Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bilingual typography: Hong Kong case studies [Keith Tam]

Project summary
This project will investigate user interaction with bilingual typographic information in Hong Kong. The main focus is the effect of ‘typographic articulation’ (commonly known as ‘hierarchy’) on how users perceive, access and assimilate information through spatial organization and graphic devices.

Project background

Typography is one of the most important and complex aspects of visual communication. In short, typography can be described as ‘language made visible’. While written language is a way to capture the transient verbal language into a more permanent form, typography is a visual coding system (or one might call this ‘visual language’) imposed upon written language that influences how meaning is constituted. Typography functions on denotative as well as connotative levels and operates on conscious as well as subconscious levels. Text, from a visual communication standpoint, can be read, seen, as well as felt. Like any language, the visual language inherent in typography is bound to the cultures within which it operates. Designing with different languages requires not only an acceptable command of the language itself, but also knowledge of the conventions, aesthetic principles and nuances that are indigenous to the culture. Bowers (1999) writes: ‘When we communicate, we cannot be certain that the message of a sign is understood, especially when communicating to persons from other cultures. We each have our own biases, experiences, and knowledge that influence how we process and act upon messages.’ It is not difficult to imagine the complexity and challenges that bilingual typography presents to the visual communication designer. Walker (2001) also writes, ‘No description of visual organization, or indeed effective designing, can take place without knowing something about the intended readers, circumstances of use, means of production, and the content of the information, as each of these parameters offers its own constraints and opportunities.’ This project therefore rightly puts the emphasis on the users rather than the designers.

The proposed project aims to find answers to the following research questions:
How do Hong Kong users perceive, access and assimilate information presented to them in a Chinese/English bilingual typographic design?
How does Chinese/English bilingual typographic design function on connotative as well as denotative levels? What are the requirements for effective bilingual typographic design within the Hong Kong context?

For the purposes of this project, the term ‘coexistence’ is defined as:
Two languages appearing together on a single surface in a two-dimensional medium (such as a page, a sign, or the facade of a building), thus creating an impression that they exist parallel to each other in terms of their literal meaning;
One language is embedded into another, termed as ‘code-mixing’ in linguistics. Both are frequently used for various purposes in Hong Kong.

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