It took me a while to decide whether or not I should write a post about what has happened during the past five days in Washington, D.C. My hesitation stems from the fact that I’m not much of a writer, but given the series of events that have transpired, the people whom I have gotten the chance to meet, and the incredible amount of fresh and carefully researched information I have learned over the past few days at TypeCon 2014, I wouldn’t be doing justice to myself, to the event organizers, and to the speakers if I didn’t really write out how TypeCon completely changed my life.
I am new to type and what I study has nothing to do with graphic design or typography, except for the fact that I use letterforms, something that can be said of almost everything else. If you met me at TypeCon, my introduction spiel was that I am a business student who also happened to be really interested in typography and came to TypeCon to get a chance to meet type designers in person. I actually got more than I had bargained for. The people whom I have so much admiration for (and follow so religiously on Twitter) were all there right in front of my eyes: Matthew Carter, Tobias Frere-Jones, Matthew Butterick, Jackson Cavanaugh, Stephen Coles, Alejandro Paul, David Jonathan Ross, among many, many others. I’m also a soccer fan, so I’ll go ahead and liken this to meeting the entire squad of my favorite team without having to be behind barricades and security guards; I could even talk to them for as long as I wanted.
I was also fortunate enough to talk to Kent Lew, who, after hearing my spiel, told me that I “shouldn’t be apologetic for being a business student because TypeCon isn’t only a gathering place for type designers but is also one for individuals from any and every other profession to come and learn about type.” After talking for a while about his success with Whitman, I asked him a question that ultimately ended up being one that I would also have to think about for a long time. “Why do type designers rarely venture into releasing Vietnamese language support, even when the language uses a Latin-based alphabet?” The answer was twofold, and the first part was consistent across several other type designers whom I asked the same question: there’s not really a market for creating Vietnamese glyphs and so why spend time creating something that you’re not sure if you’ll get commensurate compensation for the effort you put in? The second, specific to Kent, was that the typographic community did not yet have a go-to person who knew a lot about Vietnamese, and so no one really wanted to release something that wasn’t backed up by substantial research.
That, in turn, led to other technical problems, one of which is how to maneuver around this particular glyph Ẵ (Alegreya Sans, Cambria, Skolar)
with the stacked diacritic without lowering the cap height, something mentioned by Tobias Frere-Jones. Evidently, space constraint is a very real issue in type design. Regarding the same issue, I have always felt strange that the accent grave for the ề of Cambria is placed on the left side of the circumflex, which probably doesn’t look natural to native writers, although they would definitely recognize it. While it is preferable that the accent be directly on top, it can’t always be done, and so some have put it to the side. It is worth mentioning that Skolar (Rosetta), Alegreya ht Pro (Huerta Tipográfica), and Minion Pro and Arne Pro (Adobe) put both accents on the right of the circumflex (which I think looks great and more familiar with what I’ve grown up seeing in handwritten Vietnamese).
But I can only imagine that these are just the beginning of many, many other challenges that the Vietnamese language presents to ambitious type designers.
With that said, however, I think a step has already been taken towards helping these very type designers. Victor Gaultney, in his presentation, showcased ScriptSource, a “collaborative, dynamic online reference to scripts, alphabets and writing systems” that will feature not only the core data of the language and community content, but also active discussion and contribution among members. I’ve taken for granted Vietnamese as a language and have never taken the time and effort to do much research on how it came to be what it is today. But after TypeCon, I think I might have just found something I can devote the non-business parts of my life to. I’ve always wanted to Vietnamese language support for my favorite fonts, and this might be a shot at realizing that goal.