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Backstage with Caio Kondo
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Backstage with Caio Kondo

Article by Studio Ground Floor

Inari Type’s Caio Kondo on designing Eiko, the significance of open and free knowledge and the future of type design

author=Studio Ground Floor% authorlink= fonts=eiko%

Welcome to the very first Backstage! In this series we will be speaking to emerging, established and legendary type designers to discuss the stories behind their typefaces; allowing us to peek behind the curtain of their design process, and provide an insight into the decision-making that went into its creation.

For our maiden interview we’ve spoken to Inari Type’s own Caio Kondo, discussing their latest typeface Eiko – exclusively released on Pangram Pangram in the Summer of 2021. Based in Campinas, Brazil, Inari Type made waves when they released their first commercial typefaces Inari and Mori Gothic in 2020; designs that saw Caio exploring his Japanese-Brazilian heritage whilst challenging contemporary typographic form. Inari Type’s latest endeavour comes in the form of Eiko, a truly remarkable and undeniably elegant serif inspired by the works of Japanese artist Eiko Ishioka.

We’ve spoken to Caio about his start in type design, the story and process behind developing Eiko, and what he wants to see more of in the type design industry.

Hello Caio! How are you doing?

Hello everyone, greetings directly from Brazil. I'm fine and I hope you guys are too.

What you craft at Inari Type is sensational, what motivated you to launch your own foundry?

Inari Type is currently based in Campinas, Brazil, and was founded in early 2020 from the desire to dedicate myself exclusively to type design.

Before starting the foundry, I worked in several studios as a graphic designer and, in one of the projects, I had the opportunity to develop a bespoke typeface for the first time. At this point I had the confirmation I needed and the idea of creating a type foundry was not so far off.

When did you first get interested in type design? If you were to give someone wanting to start out in the type design world one piece of advice, what would it be?

I started getting interested in type design in 2015 during my graduation year in graphic design. At that time I had my first contact with fontlab, using the older version of this typographic software. I fell in love right away with the idea of ​​designing something that could be used all over the world. In 2017 I released my first font for free and the result was impressive! There were thousands of downloads and it gave me the clarity that this was the path I wanted to follow.

So, I deepened my studies and in parallel I started learning the Japanese language. At that moment I realized that I could bring these two practices together to creatively explore something new.

And my advice to anyone who wants to get started in the world of type design. Well, it can take a long time to achieve a good result, so know the importance of keeping theoretical study and practice in harmony, as one depends on the other for you to make typefaces with mastery. Keep the two in balance.

You’ve spoken before about the influence of your Japanese and Brazilian identity on the work you do, how did this play into the design of your latest release with Pangram Pangram, Eiko?

As Nikkei, a person of Japanese descent living outside of Japan, I have always lived with gaps about my roots. From the desire to learn type design and the Japanese language, I always sought to explore projects that could connect me to my ancestry, Japanese-Brazilian culture, and thus fill these knowledge gaps.

In the process of building Eiko, this cultural background was the basis of this typeface, from the search for the concept and references, to the construction of characters.

Eiko was inspired by the work of Eiko Ishioka, a multi-disciplinary Japanese artist. How does the final typeface reflect her practice and style?

Eiko Ishioka's work has always caught my attention, from the beginning of her career, when she produced advertising campaigns for Parco, to her incredible costumes for major film productions. Her vision of design has always impressed me, since then the idea of ​​building something inspired by her personality has been in my head.

In one of her most recent interviews, Eiko Ishioka describes her work as the quest for something "smart, sharp, simple and not complicated", so that's how I idealized the typography. I used one of her most iconic works, The Red Armor Vlad's, as inspiration to create the visual characteristics of the font. I noticed interesting sharp shapes on the helmet and thought this could be applied to the typographic shapes, represented by the triangular serifs and the pointed terminals of the Japanese script.

Eiko Ishioka was just amazing! It's admirable how she managed to establish an identity between several works and still escape from cliches. She definitely left an impressive legacy of memorable productions and this was my tribute to her work.

Designing a typeface that is both beautiful and functional across latin scripts, as well as Japanese syllable alphabets Kana, Hiragana and Katakana, is no mean feat. How do you achieve this harmony between different scripts within one typeface family?

This is really a very difficult task. Developing a script that you are not familiar with is hard, but if you don't give up on it, you can be enchanted by this new universe and its possibilities.

