Kowloon Type

Ku Mincho Released 19-01-2023


空 means empty, sky, void, hollow, and vacant, symbolizing emptiness in ancient Chinese pictographs. In Cantonese, it’s used in 空氣 (hūng hei, air). In Buddhism, 空 refers to 空性 (hūng sing), which suggests a phenomena that lack inherent existence. Thus, 空 conveys various meanings, from the sky to abstract concepts like emptiness.


明 means bright, clear, light, and understanding, in words like 明白 (míngbai, to understand), 明亮 (mìhng leuhng, brightness), and 明天 (mìhng tīn, tomorrow). Its ancient pictograph symbolizes the brightness by combining the sun and the moon. In Chinese, 明 is essential in forming meaningful phrases and expressions.


朝 means morning and dynasty, pronounced as jīu in Cantonese. In phrases like 朝暘 (jīu yìhng, daybreak), 朝夕 (jīu jihk, day and night) and 唐朝 (tòng jīu, Tang Dynasty). Its origin traces back to a pictograph representing the sun emerging above the horizon. In Chinese culture, 朝 is associated with the passage of time and history.

體, the traditional form of 体, means body, form, style, and system, pronounced as tái in Cantonese. Used in words like 體育 (tái yuhk, physical education) and 體操 (tái chōu, gymnastics), it emphasizes physical or structural aspects. 體 is significant in traditional and modern contexts, shaping the understanding of physicality and structure.

空明朝體 推出日期19-01-2023

Ku Mincho Released 19-01-2023


Kowloon Type

Piecing together new possibilities

About us

Kowloon Type is the pioneer of original typeface design in Hong Kong. Moeko Yamaguchi and Takehito Goto from Nippon Design Center sat down with its founder, Hui Hon Man, Julius to discuss their collaboration on his studio’s new website.

Localizing Typefaces

Localizing Typefaces

Can you tell us a bit about the background of Kowloon Type?

I’ve been working as a typeface designer for many years now. After graduating from university, I worked at Dalton Maag and Monotype. Their projects were primarily focused on meeting existing market needs, but I always had this desire to work on things more in line with my own ideas on how to solve design problems. Ku Mincho, for instance, is a typeface that came from that desire.
There are limited variations of Ming-style typefaces for Chinese text and they don’t always rhyme with modern contexts. When creating Ku Mincho, I deliberately approached it with an appreciation for how Chinese characters could flow naturally in lines and paragraphs. It was my attempt to offer a lively, flexible typeface that is specially tailored to novels and poems.
For me, it’s vital that we try to enrich communication through our typeface designs. At the moment, pop culture in Hong Kong is thriving, but typefaces haven’t kept pace and they don’t convey its dynamism. It’s our job to meet the cultural moment with the right typefaces.

Furthermore, as digital devices become more prevalent, engineers and web designers are seeking typefaces that they can handle more flexibly. We can help them by developing typefaces that they can easily adapt to a wide array of contexts. We want to project the spirit of Chinese culture onto the screen.

The spirit of Chinese culture, that’s quite an intriguing phrase. Are there any aspects of Chinese culture that you are particularly keen to preserve?

Hong Kong is famous for its traditional shop signs but these are unfortunately becoming less and less common. It would be great to reserve the essence of these Hong Kong-style signs while giving them a modern touch.
Each country has its own communication and cultural contexts, and I believe it is important to create typefaces that take such differences into account. 

Possibilities are found in places others avoid

Possibilities are found in places others avoid

From your perspective as a Japanese graphic designer, what are your thoughts on Chinese typefaces?

Yamaguchi: While Chinese characters are obviously familiar to Japanese people, the way we view and use them is completely different. Japanese text is unique in its variety of scripts; kanji, hiragana, and katakana can be mixed together on one line. On the other hand, Chinese text primarily consists of characters with a large number of strokes so there is less white space around each character and it’s challenging to arrange them with a pleasing flow. In the Chinese-speaking world, designing typefaces and typography that convey emotion is a formidable task, one which undoubtedly requires a high level of skill.

Comparison of Japanese and Chinese typesetting.

Julius: That’s exactly right. In Hong Kong, there is currently a concern about a decline in reading habits. This is not only related to the content of the reading material itself, but it’s also down to the dense and tightly packed nature of Chinese typefaces.

