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- Typography

Akira Kobayashi: Typography goes international

Akira Kobayashi is, without a doubt, one of the greatest typographers of our time. He caused a sensation with Tazugane, Monotype’s first Japanese typeface, but that is just one of his achievements. I spoke with this likeable, visionary creative about the typographical needs of our times and the changes in the sector.

Entwicklung der Tazugane


What are the factors you take into consideration when designing a new typeface? Do you gauge the needs of the market, or do you prefer to de??velop typefaces and then see how well they are received?

Akira Kobayashi: My Akko project, for example, started with an analysis of the needs in the market. There was wide demand at the time for a modern sans serif with a large x height. Akko was a timely attempt to respond to this need. I almost always sense a need in the market, even when it isn’t as obvious as in that case.

Die Akko-Familie


Typography always reflects the developments of its time. What influ?ences, events and trends would you say play a big part in typography? Or, to put it another way: What does today’s typography have to say about current developments in society?

Akira Kobayashi: Our lifestyle has changed dramatically in recent decades, and this has had a strong influence on typography. Many brands and companies have moved towards being more friendly and approachable. European fashion businesses, for example, used very neat and tidy typefaces right through into the 1990s, to make them look sophisticated – this trend has slowly changed. In recent years I see a lot of fashion advertising that uses more relaxed script typefaces. Uniformity is an important aspect, but approachability is now becoming more important.


To what degree have requirements for typefaces changed in recent years?

Akira Kobayashi: I can best explain by taking Tazugane as an example. The very idea of a ?Japanese typeface to complement Frutiger would have been a non-starter ten years ago when I was managing the Neue Frutiger project with Adrian Frutiger. When I joined Linotype as Type Director in 2001, there was barely any demand for my knowledge of Japanese lettering design. But now I am incorp?orating many East Asian characters. I have to say that the trend has reversed dramatically over the past ten years, much faster than I expected.



Tazugane was really a bolt from the blue – but might that be one of the primary functions of typographers in future – combining alphabets from various cultural heritages together in one font?


Akira Kobayashi: Nowadays it is no longer particularly special for a Latin typeface to incorp?orate Cyrillic or Greek letters. For large companies or for certain brands, it is very important today to support several languages in a unified voice, »voice« being understood to be, of course, not the audible but the visible voice.
Our strength at Monotype is certainly our international network of designers, which enables us to depict both western and Asiatic language characters. In future it will become even more important to send information on European brands to Asian countries. I love the idea of information communicated by Latin alphabets and Asian characters juxtaposed in perfect harmony, so that is my aim. We have invested four years developing complementary Chinese (M XiangHe Hei, 2018), Japanese (Tazugane Gothic, 2017) and Korean (Seol Sans, 2018) fonts for Neue Frutiger. A few weeks ago, our Japanese typeface Tazugane Gothic won the 2018 Good Design Award in Japan. I believe that our East/West collaboration is opening up a new era.


Do you feel that typography is still given suitable weight or is it getting neglected?

Akira Kobayashi: Typography remains the most important area of graphic design. As long as people, brands or companies need to communicate using letters, typography will be needed.

Interview: Bettina Schulz

This article was first published in novum 03.19 (n+ typography); single copies:
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