Pairing these different scripts is with no doubt the most important part of this process. A bad decision can completely compromise the harmony between these alphabets and the vigor of the project. It's like building a poorly made bridge that makes it impossible to cross to the other side.

For this, the balance between the perceptions of the scripts is one of the most important elements for a good combination. Just as we attribute concepts to certain typographic styles, such as elegance to didones and technology to monospace fonts. Japanese styles also have these attributes already established and it is important to recognize which combinations make sense to each other.

In my early studies I drew key letters from the Latin alphabet and cut out parts of those shapes as modules, and tried to fit that into the Japanese script. When showing these results to native Japanese, the feedback was completely different from what I expected. As the translation of the forms was too literal, this caused a strangeness and conveyed the perception in the wrong way. What I saw as elegant, for the Japanese was something completely different. At this point, I came to realize the importance of respecting the differences between the constructs and perceptions of these scripts.

To achieve balance, I believe it was necessary to mature my visual repertoire. I started looking for more references and, in that sense, Japanese fashion magazines showed me many good examples. I began to notice that the mincho style worked very well in this context, so I followed this path to building hiragana and katakana.

After these studies, I restarted the process in reverse. First I drew the Japanese script with the necessary tools required by the chosen style and translated it into the Latin alphabet, subtly transmitting its formal characteristics through contrast, sharp terminals, relations between thickness and proportions. The result was surprisingly better and the harmony between the scripts began to connect more consistently.

Process and research is key to your practice, what was the process behind the two years of designing Eiko, and what did you find out along the way? Were there any key turning points in the development of Eiko? Was there a ‘I’ve got it!’ moment?

Research was one of the most complicated parts of this process, for me it's almost impossible to read typography content in Japanese. If you don't know a lot of kanji, you will be limited to learning about such subjects. To get around this situation, I looked for material and content about other scripts, such as Korean and Chinese, as they have very strong similarities between them, from the tools to the process as a whole. This considerably increased my chances of finding content translated into English, enabling me to learn.

One of the most important and accessible content that I found, and that I couldn't fail to refer to, is the movie "Hanzi". This is one of the best documentaries on typography ever produced and is part of my research base.

Furthermore, conversations with Japanese people were essential. Without this approach I would not have corrected my mistakes in perception and styles, so this is an important requirement for anyone who wants to take a chance on a new script.

Another important point was when I got access to open source fonts, with the Han Source Serif font, developed by the legendary type designer Ryoko Nishizuka, Dr. Ken Lunde and Frank Grießhammer, for Adobe Type. This work was key to answering my questions and connecting the loose ends, being essential for me to create the basis of the parameters and resources necessary for the good functioning of the system. Having access to open source fonts when you're a beginner will help you shortcut the learning process.

What was the most rewarding part of the journey when developing Eiko?

I think the font release was the most rewarding part of this process. It was great to see the great reception from people after the long process of development, besides the great support from Pangram Pangram, which was amazing!

In a dream world, what project would you love someone to use Eiko for? A dream client, brand or anything else you might like!

I would love it if it was used by fashion brands in campaigns and editorials, it's all fascinating. Fashion universe is a fertile ground for creativity, it's the place of trends!

What do you think lies ahead for type design, what do you see sticking and what do you see as passing trends?

I may be sorely mistaken, or maybe it's a personal wish, but I hope to see more script styles emerging, with new freshness and excitement. The examples that make me think that this is possible are the beautiful works Millionaire by Altiplano and RSO Script by PFA Typefaces.

I think that modular display fonts can remain, there is an infinite possibility of powerful typographic exploration that can arise and I hope that this lasts for a long time.

In my opinion ink traps are already passing by, but I think this can be explored further in the future.

What do you want to see more of in the type design industry, and what do you want to see less of?

I would like to see more different cultural approaches, with new points of view and experiences. And for that to happen I believe that knowledge has to be open and free. The exchange of information and learning is the path to inclusion in the type design universe.

What I wouldn't like to see are people dictating rules, nurturing a single path. After having contact with other scripts, this became clearer to me. There is not just one educational approach or one development process.

What’s next for you at Inari Type?

There is a lot of work ahead and I'm very excited, after all we will have some news soon. Eiko italic is on the way, as well as new updates from some typefaces in the catalog, such as Mori Gothic and Nikkei Maru.