Many Chinese typefaces are based on Japanese typefaces. However, as Yamaguchi mentioned, Japanese kanji are designed to coexist with hiragana and katakana, so we can’t simply use Japanese kanji in a Chinese context.

The current situation in Hong Kong makes it challenging to create typefaces specifically for Hong Kong people. In order to create a Chinese typeface, let’s say a basic set for Mainland China, you need to account for a minimum of at least 6,000 characters. Quite a high hurdle! As a result, it requires a large investment without a guaranteed return. Chinese and English are used in roughly equal proportions in Hong Kong, so there isn’t an immediate market demand. With all of this in mind, typeface design in the Chinese-speaking world lags behind Japan. I just wish there were more good typefaces that Chinese-speaking designers could work with.

It seems like having two primary languages is a unique challenge for Hong Kong.

Julius: That’s right, but growing up in a multilingual context made me respect all kinds of languages and cultures. We can’t avoid changes in culture, like how Traditional Chinese usage became the minority or how hanja is no longer common in South Korea. We just have to accept and respect such changes.

Traditional Chinese characters: Refers to non-simplified Chinese characters. Chinese characters can be divided into two types; simplified characters and traditional characters. The population using simplified characters is around 1.4 billion people, while the population using traditional characters is estimated to be around 30 million.

As a typeface designer, I want to respect the diverse perspectives people have about languages, while at the same time working to improve the environment for those who do want to use Chinese typefaces. Looking at it from a different, more optimistic angle, the changing nature of languages and how they are used is something which offers me a great opportunity to do something different.

Shared sensibilities beyond language

Shared sensibilities beyond language

What attracted you to Nippon Design Center (hereafter NDC) for this website project?

Julius: There were two reasons for choosing NDC for the project. One was my strong trust in NDC, and the other was the presence of my longtime friend, Yamaguchi, who I have known for ten years.

I was aware of NDC even before meeting Yamaguchi. I read the books of creators like Ikko Tanaka and Kenya Hara and I really resonated with NDC’s philosophy. The approach of NDC creators has always emphasized the significance of typefaces. NDC is well-known among designers in Hong Kong, and it has been a driving force in shaping design culture in East Asia.

I knew Yamaguchi as a typeface designer, but I’ve always been fond of her overall perspective and her design aesthetics too. Being from the same East Asian region, I felt that she would be able to understand the culture of the Chinese-speaking world.

’Featured Projects 2023’ Art direction and sign design.

Yamaguchi: In the world of typeface design, there is an emphasis on learning from tradition and culture. Both young and experienced designers are dedicated hard workers. Julius too was a diligent learner when we first met, but what impressed me most was his overflowing passion to achieve something meaningful in society through typefaces. He has always been a designer I respected, and I had hoped that one day we could create something together. I’m grateful to have been entrusted with the design of his website.

Can you tell us a bit about the website’s concept?

Yamaguchi: We knew that Julius’s desire to enrich communication through typeface design involves not only graphic designers but also each and every person who interacts with text. To that end, we tried to let visitors to his website experience the living, breathing vitality of typefaces in everyday life. For our main visuals, we captured videos of Kowloon Type’s typefaces in use, as well as some scenes of the Hong Kong street typography that inspires Julius.
The way we placed the menu in the center of the screen is a really unique aspect of the website. In traditional East Asian bookbinding methods like Japanese stab binding (和綴本), titles and chapter headings are initially written in the center of the paper. Then, as each sheet is folded and bound into place at the spine of the manuscript, these same titles and chapter headings now appear on the edge of the page as if they had shifted position. You can still see traces of this method in modern Japanese manuscript paper too (see below). I designed the website while drawing inspiration from these features of paper media. When I showed it to Goto he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before, but it might just work,’ which gave me a lot of encouragement.

Left: Japanese stab binding (和綴本). Right: Modern Japanese manuscript paper

Goto: Placing the menu in the center is not a common concept in the context of web design, so it was quite inspiring.

Yamaguchi: One thing I discovered during this project is that what can be easily done in print design can become quite challenging in web design. In the typeface specimen part, I wanted to align all different types of text boxes — vertical/horizontal, Chinese/Japanese/Latin, single-column/double-column, etc. — within a single grid, just like in print. However, the line spacing in web applications is completely different from print so finessing and making adjustments is incredibly laborious.

