Xihei: A Variable Blackletter Font for Chinese

Xihei is an attempt to bring a modern blackletter look to Chinese characters. This variable font was created for a university type design class.

Xihei

Background

Blackletter is one of my favourite display font styles. What fascinates me most is its ability to be both elegantly decorative and rigidly geometric. Thousands of blackletter fonts have already been created for Latin text, since the style emerged within this writing system. For this project, I decided to challenge myself by applying a blackletter style to a writing system far removed from this history. I chose Chinese hanzi due to my familiarity and interest in the writing system.

Xihei

Research

While designing this font, I spent time researching Chinese font styles and stroke types. This overview of font styles was especially insightful. Looking into basic stroke types was more complicated, since the several lists i was able to find varied slightly. Moreover, many stroke types could present slightly differently in different contexts. In the end, however, this research greatly informed the creation of my own basic font components.

Xihei

Variability

Chinese characters generally fit into perfectly square boxes, which is one of my favourite things about the script. However, there is definitely precedent for fitting characters into thinner or thicker rectangular frames. I chose to make this font variable in width based on its expected usecase in headlines. The ability to squish more or less characters into a headline without a linebreak or change in font size offers more freedom in layout design, especially in print design.

Xihei

Process

I began by designing the most basic, geometric characters, such as 口 (mouth), which were then combined and modified to create more complex characters, such as 品 (product/goods). Since creating a full Chinese font myself was unrealistic, I ended up creating a sample of around 60 characters, all of which are relatively common in written Chinese.

Xihei

Usecase example