Dalton Maag’s 2013

2013 has been a memorable year for Dalton Maag, and for me personally. In July I took on the role of Managing Director, which has already presented me with new challenges and I’m sure will continue to do so in the year ahead. Bruno, in his new role as Chairman, has now taken a step back from the day-to-day running of the business so that he can focus more on our overall strategy and what our clients and customers need.

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David, our new MD, chats to Richard, our Operations Director

Dalton Maag has had a great year in font design, and we finish 2013 having created more typefaces for more clients than ever before. As I look at our list of current projects, there’s many that you probably already know about – our work for Nokia, HP, and others – but there are also many which we’re not yet ready to make public. Each one of these projects represents a close collaboration on a very human level between our font developers and the creative teams behind some of the world’s biggest brands.

I believe that typeface development is the most artistic science and the most scientific art there is. There is no other field in which aesthetics, psychology, and technology meet in such a subtle and creative way. Our font developers get to the heart of every brand, and I don’t think there’s another creative collaboration which is as close as the one we have with our clients.

I think that the most impressive part of our work is the alchemy which our font developers use to deliver culturally-sensitive, multi-script typefaces where script systems of disparate history come together. Creating fonts with the same appearance and tone, which look as if they came from the same hand, were created with the same tool, and are of the same intent, is a challenge that they take on with enthusiasm and never fail to deliver. In non-technical terms, you just can’t see the join.

We can’t wait to show you what we’re up to in 2014.

David Marshall
Managing Director

 A look back at the last 12 months in pictures:


Horizontal and Vertical Setting

In my previous blog post we talked about that mysterious box, which basically controls the fundamental setting of each Chinese character, and the whole font. However, what was the reasoning that drove the CJK (Chinese Japanese Korean) world to think of using a box for bounding purposes? Horizontal and Vertical setting are definitely the crucial factor behind it.

Some History

CJK text was originally set in the vertical direction.

The first ever existing Hanzi was pictographic. From the beginning there was a tendency for the characters to be drawn from top to bottom on oracle bones (which I’ve described in a previous blog post). Hanzi already had a rich humanistic, pictorial nature, and this created a rectangular shape that naturally prompted vertical setting. The medium onto which Hanzi was written also influenced its setting. Before paper was invented during the Han Dynasty period by Cai Lun, Hanzi was inscribed on long and narrow bamboo slips, and this created the primary reason for vertical setting, as there was now an expectation that the script would be read vertically.

In the many years following the Han Dynasty period, Kaishu (the modern script) evolved from the early clerical script and has been the most prominent writing style since then. Its aesthetic, which has lasted over 1,000 years, always suggests a rather narrow letterform which has resulted in an elegant, yet humble visual letter structure.


A re-creation of bamboo slips writing from the Han Dynasty period

Influence from the West

The horizontal setting of Chinese didn’t exist until missionaries started coming from the West  during the Ming Dynasty (15-18th century) and Qing Dynasty (17th-20th century) periods. At that time, the knowledge exchanges between East and West were substantial, but it seemed that neither way of text setting could fit with the other. There were attempts to get either Latin to fit into a vertical setting, or Chinese to fit into a horizontal setting, but it was not until the late Qing Dynasty, that huge amounts of scientific knowledge and the results of the industrial revolution flooded into China and Asia. Chinese metal type was successfully produced in the late 19th century, and it was then that Chinese in a horizontal setting was first created.


The world changed after missionaries came from the West. Picture showing Matteo Ricci with Xu Guangqi, an important official of the Ming Dynasty period.

Vertical/Horizontal usage nowadays

How does the CJK world decide when to use a horizontal or vertical setting for text? In fact, there are no absolute rules at all. However, books or magazines decide the text direction based mainly on the contents: for texts that have a heavy use of Western content within them or are translated from foreign languages, horizontal setting is preferred. For texts that have more of a cultural significance, and content that is completely homegrown, like novels, vertical setting is always the best choice. It creates a calm, culturally rich reading environment for readers that the modern and slick horizontal setting couldn’t match.

Vertical setting was banned in mainland China during the 1950s when they were seeking a radical cultural change. Today, the ban has still not been lifted, but there are a rising number of uses of vertical setting in books. Vertical setting is now rarely seen in South Korea, while Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong still maintain a strong tradition of books with vertical typesetting.



The famous Japanese design magazine, Idea, provides a good example of how Asia decides on a horizontal or vertical setting. Horizontal setting is used when contents are more international; vertical setting is used when the contents is pure Japanese text.

Next post: How type designers design type for different settings.

Julius Hui


Tátil use Effra in Brand Refresh

Tátil, the Brazilian design studio responsible for the Rio 2016 logo, are currently updating their branding after twenty years with their old identity. The question of which font to use to complete their brand was something that they spent some time thinking about, because they knew that it was going to be an important part of their new identity. They chose Dalton Maag’s Effra.

tatil logoeffra banner

Tátil is now the largest Brazilian design agency and is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. In Brazil, which is a fast moving market where companies come and go, this is definitely something to be proud of. Their growth has been a natural process, and it seemed equally natural to look at reviewing their branding at this point.

The new Tátil branding is bold and colourful, so they wanted a font that wouldn’t be competing for attention with the visual expression of the brand. However, they also didn’t want to fall back on the same sans serif fonts that are used in many other corporate brands. They needed a contemporary font that would age well and Effra offered the right balance of character and simplicity.

In particular, Tátil loved the elegance of the Light weight, which contrasted well with the stronger features of the Heavy weight. A strong relationship with our Brazilian office meant that experts were on hand to offer advice with licensing and implementation.

