Best of 2013 #7: Typography

It’s no secret that PingMag loves “things”. This might be crafts, monozukuri and product design — but it’s also words. And it goes without saying that to make the words that appear on our printed pages and screens, typography is indispensable.

We asked graphic designer and writer Ian Lynam for his choice of standout Japanese typography from the past year.

What were the ten developments in typography that made the biggest impression on you in 2013?

Freestyle Nihonji Complete by Shigeru Inada

freestyle nihonji complete shigeru inada freestyle nihonji complete shigeru inada

An edited compilation of the Okayama-born designer Shigeru Inada’s dynamic lettering, comprised of a wide swath of traditional calligraphy, modular lettering, illustrated lettering, and the classic ornamented lettering that adorns postwar cafés across Japan.

Prior to his death in 2009, Inada created the three volumes of expressive word art from which this volume is collected — a range that contemporary designers have a hard time replicating, even with the barrage of digital tools at their disposal. The 464 pages within are teeming with example after example of pen acrobatics, intense rendering acumen and drawing accuracy beyond current standards.

If there’s a designer on your gift list, this is the book to pick up for her or him this holiday season — Nihonji Freestyle Complete is easily the most important Japanese design book of the year, despite being one culled from history.

Daijiro Ohara

daijiro ohara

The past year has seen Tokyo designer Daijiro Ohara continuing his orthographic/graphic assault using 1980′s-informed illustration and typesetting, modular typography, and kinetic typographic compositions across video, print, editorial, and workshop formats.

Ohara took his show on the road this year, bringing his singular aesthetic to Korea for the TypoJanchi Biennale in Seoul, as well as for multiple international publications. He also art directed and designed Denki Groove X Idea, a standalone title cataloging the sonic adventures of Japan’s techno-pop kings using a variety of printing techniques, nuanced Tomato-influenced typography, geometric lettering and assorted paper stocks.

Typography Magazine

typography magazine

One year in, Typography Magazine continues to make a splash across Japan — the biannual publication covers nuanced elements of digital typeface design, usage of OpenType alternates, the latest type designs from all over the globe, essays by master type designers, and a healthy sampling of fun projects by assorted designers including House Industries and a mix of others.

Each issue is heartily illustrated, uses multiple paper stocks, printing methods, and generally sticks to the topic at hand with laser-like precision from a variety of experts. Design magazines globally could learn a thing or two about a thing or two from Typography.

Shin Akiyama X Shinro Ohtake

shinro ohtake documenta

Niigata’s most brutal typographer, Shin Akiyama, has released a series of publications with fine artist Shinro Ohtake for dOCUMENTA, Germany’s ultimate contemporary art festival, via Akiyama’s imprint edition nord.

edition nord is both a conceptual celebration and exploration of the most instinctive and primary elements of art-making, combining the immediacy of the found, rapid mark-making and narrative-spinning, and folding these attributes into physical forms that are a taught tension of crafted precision and the raw materiality of chance processes.

The typography within is highly considered and abundantly in its exploration of different methods of reproduction. Papers, printing and the visual edit that holds each together is rugged and assured — a poised conflation that reveals the authored instinct. As a collection, Akiyama’s work feels like the output of an individual involved to the deepest levels with his craft — rendered in often stark palettes alongside considered typographic scales akin to musical compositions. In all, a palpable sense of the book as an expanse that engages the reader physically, mentally and emotionally is present — not treated as mere printed physical ephemera.

shinro ohake documenta 13

The series created in collaboration with Ohtake is composed of a boxed edition, containing concept notes, sketches, drawings, maps, models, and collages made as materials for his installation; an edition of compact discs; a 400-page book edition; and other editions in the series.

The series is, in short, the ultimate cross-section of art and design.

Tymote

tymote

The Yoyogi Uehara neighborhood contains some of Tokyo’s finest dining, drinking and shopping establishments. It’s got more trees than a lot of Tokyo. It boasts the city’s best bakery, to boot. (And at the end of the day, we all know that a piping hot cheese-slathered baguette is far, far more important than decent kerning.)

