Type Hybrid – multilingual design in practice

A new book aims to offer an overview of design work that speaks to a multicultural audience – employing typography from two different languages within the same project. Does the trend reflect our hyper-connected world, or is it just another way to use text as decoration?

The scenario, which has seen the emergence of products featuring two distinct languages to communicate one message, has been brought about by an “increasingly globalised world”, say publishers Viction:ary.

Thus Type Hybrid features 120 logotypes that make use of a multilingual design (e.g. Japanese and English text characters), before exploring 100 different projects that each employ a hybrid of different languages.

L02_Logotype section
L03_Logotype section

In each case, the challenge for the designer is how to sit these different languages and type systems together (on anything from a drinks can to a poster), and develop a kind of ‘type hybrid’ in the process.

In his foreword to the book, UnFun founder Michael Seibert highlights the attraction of type hybrids – and not just to designers.

“A type hybrid is a connector,” he writes. “If you handle it with care it can demystify, depoliticise and reconcile different cultures for the sake of education, communication and above all, tolerance.”

S06_THE BIG ISSUE TAIWAN by Aaron Nieh Workshop
S07_TEA CHARLIE by Yan Yao-ming
S11_IWATE KURA BEER by nendo

This may certainly be true, but it’s also the case that some products have used typography from a different language system simply as an appealing graphic device – Japanese characters perhaps being the most well-known in this area.

Clothing company Superdry, for example, uses Japanese text on its garments, despite being a UK company founded in Cheltenham. The graphics look good, ultimately, even if they mean nothing to the majority of Superdry’s customers in the West. (In fact, it’s been suggested that Superdry’s Japanese text – kyokudo kansō (shinasai) or ‘extreme dry – do’ – is actually a play on the use of nonsensical or badly translated English words by Japanese companies.)

S04_ICENTRE 10TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION by untitled Lab
S08_10DAYFEST 2015 by Good Morning Design

Just how far the content of Type Hybrid reflects globalisation and a wealth of multilingual typography is difficult to say, however, as the examples (80 out of 100) are predominantly drawn from either Japanese or Chinese projects that also include Latin text (English but also Italian, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish). The remaining projects in the book mix Latin text with Arabic, Korean and Russian type. 

That said, Type Hybrid makes a good case for how products can successfully merge two languages within a visual solution, appealing to more than one audience in the process. And fans of type treatments – whether you can actually read them or not – will find much to enjoy on these pages.

Type Hybrid: Typography in Multilingual Design is published and edited by Viction:ary ($39.95. See victionary.com

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