Tátil will be using Effra in all their printed materials and on their website. Their new website will be launching soon.

pages 3 slide1 effra banner4


The Sinhala Script

Before joining Dalton Maag as a font developer, I had the opportunity to explore the Sinhala script for a whole year during my MA in Typeface Design at the University of Reading, UK. I spent many hours collecting and studying material about this beautiful and fascinating script. The font that I designed following my research is this year’s Granshan Grand Prize winner, and I will share some bits about my research in this post.

Sinhala, also known as Sinhalese, is a South-Indic script and one of the two official languages of Sri Lanka, the other being Tamil. According to the most recent government census, Sinhala is in use as a first language by more than 80% of the total population. Including minority ethnic groups that use Sinhala as second language, the script is used by around 17 million people, only considering those within Sri Lankan boundaries.


Situation map of Sri Lanka.

Script Characteristics

Sinhala is derived from ancient Brahmic and as with all modern Indic scripts it has a complex structure. Even though it is written from left to right and it does not have joining characters, Sinhala has little in common with the Latin script. Beyond the clear differences regarding the letter shapes, Sinhala does not have differentiation between upper and lower cases, and most importantly, it uses consonants as the basic unit for word construction. All consonants have an inherent short vowel “a”, so in order to represent different sounds it is necessary to add vowel marks (called Pilla) that can be used before, after, above or below the base-consonant.


The basic scheme of Sinhala’s typographic anatomy.

Origins: Stone Inscriptions and Palm Leaf Writing

The Sinhala script has an extensive written heritage which exists in the form of stone inscriptions and palm leaf manuscripts, mainly devoted to religious subjects. In palm leaf writing, the letterforms were incised in prepared leaves with a pointed stylus and the grooves inked with charcoal powder so that the writing became legible. The writing material has influenced the script appearance, since it was necessary to make the shapes more circular in order to avoid damaging the leaves. The best models of Sinhalese manuscripts were used by European colonialists in the creation of the first Sinhala moveable printing types.


A palm leaf book. This is written with large sized letters from a skilled hand, to be read at night, during recitation of the text, from 1778. (Wellcome Library, UK)

Sri Lanka was disputed and ruled by three different European colonial powers for 443 years, a period of intense transformation of Sinhalese letterforms. The Dutch were the first to print with Sinhalese type on the island, in 1736, and decided to keep the features of native Sinhala script, following the writing practice on palm leaves. The type was cut to be monolinear in a rather geometric fashion and typeset with no separation between words in the early documents. In opposition to the Dutch approach, a new style of Sinhalese letterforms emerged in the second half of the 19th century and it was notable for its high contrast appearance. This style was introduced during the British ruling period and gradually replaced the existing monolinear model as the preferred style. Until the present day, the high contrast style has prevailed as a very popular model for text typesetting in printed newspapers, books and magazines in Sri Lanka.

Rafael Saraiva


Left: The title page of Singaleesch Gebeede-Boek from 1737, using the Dutch monolinear design (Google books). Right: The high contrast typeface used in a governmental publication from 1957. (Personal archive)


Do I Miss Designing Letters?

I’ve been running and living Dalton Maag for a little over 22 years. The company has changed a fair amount over that time and I now find myself the Chairman of a business that employs more than fifty people in various roles. I’m getting further and further away from being a hands-on type designer as I’ve had to take on more responsibility for the overall vision of the business. I’m certain that I’m not the only designer turned manager who has gone through this, and I’m often asked: do I miss designing letters?

Yes, I do. There are often times I would like to get my hands dirty, muck around with curves, marvel at the shape of a serif, and even get bored over kerning and hinting. That is not to say that I haven’t been enjoying growing a business and all that comes with it: fretting over cashflow, threatening clients to pay up, encouraging my wonderful staff to do ever better things.

To fulfil my desire for creating letterforms I often doodle for myself, or I start drawing up a few letters on the screen. It allows me to make sure that I can still practice what I preach when I give lectures and presentations. But managing the growth of Dalton Maag, together with my team of directors, is consuming. As much as seeing one’s own typeface used in the world is highly satisfying, so is seeing the growth of a company and the people within it.


Bruno joins the team in drawing some letters

I started Dalton Maag out of necessity. I simply didn’t have a job to go to after returning to London from Chicago, where I had been working for Monotype. And type designer jobs didn’t really exist at the time. In the beginning, going ‘freelance’ was simply a means to make a living. It was only after a while that I realised that, with the right focus and determination, I could actually make this into a successful enterprise.

Dalton Maag when the team was still small

Dalton Maag when the team was still small

Like many others, I did the boring bits of running a business: collecting receipts and doing VAT accounts, chasing clients for money, cold-calling. These were mixed in with the exciting bits of clinching a project, coming up with great conceptual work, drawing typefaces, and meeting people. Today, I am managing a company that lets me be more creative again. Not so much in the sense of drawing letters but by evangelising about my passion: type. It lets me think about the next great project and how we deal with the challenges; it lets me help young people make a start in their life by giving them training, either as interns or as staff. It lets me realise that I must have one of the best jobs in the world.


Just a few years ago the team was only 20 people

No doubt, I have had dark days when I wanted to throw in the towel, when I asked myself why I am doing this? Why don’t I just go and draw letters for someone else? And then I remember the excitement that comes from managing my own business. Do I miss designing letters? Yes I do. But not as much as I would miss running my own business.


Dalton Maag now employs 50 people across the world