The process of globalization in a post-colonial reality tends to generate uniformity at numerous levels. It standardizes cultures, ways of thinking and ways of seeing. As a central visual interface to culture, scripts (visual representations of languages) are subject to this process. A globally successful script, the Latin one, has an outsize influence on the way languages are shaped and used, and its colonial heritage is reflected in its cultural and technological hegemony on a global scale. From the keyboards we type on, the way computers and (smart)phones encode characters, the way we transliterate languages, the Latin script is always in position of being the “default” in the different tools that shape communication today.
What happens to the other scripts whose users are not so numerous nor global, although centuries old? Are they doomed to extinction or do they have a chance to coexist? And if they get to coexist, what are the terms of this coexistence and who sets them?
The hegemony of the Latin script influences the very way letterforms are designed, even for other scripts. In the world of typography, multilingualism often means having to deal with more than one script, and the term multi script is used for typographic designs that contain several scripts. The tools, trends, pedagogies and technologies that accompany the practice of type design are often based on placing the Latin script at the top of the ladder, marginalizing and sometimes colonizing others.
Northern-Western hegemony in design not only imposes very restricted standards of cultural references so-called “universal” (like the “international/Swiss style”), but also discredits more local references such as other writing systems than the Latin one. A practice that until recently has been the norm in multi script typography involves starting from typefaces primarily designed for the Latin alphabet to create fonts in other scripts (Helvetica Greek, Fedra Arabic, Armenian Garamond...), imposing foreign and normative forms on cultures they are introduced into. This often unilateral process goes under the name “harmonization”.
The research project we started is a collective one. Partial and situated rather than universalist, we aim for it to be reflective, critical, speculative and rich in proposals. We propose to use decolonial and feminist tools to bring a contemporary reflection on multi script typographic creation today. Centering our diasporic experiences, we pay attention to personal, family stories, experiences and anecdotes. Our project reflects our different positions and perspectives, as a group of five designers and researchers working in the field of typography: Émilie Aurat is a graphic designer and typographer who worked on Afaka, a Creole syllabary from Suriname, for the Missing Scripts program of the ANRT in Paris. Garine Gokceyan is a Lebanese Armenian graphic designer, working between Brussels and Beirut, with Armenian, Latin and Arabic scripts.
Lisa Huang 黄丽莎 is a type designer specialised in Latin and Chinese scripts, currently based in Paris. Loraine Furter is a graphic designer and researcher based in Brussels, reconnecting with her Armenian roots, currently transitioning from illiteracy in Armenian to becoming a multi script being. Naïma Ben Ayed is a French, with Tunisian heritage, London-based independent type and graphic designer, designing Arabic, Tifinagh and Latin fonts.
Lisa Huang 黄丽莎 is a type designer specialised in Latin and Chinese scripts, currently based in Paris, France. Her interest in type and typography focuses on multi-cultural works, especially those mixing Latin-French and Chinese writing systems which mirrors her life as a multi-cultural human. She has lately worked on the digitisation of Nüshu script to join Noto Sans typeface family.
• Noto Sans Nüshu: A script created by women from a remote region enters the Google Fonts Noto Sans family, Lisa Huang, 2020 http://www.alphabettes.org/author/lisahuang/
Garine Gokceyan is an independent graphic designer based in Brussels and born in Beirut, working on multidisciplinary pedagogic and social projects using Armenian, English, French and Arabic languages.
She has a Master’s degree in Visual Communications from l’École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels of La Cambre, Brussels, in June 2017 and a Teaching Diploma in Fine Arts in 2018 from ENSAV, La Cambre, Brussels.
Kork, 2016 https://cargocollective.com/garinegokceyan/Kork-Project
Loraine Furter is a graphic designer based in Brussels, specialized in hybrid publishing (paper and digital publications), graphic design research and intersectional feminist projects. Loraine has a Master in typography (erg, Brussels) but considers herself more as a contributor to collective and Open Source projects. Loraine is currently a PhD student in Sint Lucas Antwerp where she continues a self-initiated research project entitled Speaking Volumes — art, activism and feminist publishing. She worked as a researcher and designer with the Hybrid Publishing Consortium at the Centre for Digital Cultures in the Leuphana Universität in 2014, and is now part of the cyberfeminist research collective Just for the record.
• Crystal Clear, Loraine Furter, 2020 https://depatriarchisedesign.com/2020/02/02/crystal-clear-by-loraine-furter/ • Platform with Open Source fonts designed by womxn, 2019- https://www.design-research.be/by-womxn/
• Together with Garine, 2019- https://www.design-research.be/hay/
Naïma Ben Ayed is a London based type and graphic designer. After working for 6 years at Dalton Maag type foundry as a font developer where she led major multi script custom typeface projects for global brands, she set up her independent practice in 2019, specialised in Arabic and Latin type. She regularly teach and run workshops focusing of Arabic type and lettering and also approaching Latin type design through the lense of multiscript and matchmaking.
• Latin lettering workshop inspired by Armenian letters: Latin Letters, Made in Armenia, Naïma Ben Ayed and Riccardo De Franceschi, 2019 https://typographica.org/on-typography/latin-letters-made-in-armenia/
• Reflexion on structuring an independent practice and methodology, 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Jyvq_qSVkE
• Discussion with designer Azza Alameddine, 2020: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CDE3xB_nrY4/
Émilie Aurat is a graphic designer and typographer based in Paris. In 2018 she worked on Afàka, a XXth century sillabary for the Ndyuka language, an English-based creole of Suriname, as part of the Missing Scripts program of the ANRT in Paris.
• Missing Scripts: Afàka, 2019: https://vimeo.com/378805047
Authentic Sans is the font used in this document, it is a typeface designed by Christina Janus and Desmond Wong which explores the semiotic and aesthetic idiosyncrasies of the anonymous Latin glyphs included with CJK system fonts; the typeface aims to subvert the Eurocentric standards of typographic quality and refinement. https://authentic.website/#sans