Japanese Typography, Lettering, and Commercial Art in the Early Twentieth Century

Japanese Typography, Lettering, and Commercial Art in the Early Twentieth Century
with Florence Fu

Lecture at ATypI Conference

Thu, Sep 5, 2019
9:30am–10:00am PDT

In September, Tokyo will host the annual conference of ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale). Letterform Archive’s Editorial Associate Florence Fu will give a short presentation about a set of Japanese periodicals in our collection.

The Japanese writing system is one of the most complex in the world, despite language reforms in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries that prioritized standardization, legibility, and efficiency. During this period, the country also experienced a boom in consumerism that followed the Meiji Restoration, producing a demand for designers and lavish advertising art. The collision of developments in language and commerce created a unique intersection of typography, design, and advertising represented through lettering and illustration.

This talk weaves together Japan’s sociopolitical history with the development of modern typography through the lens of The Complete Commercial Artist (現代商業美術全集), a twenty-four volume collection of trade publications on commercial design from 1928 to 1930. Founded by pioneering design theorist Hamada Masuji (濱田 増治), the publication served as a rich reference of the latest design practices for retailers and advertisers of the time. Each issue includes photographic documentation of design in the West, original illustrations for a range of contexts, and essays by Masuji and his colleagues. The Complete Commercial Artist provides an opportunity to discuss long-standing transcultural exchanges between Japan and the West, expressive typographic treatments for a flourishing commercial market, and the foundations of modern design in Japan.

About Florence Fu

Florence Fu, Editorial Associate, credits her typographic and design knowledge to the Internet and her local library. While pursuing degrees in Art History and Journalism at Northwestern University, she spent her free time digging through books and scouring the web to learn about graphic and type design which altogether informed her own design practice. Excited by art, design, technology, letterforms, and their intersections, she is drawn to the Archive’s collection of type specimens, avant-garde zines, concrete poetry and computer generated works. Her passion for arts education, engagement and writing make her a perfect fit to research and highlight stories of the Archive’s collection.