The dynamic birds posture calligraphy —Benny Tang opens a new front for typeface design in Macao

02 2019 | Issue 31

Text/Hazel Ma

Most typeface designers nowadays tend to focus on making their fonts look better instead of paying more attention to the design and functionality. A good typeface design is not just about being beautiful. It should be able to clearly instruct readers and guide them to have a similar understanding of the content. In recent years, local typeface designer Benny Tang’s Birds Posture Calligraphy was well received by audience in many typeface design competitions around the world. According to Benny, the Birds Posture Calligraphy was initially designed for a community activity called Arts Landing Bird Paradise. The Chinese characters from this unique design are like birds spreading their wings while remaining understandable if zoomed out. Birds Posture Calligraphy is a typical example of how beauty and functionality can co-exist.


The challenge of making something new


Created by MUSE-UM Design Ltd., the Birds Posture Calligraphy has won the 2018 Graphis Typography Annual Awards at Gold. As the team’s designer, Benny believes that in the past typeface design was basically non-existent in Macao’s design industry. That’s why he is the first designer in the city to come up with a set of Chinese fonts. The success of the Birds Posture Calligraphy is a result of teamwork. “We used graphic design as a reference. The production team is composed of an art director, a creative director and a group of graphic designers,” Benny explained. “The production process was new to us so we needed to make constant efforts to make it work. Luckily, people in the team worked really well with each other. We were able to pull it off at the end of the day.” Benny revealed that he and his team faced many uncertainties at the beginning of the production process since there wasn’t any other professional talent in the industry they could talk to and they could only rely on themselves. Distributing the works and learning to work with each other already cost them quite a lot of time.


From sound to form


When talking about his design concept, Benny stated that the Birds Posture Calligraphy is very different from traditional graphic design as it didn’t solely take inspiration from images, but also sound. “Descriptive work is just not my thing. It’s very hard for me to imagine how birds move and then paint them. So I came up with the idea of looking for inspiration from sound,” Benny said. “Our studio is located in the Bird Paradise. There are a lot of bird cages hanging before our windows. At one time I closed my eyes and listened to people passing by our office. I imagined the passersby were like the birds living in the bird cages. I imagined their voice as birds chirping, their movement as birds flapping their wings. After that, I was able to use my imagination and create a type of design that integrates birds chirping, posture and dynamic movement.”


Despite being dynamic, the fonts still need to follow some design principles. According to Benny, he needed to consider both the creation and use of Chinese characters as the fonts should reach aesthetic standards and achieve utility. “I believe that typeface design has two parts. One is the creation of fonts and the other is the use of fonts. Many people know the creation of fonts. You break down the Chinese characters and modify the components. Your focus is to maximise the beauty, which will no doubt help you have better visual forms more efficiently. But when you put the characters together you would realise the characters don’t really fit each other. Then it comes to the use of fonts,” Benny explained. “The use of fonts considers the fonts as a whole instead of individual characters. We look at the fonts from the perspective of a reader or a writer and think whether they look beautiful and clear when putting together. Only designs that achieve both principles are a good design.”


Government support crucial to the development of typeface design


In Macao, typeface design is rather a new industry. Benny believes that government’s support is very essential to the development of this particular industry. “Evaluating whether an industry has potential really comes down to if this industry could nurture more specific sectors,” he said. “For example, Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion’s production team approached professional typeface designers for creating fonts that could make the anime distinct from others. A healthy industry’s ecosystem will give rise to many other related sectors. In this case, we really need the Macao government’s support in driving the development of the cultural and creative industry. The government can also provide channels for us so that we can have more room to grow.”


Benny also stresses that price competition is not healthy for the development of an industry. “To have more clients, some design firms will appeal to potential clients with low pricing. This will no doubt drag down the development of the industry. In the long run, such a move cannot contribute to the substantial development of the industry and will also make clients undervalue our design,” Benny explained. “This will make it harder for businesses to survive. It simply does more harm than good.”


Quality typeface design brings benefits to society


As a typeface designer, Benny shows keen appreciation for many fonts from other designers. “My favourite font is Matisse EB used in famous Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. In the first chapter of the anime series, white characters appear in a pure black background as the story begins. The apocalyptic atmosphere radiant from those fonts left a deep impression on me,” he said. Besides that, Benny really likes Jin Xuan, a new Chinese font design on font blog “Just Font”. The characters look very delicate and beautiful when used in typesetting, he said.


Benny is taking part in the typeface design for Macao’s city road signs, hoping to use his professional skills to give back to the city. “I want to show neighbouring regions that Macao has kickstarted the development of local typeface design industry and is actively promoting it. Quality typeface designs can bring many benefits to a society,” Benny concluded.


MUSE-UM Design Ltd.