Nº 278

Designing Multilinguality

Text: Giovanna Reder

Translation: Emily J. McGuffin

Typography is a coded form of language. We use it to relay, capture, and visualise information. Yet the understanding of such information is dependent not only upon the recipient, but also upon the sender as well as upon the way it is presented.

Whether a design concept is able to be read or understood by many people, depends on individual factors, such as the level of literacy, as well as on the typography and language itself. The decision to incorporate several legible levels into one project influences both the design process and the end result, making projects inclusive and useful to more people. We spoke to three designers about their work.


Mixtype Magazine



A combination of the Chinese, Arabic, and Latin writing systems can seldom be found in a single publication. The project Mixtype Magazine, Julia Schygulla’s graduation project at the Trier University of Applied Sciences, also examines intercultural networks and the role of the designer in a global context.



What were the challenges of incorporating several different type systems?


While Latin and Arabic types, for example, have ascenders and descenders, the square-shaped Chinese syllabary is very compact. The main challenge was the opposing directions when it came to reading and turning the pages of the magazine.



Do you think multilingual design will play a greater role in the future?


Yes, I do, whether through custom fonts for uniform global branding, in communicating information in multiple languages as a result of migration or due to an increasing interest in conveying one’s cultural identity to the outside world.



You say that you have looked at the role of the designer with regard to globalisation. What role do you believe the designer plays?


Design reaches an audience and thus has a social, ecological, and economic impact. As designers, we are able to adhere to values that have a positive effect. This could mean using less clichés, acting as a vehicle for acceptance, bringing clarity to complexity or supporting resource-saving production. Generally acting more sustainably.


Learning to Speak



In the project Learning to Speak, Cleveland-based designer Natalie Snodgrass examines the Mid-Atlantic accent, a dialect of English consisting of a special blend of American and British English. Using this as an example, she explores the complex structure and process of forming words and sounds.



How did you visualise the connection of word and sound?


A reflection on visualising speech can be seen throughout the book’s design: in the use of the page grid and overlapping text, in the sometimes rhythmic or textured use of typography or in the relationship and coding of shape and type. There is an intricacy to languages that we may not appreciate in our everyday lives, so this book’s design toes that line between complexity and simplicity with the use of primary colours and shapes juxtaposed with more complex grids and typography.



How can design support the complex auditive sense?


I think, in many ways, design and visual languages have as many layers and complexities as auditory languages. It’s the very essence of visual communication design to translate and communicate the written and spoken word. As with all new briefs, we must critically visualise the subject matter and research through various cultural, political, personal, and contextual lenses – that is the imperative of any designer.


The Fantastic Stories of H. G Wells



“The Fantastic Stories of H. G Wells” is a bilingual and visual interpretation of Wells’s short stories. Margot Lévêque, who, after completing her masters in type design, now works at the Creative Schools and Community in Paris, created a cross between a novel and a notebook in both French and English.



Why did you choose to work with the short stories of H. G. Wells?


I did this project at school, during my masters course in type design. The only constraint was to create a bilingual literary novel with three short stories by H. G. Wells. I took some references from old biology schoolbooks, filled by hand, systematically in black and white. I wanted to create an editorial object, as if this novel was a personal chemistry notebook of H. G. Wells, placed on his bedside table.



Did you find it hard to design without bringing a hierarchy into the design?


Creating a bilingual object is quite a different exercise from the one language that I really like to confront. The most difficult thing is to find a perfect harmony between the two languages without one dominating the other. It requires more rigor, and especially it must be clever, I think. For H. G. Wells, the page on the right is devoted to English (which is always in italic) and French to the left (in roman), which remains quite classic.


Nº 284
Region of Design

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