This semester, I have decided to introduce first year students of PJA New Media Arts faculty to bi-scriptural poster assignment. There are couple of reasons why delving into analysis and comparison of two different scripts seems to be up-to-date design problem.
First of all, there are no more technological obstacles in serving alphabetical systems which used to be ignored by traditional printing techniques. Non-Latin fonts are comparatively easy to develop and hence, easily accessible. Secondly, increased multi-cultural interaction demands new approach in terms of typography. As Steven Heller said (I am quoting Steven Heller’s utterance during his lecture in Polish-Japanese Academy in Warsaw, on the 6th of March 2018.), any human being should love type, because it's our lingua franca. Textual information is still the most common and accurate way of transporting knowledge. And that’s why designers can no longer paste non-Latin text automatically to their projects. This text should be as carefully designed as Latin script text is, paying attention to all its idiosyncrasies. Finally, last but not least argument – a lot of PJA students are raised in various cultures, hence a majority of them are users of different scripts. Given that, I have decided to create an assignment which will give them an opportunity to rethink their cultural background and the system of textual communication.
Absolutely invaluable help in developing this assignment was the book ‘Bi-Scriptural’, edited by B. Wittner, S. Thoma and T. Hartmann and published by Niggli in 2018. The publication presents eight writing systems and provides in-depth articles written by internationally acclaimed authors and designers. Each essay ends with practical conclusions for designers, pointing details that should be taken into consideration while setting particular non-Latin text. The students were asked to read two texts: ‘Expanding Possibilities of Type design Today’ by Peter Bil’ak, and ‘Working Bi-Scriptural: Multiscriptual Typographic Design and Typesetting’ by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès.
We have started our class meeting with a 30-minute recapitulation of the text and a discussion on its most interesting fragments. It was amazing to see how much information absorbed by students during the reading was eye-opening for them. It appeared that the typographical aspects which seems to be obvious in Latin script, are surprisingly different in non-Latin: there can be no typographical counterparts of one script in another, or the logic of setting one script can be counterintuitive comparing to the other one. Another fascinating thing for students was realizing that the designer holds power to dramatize the relationship between two cultures by designing relations between two different writing systems. It appeared that all decisions in terms of visual language – analogy, dominance, or separation, just to name a few – have impact on the communication process.
Students were to find an existing bi-scriptural poster and to re-design it, or to create their own one from scratch. The results were amazing: one of the students designed hybrid of Chinese script combined with a Roman script (each Chinese sign has one Latin letter interlocked in it), whereas another student drew all the lettering by herself creating beautiful harmony of Devanagari and Latin script, so that they look like one script at first sight. One of the projects presents nonobvious combination of Latin script and gestural sign language used by the deaf community. Another student made a thorough research on Tibetan scripts, including meeting with professors from Warsaw University, just to design a poster which serves as a political statement and fights for rights of the oppressed.
For me as a tutor, it was deeply touching to observe the engagement of students to carefully design the visuality of textual message. The conclusion that I would like to share is, that in artistic education we need to provide students not only with practical hints, but also with theory that will deepen their understanding of the topic. The more they understand, the more sophisticated thinking process they are able to conduct, which eventually lead them to beautiful design solutions.