Another project at Langara was called “Type Repairs”. In this set of assignments, we would take an existing piece of poorly-done typography and redesign it to improve ease of reading, hierarchy, readability and comfort.
Inspired, I wondered if the same concepts and techniques could be applied to Japanese, a language with very different rules.
For my type sample, I chose the Table of Contents from a book called 「人を動かす」 or How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The pages had no visual clumping, limited hierarchy differentiation, fairly tight margins, overly repetitive chapter numbering, and extensive dot guides. All in all, the typesetting was difficult to navigate and the content was hard to locate at first glance.
Part of the problem inherent in their design was that it followed too strongly the conventions of Japanese text design. As a monospaced language, Japanese text is set on a grid with every line beginning and ending at the same place on a page. However, pages such as the Table of Contents are generally afforded more freedom and do not necessary have to conform so rigidly.
To start, I set the margins at 3p for the gutter, 3p for the head, 6p for the footer and 4p for the thumb margin. These margins provided more room for whitespace on the page than the original layout and helped balance the dense text to achieve more of a grey feel overall.
Chapter headers were set 14pt Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro ltsp 75 and section titles in 9/14 MS Mincho. Gothic typefaces in Japanese are similar to sans-serif type in Latin as they do not have elements that are present in letters made by the human hand. Mincho typefaces are more closely based on hand-made brush strokes and are generally used for longer text blocks.
Spacing between chapters was drastically increased to 5p6 from one section to the next. Chapter titles sit in-between each section, 4p from the previous section and 1p6 to the next section. This provided a clear clumping of chapters with their related sections and apart from other chapters. In the original version, each chapter and section were numbered (eg “Chapter 1” and “Section 1”). I felt this was unnecessarily repetitive and removed the ones de-marking sections. The chapter identifiers are more useful, but needed to be softened. Therefore, I made them smaller and negatively indented above the chapter headers.
A final particular area of interest is in the page number listed for each item. The typesetter chose to use half-height Japanese characters, which I find to be the least legible and was unnecessary as there was room to use full-height characters instead. For my version, I chose instead to use half-width and thirds-width Latin characters as they are more visually distinct from the text and more useful, especially as the book uses Latin characters in the folio.
Overall, I was impressed that the same concepts I learned in class could be similarly applied to Japanese and felt my efforts greatly improved the quality of the page design.
There are three main methods of writing numbers in Japanese; traditional form (二十四 2, 10, 4), Latin form (24) and a hybrid form that uses Japanese characters mixed with Latin format (二四 2, 4); the last is usually only used when set vertically. All of these methods can be written in a full em-square (called full-width or full-height) or a portion of an em-square (eg. half-width, thirds-width, quarter-width). As with most typography, the system one chooses to use is based on one’s needs, the orientation of the typesetting, and the feel of the text.