What this gorgeous neighborhood also contains is one of Tokyo’s finest design collectives — Tymote — a team of seven designers working across motion graphics, print design, editorial design, and typography.

Their work is, quite frankly, bananas. ‘Nuff said.

The Rise of Avenir Next

avenir next

Akira Kobayashi is Japan’s leading typeface designer, head of Linotype’s type design department, winner of design award after design award, and a prolific writer about type and type designer. He’s won accolade after accolade, but perhaps Kobayashi’s biggest accomplishment to date is his typeface family with Adrian Frutiger, Avenir Next, shipping with iOS7.

Avenir Next is the most readable and sober of the sans serif font families that are pre-installed with Apple’s latest operating system for iPad and iPhone, and has rapidly become the typeface of choice for apps, mobile-ready websites, and graphic design in general.

2013 was Akira Kobayashi’s year.

Kunihiko Okano’s slow firestorm

kunihiko okano quintet

Kunihiko Okano is perhaps Japan’s best type designer. This is not hyperbole. His five layer script typeface, Quintet, was released through Photolettering Inc last year, and is a masterful paean to his studies in calligraphy and type design. You can see it explained here. He put together a Japanese typeface called Waran which got a small showing in an issue of Slanted Magazine, but things have been really quiet otherwise. That means only that 2014 is going to be a brutal show of force from this typographic powerhouse.

Typecache

typecache

When they’re not busy organizing the most innovative typographic events in Tokyo, Taro Yumiba and Akira Yoshino run Typecache, an internationally-focused website that highlights the best and brightest type designs from around the world. Broken down by both genre and release, Typecache is one of the most critical and comprehensive type categorization sites in the world.

It’s kind of amazing that these guys have the energy — Yumiba and Yoshino are the kind of one-two knockout punch of writer/editor and designer/developer team that keeps them both more than gainfully employed, so that they have the time on top of the energy speaks heaps.

Yoshihisa Shirai joined Musashino Art University

yoshihisa shirai hanagata

Yoshihisa Shirai is perhaps Japan’s best typographer. He’s been art directing and designing Idea Magazine since 2005, a large chunk of Robundo’s printed materials, and generally running an extremely busy graphic design studio for 20+ years. He’s published books on typographic ornament, contributed greatly to the recent Jan Tschichold exhibition at Ginza Graphic Gallery, and has a slim monograph out focusing on his own graphic output culled from a 2011 exhibition titled Typographic Suite.

His professional path took a divergent turn at the end of 2012 when he joined Musashino Art University’s Graphic Design program teaching Typography, Design Theory, and general Graphic Design courses.

The payoff: If you want to learn graphic design and typography in a really strong graphic design, Musabi just made their program that much stronger by bringing Shirai-san on board.

The acceleration of typography and type design as a quantified concept culturally

kern type

Ten years ago, the first time you met someone on the street and you said you were a type designer, they’d just kind of give you a blank stare and a nod of acknowledgement. Now, everyone’s got an opinion about typography or type design. Folks can tell you why they prefer Helvetica over Futura or Ryumin Pro over MS Mincho.

Popular culture the world over is becoming more and more design-conscious. This is both a good and a bad thing. For designers, the point-of-entry is easier: computers are cheaper and software like Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, customizable website services like Tumblr, and the increased availability of free, decent fonts make obtaining the tools to become a professional graphic designer easier than ever. This is countered by a decreased interest in truly mastering the craft of design and typography, and the market being flooded with everyone working in a DIY capacity with at least a sense of the output being “designed”.

W. David Marx said it nearly a decade ago: “Design is the new rock ‘n’ roll.” Let’s just hope that sustainable practices develop within the design economy in ways that are different than how the music industry has developed.

Thank you, Ian Lynam!

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer and writer living in Tokyo. He runs a multidisciplinary design studio, writes for Idea and Slanted and teaches undergraduate graphic design at Temple University Japan and in the MFA graphic design program at VCFA.
http://ianlynam.com