Monthly Archives: December 2013

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