Culture

These guys spent 4 years making a Chinese font inspired by tea leaves

Oct 23, 2018

Designing a font from scratch is incredibly time-consuming. It takes a couple of months to produce a complete Western font set with just over 500 glyphs. For Chinese typefaces, which have over 13,000 characters, it can take up to four years.

At least, that’s how long it took to develop Jinxuan, the world’s first crowd-funded traditional Chinese typeface.

Jinxuan is the brainchild of Justfont, a typography company in Taipei that specializes in traditional Chinese characters, which are still used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and some overseas Chinese communities.

The typeface is modeled after the leaves of Jin Xuan, a Taiwanese oolong tea known for its milky and floral aroma. The font set comes with five styles ranging from “quarter sugar” to “full sugar,” a reference to sweet tea. The less sugar there is, the thinner the font.

“In one day, we can only design about 10 characters,” says Zeng Guo-rong, a designer at Justfont. “We’re dedicated to the preservation of traditional Chinese characters.”

Jinxuan takes its inspiration from the shape of Jin Xuan tea leaves.
Jinxuan takes its inspiration from the shape of Jin Xuan tea leaves. / Photo: Justfont

The font holds even more significance because it’s one of few that have come out of Taiwan.

In the past 15 years, the island has produced less than 20 fonts, compared to 300 in China and over a thousand in Japan. That’s because most Taiwanese opt to use cheap typefaces imported from Japan, Hong Kong, and China rather than designing their own.

However, the founders of Justfont say that’s quickly changing, and there’s a new surge of independent design in Taiwan.

“When [mainland] China started producing everything, Taiwan was forgotten,” says Winston Su, co-founder of Justfont. “Now everyone from Taiwan is looking for a new identity.”

Zeng Guo-rong, a designer at Justfont, left, with Winston Su, the company's co-founder. “Everyone from Taiwan is looking for a new identity,” says Su.
Zeng Guo-rong, a designer at Justfont, left, with Winston Su, the company's co-founder. “Everyone from Taiwan is looking for a new identity,” says Su. / Photo: Justfont

In 2015, Justfont’s crowdfunding campaign for their Jinxuan font raised just over $840,000 in one month. Today, it’s available online for download.

“Taiwan has not been famous for its design culture,” Su says. “But since 2010, especially for the younger generation, we would like to let the entire world know that Taiwan is not only about electronics and engineering. We have our own design ideas and thoughts.”

What sets Taiwanese culture apart, Su says, is its amalgamation of influences from Japan, China, and indigenous Taiwanese tribes.

For the team at Justfont, designing Jinxuan is just the beginning of their efforts to carve out their own unique Taiwanese identity.

They are continuously rolling out new typefaces and mentor local design students who have gone on to win awards for their fonts.