With Type Director Akira Kobayashi
Kobayashi: Ask me what sets SST fonts apart, and I would say it’s notable because its best features aren’t too noticeable. Some type designers do embellish characters to spice up typefaces, but knowing that the typeface would also be used for Sony products, we preferred to let the products speak for themselves. As we saw it, the type should stand back and not add much extra. Ideally, it was by bringing together a range of elements—hard and soft qualities, a sense of product identity, natural proportions, and so on—that the typeface would represent Sony well. For this reason, it’s a compliment to say that no traits are out of the ordinary, if we compare the features of individual characters to those in other typefaces. Few people at a store would probably notice that the type on Sony packaging looks different. In this respect, I think we took a very natural approach to ensuring the typeface matches the image of Sony products.
Fukuhara: Of course, by eventually adopting it as a corporate typeface, we plan to use it for some time. For enduring appeal, we sought something timeless and universal that sets a standard. I don’t think we could ask for a more fitting typeface.
Kobayashi: Timeless design is a constant theme of mine, as a type designer. Carelessly embellish a typeface with trendy styling, and in two or three years it will look outdated. We avoided this when designing SST fonts, which I hope will be used for decades.
Fukuhara: We guessed that the most difficult phase of this project would be multilingual development. Adding support for languages around the world was inevitable, though, for a multinational corporation such as Sony.
Kobayashi: In the beginning, I imagined that we would focus on Japanese characters and the letters of major Western alphabets. I can laugh about it now, but I remember how intimidating it was when the full scope of required language support became clear—Greek, Cyrillic (as used for Russian), Thai, Arabic, and so on. Solo development would have been impossible, but fortunately, I could once again draw on Monotype’s network of local designers. When the Greek alphabet was needed, I provided art direction for a designer in Greece, for example.
It makes sense that local experts who use the language every day and can judge readability should create the type, with someone like myself providing type direction in details such as curvature. In the case of Greek this time, the designer initially produced an α with a straight vertical line. But knowing about Sony α™ (alpha) DSLRs, I wanted to join the lines as in the logotype, and the designer consented. In Greek and other languages, the designers’ flexibility in response to my suggestions was a tremendous asset. This helped us translate our typeface ideals, so to speak, into many languages effectively. It was an excellent example of collaboration.
Fukuhara: Our hardest task and greatest achievement in this project was starting essentially from nothing, designing a typeface, and then expanding the core concepts into type for many different languages while maintaining a sense of consistency. All the hard work was worthwhile, though, because from now on, we will be using the same SST fonts in 93 languages around the world.
Kobayashi: In Japanese, horizontal lines tend to dominate hiragana and katakana characters, so we sought an even line width to keep the characters geometric. Even in characters that designers usually relax by adding curves, our refinements using horizontal lines help maintain horizontal consistency.
Fukuhara: Japanese type was indeed challenging, because as much as we sought even line width, we had to compensate by adjusting other details to ensure overall balance. But above all, Japanese type had to embody the same concepts used throughout SST fonts, so that we can communicate the same way worldwide by using the same typeface in Japanese products and promotion. Of course, the opposite is also possible—initiatives from Japan can be expanded worldwide.
Fukuhara: Expressing ourselves in writing is critical, whether we’re explaining product features in a manual or describing Sony design in an article. Type helps us communicate with people, and people’s impression of it can shape their impression of products themselves. Only when our careful design extends to the type printed on products and displayed in user interfaces can we offer ideal products. We enjoy many benefits from having created SST fonts, but perhaps the greatest advantage is that now the same superb typeface supports a consistent user experience around the world, on any device.
Kobayashi: Certainly for a global corporation such as Sony, visual inconsistency among messages to the world in English, Japanese, Arabic,
Kobayashi: Certainly for a global corporation such as Sony, visual inconsistency among messages to the world in English, Japanese, Arabic,and other languages would undermine a unified corporate image and make it harder to communicate well. That’s why we arranged typeface features to give the same impression of Sony to audiences in English- and Arabic-speaking countries alike, for example. Spelling out Sony’s strong, silent nature, so to speak, to ensure that the appearance of each word supports true communication—that was the key to this project. And it’s very significant that we extended this effort to 93 languages.
Each time I see SST fonts online or in other forms, I’m reminded of the distinctive Sony style we sought from the start. I think its timeless design will make it worthy of a standard typeface for decades to come.
SST is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions.
Helvetica and Frutiger are trademarks of Monotype Imaging Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions.