Designers: Yuexin Huo
Release Date: Still in development
Backstory: When Yuexin Huo left China for the U.S. for college, he noticed a considerable difference in environmental design across the two cultures. “In China, you see vertical typography on streets all the time—especially for ads, and especially for places in the city where the buildings are high and the streets are quite narrow,” he says. Where space is tight, ads are long and skinny, with Chinese characters flowing from top to bottom. Even in major U.S. cities where space is a rare commodity, the only signs he found with vertical type were the ones advertising “Hotel.”
The reasoning for this is simple. Chinese scripts can be oriented either vertically or horizontally—and in fact, before the 19th century, Chinese (and Japanese and Korean) script was traditionally written in vertical columns from top-to-bottom, and read from right to left. The typographic forms of the characters make it easy to do so: each glyph fits into one square box, making the script itself monospaced. Orienting Chinese script vertically or horizontally is essentially a simple as rotating the text box, and can be read just as easily in either direction.
For Latin type, it’s not so easy. Latin letterforms are all different sizes (the tall, skinny P and d; the short, squat a and e) and the spacing between them varies. This makes it difficult to read Latin script from top to bottom if it’s anything more than a few words. But what if this was a problem that could be solved typographically, with a new type system built especially for vertical orientation? Huo decided to find out.
Why’s it called Hotel? In the U.S., hotel signs are one of the only exceptions when it comes to vertical typography on signage. Think of those vintage signs or neon light-ups with H O T E L stacked on top of one another. According to Huo, typography professors often use “hotel type” as short-hand when they’re telling students what not to do when setting type.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Typography class instructions aside, the reason that it’s easy enough to read a hotel sign vertically is because they’re typically written in all caps. Capital letters are more uniform than lower cased letters, which vary more in width, height, and spacing, especially with letters with ascenders and descenders. Traditionally, Latin letterforms are more tall than they are wide, making a vertical orientation less space-efficient.
To solve for these problems, Huo unified the Latin system by giving each letter a uniform x-height, baseline, and cap height. He truncated ascenders and descenders and made all letterforms the same width and height so each glyph could fit in a square box that could easily be rotated 90 degrees, like with Chinese characters. He also reversed stems for a better vertical rhythm, turning letters like lowercase i, l on their sides. The result is a system that is more wide than tall.
What should I use it for? Nothing quite yet. Hotel is an experimental typeface meant to show the potential of vertical type in Latin systems. As you may notice, it’s not completely legible at this point—it takes a moment to register the letterforms, and reading it can be frustrating. This makes Hotel in its current form pretty ineffective for street signage or advertising. The next steps, says Huo, are to keep working with the letterforms to make them look more like what people are used to reading.
What should I pair it with? Even in its experimental, hard-to-read stage, Hotel could be an interesting display font for an equally experimental project. Huo recommends a Humanist sans serif, or something informal, and best to stay away from Neo-Grotesque or any types of serifs.