Screenplay typography project: 10 years on

This year marks my tenth year of teaching design at university. Typography is my main area of expertise; it is primarily where my passion lies as a design practitioner and academic, a subject that is very close to my heart. I am particularly into detail typography and typographic structures and systems. My approach is very workmanlike and pragmatic, and concerns mostly with finding the most fitting form for textual content. Style is seen as something that naturally emerges from this process rather than a purely artistic pursuit.

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MTR colour coding

Hong Kong’s railway system (MTR) currently has nine lines, each denoted with a colour. The original system only had three lines with three easy to distinguish colours: red (Tsuen Wan), green (Kwun Tong) and blue (Island). When the system extended to Tseung Kwan O, purple was introduced, then to Tung Chung (orange). These were all distinct and easy to call by name. It became a little problematic when the Airport Express introduced a teal colour with a dot pattern. The hue is somewhere between the original blue and green lines. When the East, West and Ma On Shan railways were acquired from Kowloon–Canton Railways and merged with the existing MTR network, the colour coding problem was accentuated. The original East, West and Ma On Shan railways had no colour coding because they were standalone lines and not part of the same network. The light blue and fuchsia for the East and West Rail lines are particularly problematic. The fuchsia is too close to the purple, and can also easily confuse with the red and blue. (MTR system map, 1.3MB PDF)

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Grid (not the Modernist variety)

city_hall_1city_hall_2city_hall_3Signs at the Hong Kong City Hall. I might be generalising, but this is what graphic designers typically do: come up with a ‘concept’ first (in this case a grid of four squares to reflect the architecture I presume), then throw whatever information into it. The grid is clearly not for organising information but for decoration – the information is subservient to it.


Paris street, bus and metro atlas

Here is a little gem from my collection – a very charming and well designed Paris street atlas. I bought this some years ago from a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London. There is no date anywhere to be found in the book, but I’m guessing it is from the 60s or 70s. It’s in a handy format (92 × 132 mm) with 307 pages. The text pages are in black only, with a change in paper colour (blue) for the attractions directory. The maps at the back (a spread for each of the 20 arrondissements plus several other areas) are printed in five spot colours. A third of the pages is dedicated for an A–Z street directory, with alphabetical thumb tabs. The typography is very well considered, set mostly in Gill Sans light and bold with some long street names in a condensed grotesque to save space. One of the most interesting features of the guidebook is the comprehensive bus directory, with schematic maps of every bus route. The métro map is not in the typical Harry Beck-style, not exactly topographical but not quite a schematic either.

There are several of these for sale online that are in much better conditions than the one I have, and from different eras (seriously, for scrapbooking?!). I wonder if there are modern versions of these?

A few thoughts on text and typography



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No spitting

No spitting sign in a café in Shaukeiwan

No spitting sign in a café in Shaukeiwan

If you grew up Hong Kong in the 60s, 70s or even 80s you would have seen this sign posted around the city, especially in restaurants and cafés. You still see these signs occasionally, but they are becoming rarer now. I found this in a bakery café in Shaukeiwan.

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I acknowledge receipt of your call for help

Acknowledgement light notice inside an elevator at Bowrington Road Cook Food Market, Hong Kong

Acknowledgement light notice inside an elevator at Bowrington Road Cooked Food Market, Hong Kong

I found this notice inside an elevator at the Bowrington Road Cooked Food Market. As a typographer I was naturally appalled by the extra artificially condensed Univers Condensed type, but I was more intrigued by its content: what on earth is an ‘acknowledgement light’? The Chinese (知悉燈) is even more absurd. This design is flawed on many levels, but the most offensive of which isn’t its aesthetics.

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