Back Story: For far too long, many non-Latin typefaces came into existence almost as an afterthought. Instead of exploring ways to create unified multilingual systems from the outset, font designers would typically try to bend the existing Latin forms of a popular typeface into shapes visually related to both the original alphabet and to the characters of a different language. Sometimes the results, from a design point of view, were less than inspiring. (The term Frankenfont comes to mind.)
But what if a typeface was designed and developed in several languages all at once? Ping, Typotheque’s largest type release ever, aims to be a truly international typeface. The proportions of its Latin letterforms were planned to facilitate seamless integration with scripts in eight other languages. This means that instead of providing these other languages with a secondary version of a Latin-based design, Ping was constructed with an eye towards a global perspective from the ground up, allowing its unique voice to stretch across different cultures. In fact, it has the potential to reach over three billion native speakers. Now that’s an audience.
“There are way too many fonts available for Latin only, and I see a real value in having truly international projects that explore new ground across cultures,” says Typotheque’s Peter Bil’ak. There is new demand for global scripts in Southeast Asia, China, Japan and the Persian Gulf region, where corporations including AirBnb and Uber make use of culturally-specific fonts in their communications with a growing network of sophisticated customers. And to put it bluntly, type design has long had a Eurocentric focus that excluded many of the world’s writing systems.
Creating a typeface in several languages at once is a monumental task, and needs the contributions of designers who are native users of each script to maintain authenticity. In order to understand the nuances of the letterforms and necessary linguistic contexts, Biľak was assisted by Nikola Djurek, Bahman Eslami, and Rafał Buchner in creating the Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Armenian scripts available now. Versions from Daniel Grumer for the Hebrew, Khajag Apelian and Gor Jihanian for the Armenian, Kristyan Sarkis for the Arabic, and Parimal Parmar for the Devanagari. Arphic Technology’s UD Jing Xi Hei, a Chinese, Japanese, and Korean typeface modified to match Ping’s proportions, will be available later this year.
Why’s it called Ping? Bil’ak assigns sequential alphabetical names to his typefaces, taking a cue from musical composition where the assigned opus number indicates the chronological order of the composer’s output. His last release in 2016 was named October, which meant that the next typeface was due to start with P.
“I like short, two-syllable names, something unambiguous in many languages, and is easy to pronounce in French, Polish, Arabic, or Chinese,” he says. “I first wanted to call it Pick because the counter shapes of lowercase letters such as a, b, d, and g are shaped like guitar picks Then I thought it was perhaps too literal or desperate sounding as a name (pick me, pick me!). I changed it to Ping, as I like the subtle connection to reachability/accessibility. Ping is a computer network utility used to test the reachability of a host on an Internet Protocol (IP) network. It connects two parties, regardless of their location.”
So the communication angle behind the name fits beautifully with the intentioned functionality of the typeface. What’s in a name? Only everything.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Ping’s geometric structure and abstract, reductionist forms reflect the influence of the human hand. Its simplified letterforms are constructed with the least number of pen strokes; for example the lowercase letters a, d, p, b, and g are drawn without lifting the pen at all, mimicking the way humanist cursive is usually written. The design team was aiming to establish and maintain a warm personality (a quality not always associated with geometric sans-serifs) across all scripts.
All nine weights feature italics slanted at the unusually steep angle of 14° as well as optically adjusted curves and diagonal strokes. Ping’s very large x-height matches the height of the small caps, and a special unicase OpenType substitution mixes lowercase letters and small caps, creating a fluid mix of letterforms that occupy the space between the baseline and the x-height. A full range of stylistic sets provides options for filled or outlined dots for diacritics, full stops, semicolons, exclamation marks, and question marks in lighter weights; alternates for simple and complex capital I, lower case t and j, a cursive lower case e, and more.
What should I use it for? Ping is meant to work well as both text and display, meaning the world’s your typographic oyster. It’s also a no-brainer for a seamless design approach to any project featuring text in multiple languages. Typotheque’s collaborative development process with designers from all over the world for this project means that each version of Ping remains true to its cultural origins while also being aesthetically linked to every other version within the family as well.
It’s a welcome addition to font lists in all countries, and a step in the right direction for type designers as they consider ways to reach the widest possible audience for their work. Design that respects the world’s many languages, starting with that most basic unit of human communication, our alphabets, can only help our cultures evolve.