Responses by Akira Kobayashi, type director, Monotype.
Background: The purpose of Shorai Sans was to fulfill the need for a geometric, well-balanced Japanese typeface and create excitement in the Japanese type industry. Target audiences include technology-based brands, pharmaceutical brands, body and healthcare brands, telecommunications companies, and graphic and packaging designers.
Design thinking: Since the launch of Tazugane Gothic, our Japanese font released in January 2017, we have been gaining recognition as one of the leading type foundries producing top-quality Chinese-, Japanese- and Korean-script fonts as well as Latin typefaces.
Beginning in the 1990s, we have seen more and more Western words or names used in Japanese text and have felt the demand for Japanese fonts equipped with legible Latin glyphs. As we have a vast library of classic Latin typefaces developed over the past 130 years, it is natural for us to start developing new Japanese designs inspired by existing Western fonts that have already stood the test of time.
Tazugane, a humanist sans serif based on Frutiger, was a major success and won the 2018 Good Design Award. However, we constantly receive requests from customers—especially those in the automotive industries and tech-based companies—for a clean, geometric-looking Japanese typeface.
I had an idea to develop a Japanese sans based on the Avenir Next family, which, in 2004, resulted from a long and close collaboration between Adrian Frutiger and me. The Avenir Next family was an appropriate choice for the market as it had high legibility among the geometric sans category, thanks to the two-storied a and optimal letterspacing.
Challenges: The Avenir Next family had a wide range of weights, from extremely thin and ultralight to massive heavy. A question arose: How do we design complex kanji that match stroke thickness in heavy weights? When you look at conventional Japanese sans, you’ll notice that almost all the stroke beginnings and endings are visible even in the boldest weight. We wanted to find a better solution. After many trials and struggles, we found an innovative design treatment in merging some stroke endings into adjacent strokes. This helped us achieve massive letterforms without looking too fussy. It was the most challenging yet stimulating part of developing Shorai Sans.
Favorite details: We’re proud of the innovative and functional design treatment, born from a more-than-three-year collaboration with legendary Japanese type designer Yukihiro Nakamura. We learned a lot from his advanced sense of balance, which he acquired during a long career as a sign painter and letterer.
Visual influences: During my adolescence in Japan, I was heavily influenced by Nakamura’s typefaces that he produced in the 1970s. The typefaces he produced in the phototypesetting era changed Japan’s graphic design landscape. Nakamura’s typefaces are still everywhere and also influenced Monotype’s studio designer Ryota Doi, who was born in the ’90s. You can imagine how happy we were to be able to work with Nakamura on this project.
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