Art & Science: Celebrating Adobe Originals Japanese Typefaces

by Bryan Lamkin

posted on 04-09-2018

Every time I visit Japan I’m struck by a persistent commitment to innovation combined with a passion for design and traditional craftmanship: the bullet train and the constant stream of innovative new consumer products from companies like Sony, Nikon and Toyota; woodblock prints and paintings and contemporary artforms like anime and manga. Japanese culture reveals an enduring reverence for both art and science.

Art and science come together beautifully in Adobe Originals Japanese typeface designs, which we are celebrating on April 10 as part of Font Day. From the Ten Mincho typeface, which I had the pleasure of announcing at last fall’s MAX Japan, to the Source Han Sans and Source Han Serif typefaces, the Adobe Type team is breaking new ground in the world of digital fonts and earning international recognition for their work.

Dan Rhatigan, head of the Adobe Type team, says that typefaces are important because they give tone, character and feeling to the words people want to communicate. Aesthetics are only one part of the equation.

“We don’t make typefaces just because they’re pretty. We make them because the world needs them,” he says in this video about the team.

Adobe Type is comprised of about a dozen talented individuals around the world—including four in Japan—who have varied backgrounds in design, computer science, engineering and linguistics. And certainly, the team has shown that typefaces can be both beautiful and purposeful.

Adobe Chief Type Designer Ryoko Nishizuka designed Kazuraki, a Japanese font based on the handwriting of the twelfth-century artist and poet Fujiwara-no-Teika. David Lemon, senior manager on the Type Development team who retired last year, called Kazuraki “one of the most beautiful Japanese fonts ever made.” Kazuraki, he pointed out, included vertical ligatures—which are natural in handwritten Japanese, but unheard of in a Japanese typeface.

“We broke a lot of [our own] software with this,” he recalled in a 2014 interview.

The Source Han Sans and Source Han Serif typefaces, as another example, were the result of a multi-year collaboration between Adobe and Google dedicated to creating an open source Pan-CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) typeface that could be used across languages and regions. This meant creating a unified set of glyphs for tens of thousands of characters with a consistent design and in multiple weights. Ultimately, each typeface design resulted in more than 450,000 distinct glyphs.

Ryoko Nishizuka, in collaboration with three partnering East Asian type foundries, created the underlying designs for the new typeface family and Dr. Ken Lunde, a senior computer scientist at Adobe for nearly 27 years, managed and architected the entire collaboration. To read more about the project, go to the Adobe CJK Blog or this Fast Company article on the collaboration.

The Ten Mincho typeface, which we announced at MAX Japan last November, also combines elements of ancient design and modern-day technology. Also designed by of Ryoko Nishizuka, the typeface evokes hand-written characters and a stroke formation style characteristic of the Kawaraban newspapers of Japan’s mid-to-late Edo period (1603-1863).

Notably, Ten Mincho also features a full set of Latin glyphs—great news for someone working in Japanese and English—which were designed by Adobe Principal Designer Robert Slimbach, in collaboration with Ryoko. And just in case you were wondering, “ten” is the Japanese word for marten, an arguably cuter version of the weasel.

The team is continuing to push ahead with cutting-edge innovation and beautiful designs—and it’s not going unnoticed. The Japan Typography Association has recognized Adobe with the Keinosuke Sato award, for the company’s meaningful contributions to Japanese typography. On April 20, Taro Yamamoto, senior manager for font development, will accept the award on behalf of Adobe Type.

In other words, there is a lot for Adobe to celebrate on Font Day.

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