Fonts in multilingual publications
Fonts are a designer’s best friend. A carefully chosen font will reflect your brand image, its personality and uniqueness. However, just like we need to choose our friends wisely, the font choice for your brochure or your website should be well thought-out, especially when you are dealing with a multilingual audience.
Designing a beautiful document in the original language already is a serious task: selecting the font, choosing the font size, providing the right amount of white space, so readers can comfortably consume your content.
Things get a bit more complex when your publication needs to be translated. In order to maintain brand consistency, you want every target language to have the same look and feel as the original layout.
Quick tips: choosing the right font for your publication
As hinted above, choosing a font for your multilingual publication should be well thought-out. That’s why we recommend choosing your font early in the process. Before you start the layout of your original language document, think about all the other target languages your publication needs to be in and then choose a font that will support all of these languages.
Here are some quick and easy tips for choosing the right font:
- Use simple fonts: When you’re using standard Unicode fonts in your global communication, you should be safe for most languages. Unicode fonts are correctly displayed in most browsers, on most operating systems and in most word processors.
- Pay attention to font size and space: If you want your target language publication to have the same layout and readability, then you may have to adapt the font size and spacing. A good process is to start with a font size that is readable on any medium, and then make sure that you can reduce as well as increase the font size while maintaining readability.
- Go easy on the font effects: Western European languages usually have no problem with this, but for Asian and Middle Eastern languages, effects like bolding and italics can be processed in a wrong way, leaving you with distorted pieces of text.
Giving up some of the uniqueness of your brand design in favor of user-friendliness – it’s a constant exercise that layout designers know all too well. Choosing the right font is just one aspect of that exercise. Using a cool, fancy font will usually not outweigh bad readability and a bad user experience.
The Japanese even have a specific word for the typical readability problems that result from garbled fonts. “Mojibake” (文字化け) means “changed/ghost characters” and points at the seemingly random characters or squares that a computer or other electronic device presents when it is unable to decode foreign characters.
Unicode fonts might be a way to avoid Mojibake. However, if you want to serve your Japanese (or Asian) audience with a better user experience, then you might still consider using specific Asian fonts that will look much better for local users. Have a look at this list of common CJK fonts and decide whether there is something for your publication.
Another option might be to use Google’s Noto font family, which aims to support all languages.
Conclusion: constraints are great!
Layout design is a craft and an art. However, it can be tempting to let art get in the way of user-friendliness. When choosing fonts for your multi-lingual publication, your options may be limited. Maybe you can consider a multi-lingual audience as a limit to your creativity. But look at it this way: according to the concept of creative limitation, the most amazing work can come from creative constraints.
Are you experiencing font problems? Are you having trouble synchronizing format and content across different languages? Maybe we can help. Feel free to contact us for more info about our layout and DTP services.
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