Looking at the details of BITS MMXIII (Part 2)

➜ 23 November 2013: The morning session began with an announcement of news from Boris Kochan, director of the Thailand chapter of GRANSHAN (an international Conference and Festival of Non-Latin Typefaces) that the Thai script was to be added as a new category in GRANSHAN’s annual type design competition.

Paul Barnes: Paul Barnes talks about his football jersey design for the leading sportswear brand of Puma. In addition to the need for simplicity and clarity of forms, an essential requirement for the work is how to render the highest degree of legibility to the player’s number on the garment given that the lettering would have to be viewed from several different sight lines – from the angle of the referees, the spectators on the stands or the viewers of a live sportscast. Barnes tackled the assignment by first determining the best proportion for the numerals on the shirt’s printable area, so that they would appear largest and most legible when viewed from various directions. To finish off his talk, Barnes relates his experience in the making of Darby Sans, a font he produced for the makeover of Wallpaper magazine. Barnes takes his audience through every step of the work, right from the beginning when he investigated the features that give a font the looks of luxury. And how he went through all classifications of established Latin serif faces simply to study the cultural preferences of European scripts; such as the Modern group in English, Bodoni in Italian and Didot for French. His work protocol reflects a professional approach where rigorous pre-design thinking provides the basis of his design success.

Santi Lawrachawee: Santi begins by explaining the context of his subject, pointing out that what he is about to relate are just things that a casual researcher of Thai script has come across in the course of investigation into its development that spans from the Ayudhya period up to the present. They should not be thought of as an authoritative historical account. Santi then takes his audience on a journey back in time, describing events that had helped to advance the Thai art of typography to where it is today. These include important milestones which marked the changes that elevated the printed word to respectable heights, how type casting and printing technology, introduced by Western missionaries, helped to speed up the process, and how Thai designers have taken great leaps forward with the aid of modern digital tools. Of particular interest is the speaker’s discussion of the historical factors that led to decisions for change: for example, Santi reckons that the inclusion of bold and italic type in Thai text was more of an industry response to local needs, than just an emulation of Western practice as many have been led to believe. Parallel developments in typography abroad are also mentioned which provide the audience with an overview of global changes and how they related to the local scene. Speaking in a pleasant conversational tone with a knack for describing details, Santi displays his masterful communication skill which adds much appeal to the study of Thai type. Santi concludes the session with a historical sketch on the origin of Sawasdee, a Thai word of greeting.

Ryoichi Tsunekawa: A designer with passions for Asian folk motifs, Tsunekawa begins by posing a question to the audience as to the concept of Universal Design. To him, universal design is all about structures and forms that connote modernity, pretty much like the minimalist lines of Swiss typography. But from the perspectives of today’s visual culture, he feels that we cannot just mix some ready-made “universal” fonts – Helvetica, for example – and hope to achieve something called “universal design” that says very little about our cultural sophistication. For that reason, Tsunekawa opts for the possibilities of using design themes from Asia’s indigenous cultures, especially from the works of local artisans who, without formal training and unhindered by rigid rules, simply rely on their natural artistic instinct to bring their design to life. He believes that it is a design direction with great promises of fresh, exciting ideas; some of them already evident in his exemplary works.

Workshops: The afternoon of Day Two was allocated for three more workshop sessions. The first group, led by Paul Barnes, had the students do lettering designs on football jerseys. Each participant was to choose a team from the list supplied by Barnes, and to come up with typography for that team based on his or her perception of its sporting personality or iconic features. Barnes helped to supply relevant information on the football teams. The challenge of crafting large type on a small area was met with much enthusiasm, and the participants were seen to have thoroughly enjoyed the session.

Ryoichi Tsunekawa in his workshop session posed a design task based on the concept presented in his lecture. Participants were asked to come up with new ideas for the BITS logotype by drawing from local resources found in folk design. A number of interesting results were produced.

Workshop session by Santi Lawrachawee was an extension of his earlier talk on the history of Thai typography. Santi provided additional insights into the development of Thailand’s printed words from three centuries ago up to the present era, all the while offering interesting comments and sidelights, plus an explanation of the process he employed in researching his topic.

The BITS lectures concluded with a talk by Nirut Krusuansombat. Nirut tells about a small experiment undertaken by Press A Card, the printing firm he operates, and Cadson Demak in its role as a type foundry. In order to recreate the environment of the close working relationship that was the norm in the past when a printing house would connect with type foundries for the creation and supplies of type, Nirut chose a recent wood typeface called Pong Mai as the subject for the experiment. Pong Mai, once popular a face for letterpress printing spaning some eight decades, undergoes a makeover by Cadson Demak’s Smich Smanloh who reshaped it to match the parameters of the digital age. The resulting makeover, named “Charoen Jai,” takes on the appearance of a modular type, reflecting the underlying design principle of modern Thai fonts. Nirut then produces examples of letterpress posters that he has made using the experimental wood type which is replicated from the digital makeover.

BITS 2013 ended on an encouraging note. Anuthin Wongsunkakon told the conference that plans had been made to set up a Typographic Association of Bangkok (TAB) for it to act as a center for activities in the font business and type composition. TAB will work closely with ThaiGa to organize the next BITS. After a brief interval for questions and suggestions from the audience, Anuthin expressed thanks from the organizers to the participants and event partners, and announced the close of BITS 2013.

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Additional

Language is the attire of our thoughts. Language has a profound influence on human activity. And whether or not we consent to its dominance, we cannot live without language. When we aren’t speaking, it works in our brains, for we think in a language. We may be rid of it momentarily in slumber, but it comes right back when we start to dream. Although it’s not something we’re born with, it’s something we need to acquire. We cannot do without it in our daily life. With language such an indispensable tool of thoughts, then shouldn’t we accord great respect to the written word? The characters in a writing system are designed to represent the spoken word as a means of putting thoughts on supporting media. So it’s natural for every nation to try to refine their script in order to express thoughts better, even more so now because, through technology, the world’s scripts can be rendered and transferred across the globe at great speeds. For the Thai script, we’ve been working hard to make it more attractive, more versatile and faithfully functional. For this, we’ve come up with tools, including ASEAN’s first series of international symposia on typography. We aim for the conferences to serve as a platform to promote Thai script’s development, to raise awareness of its role, and to advance our typographic art to international stature. With the keen support from our partners as well as increasing public interest in this area, we believe positive results are now being felt in Thailand and we are committed to redoubling our promotional efforts in the years ahead.