the font, the kanji for autumn mapped onto a Helvetica H, a poster listing all the best views of cherry blossom in Japan, the kanji for snow appearing out of a grid of thousands of small x's and more.

It was good to see the aim to modernise an already continuously updated font – described, perhaps strangely, as "manly" in the intro, but perhaps more accurately as simply "classic". The exhibition points out that the original design was for vertical text and so has a wide-base stance (hence the "manly" I guess) that is less critical in horizontal and much contemporary use.

A well put together. Unfortunately, none of the posters are available online on from an exhibition pamphlet, so the exhibition poster and a detail of the hiragana of い will have to do here.

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