Goto: Another significant challenge was to convey a sense of ‘living typefaces.’ When trying to artfully display text information on a website, we typically convert it into images. For this project, however, we are talking about the website of a typeface design studio, so we discussed ways we could display beautiful fonts without converting them into images. By faithfully reproducing typefaces at an advanced level, I feel we were able to create something that truly reflects the high quality of Kowloon Type.
Julius: Yamaguchi and Goto really paid attention to even the tiniest details. I wouldn't find such uniqueness in Hong Kong, and it would be hard to achieve a similar level of precision. The website isn’t just beautiful, it also has an originality that can only be found in Japan. I’m delighted with the result.
Typeface designers are often thought to have a niche, narrow approach to design, but I’m not really like that — I always seek something new. We managed to translate my philosophy perfectly and I believe this was possible because of the chemistry between the three of us with Yamaguchi as a graphic designer, Goto as a web designer and myself as a typeface designer.

There’s a sense of playfulness throughout the website with the moving dragons in the screensaver, etc. Can you touch on this for us?

Goto: I wanted to incorporate the essence of Kowloon Type into the website. One idea was to utilize a screensaver. For example, having an ASCII art dragon swimming across the screen or displaying a uniquely Chinese-style clock. I went for elements that I thought would add visual interest.
Another one was the Playground page. Here, we’ve used Hong Kong street signs to make it feel like you’re actually walking through the city.
Yamaguchi and I had long discussions about the different kinds of creative flourishes we could bring to the web.

What was your impression of Julius?

Yamaguchi: From the time I first met Julius, I’ve had a fondness for the typefaces he creates and I see him as a creator capable of diverse designs. In my own daily design work, there are moments when, for better or for worse, I tend to lean far forward into my personal style. In choosing a typeface, however, we must step outside ourselves. This is a crucial process in design. In that sense, the typefaces created by Julius are intriguing, and I believe that his typefaces can open up new possibilities for expression.

Goto: What struck me when I met Julius in Hong Kong was his love of Japan. In his office, there was a Yusaku Kamekura’s Tokyo Olympic poster on the wall, and the bookshelves were lined with many Japanese books. Even in the works Julius shares on Instagram, you can find quotes from Haruki Murakami and mentions of Hirohiko Araki. It feels like he shares a similar sensibility with us. We are simpatico so there weren’t any major issues in the project and it progressed very smoothly.

Creating culture, not borrowing it

Creating culture, not borrowing it

Where do you see Kowloon Type in ten years? Also, what do you think East Asian typeface design will be like?

Julius: I hope that our team in Hong Kong can continue to expand. There are relatively few typeface designers, so it would be great if we could grow our community by collaborating and learning together. In terms of the Chinese-speaking world, there is still limited appreciation for beautiful typefaces, so I really hope we can go on contributing to the enrichment of typeface culture. In Hong Kong, communication still relies too heavily on photos and illustrations, so I hope to see typefaces used more extensively. Of course, I would also like to continue collaborating with NDC. For me, this website project is just the beginning. While there are many things I want to accomplish, my fundamental goal is to address communication issues through typeface design. I’d like to start by making the design of everyday things like websites and mobile devices more beautiful.

Yamaguchi: In East Asia, branding often relies on Latin typefaces to establish individuality. People in those regions still use their own local languages for reading and speaking, so I would love to see a movement towards designs that utilize their native Asian scripts such as Chinese characters, hiragana or hangul in a creative way. I think Julius might be someone who can help make this vision a reality by promoting designs that embrace the local language.

Goto: I looked at Julius’s studies of Chinese characters on Instagram and it gave me a sense of belief that even tricky web design problems in my own work life can be overcome. If Julius’s typeface can be used not only in the Chinese-speaking world but also in Japan, it could potentially bring about a revolution. When I first saw Julius’s Ku Mincho typeface, I saw Japanese culture within it. It’s almost as if Julius’s appreciation for Japan is embodied in the typeface itself. I’ve no doubt that Julius will become a trailblazer in Asian typeface design.

Julius: That’s amazing to hear. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is considered a compliment to be told that your work looks Japanese. It’s a bit sad, though, that people sometimes insist that we can just continue relying on typefaces borrowed from Japan. I hope we can create something great based on our own culture in a way that makes such voices less influential.