WWDC outlook for a San Francisco C+J+K Apple Font

This is not a WWDC23 prediction, but at some point Apple will certainly unveil a variable San Francisco CJK (Chinese-Japanese-Korean) system font to match the rest of the Apple SF font family, and it will be unveiled at WWDC. I’m not a fan of the CJK name and the mental baggage that comes with it because it’s one of those western concoctions that deal with pesky Asian cultural differences by sweeping those differences under the rug of indifference. Like using a leaf blower to blow and hide dirt everywhere instead of removing the dirt by neatly sweeping the mess into a bag. It’s all Chinese right?

Wrong. Chinese is merely the start point for centuries of cultural evolutions and written language aesthetics that are distinctly different for each language. There are Kanji created in Japan that have migrated the other way. Cultural flow is never one way. CJK is a kind of snub intended to keep the cultural flow one way by neatly collapsing important differences as ‘CJK styles’ for the convenience of westerners who can’t be bothered to understand what those differences are. Just as western based baseline font technology can’t reproduce high quality vertical kanji layout, all in one CJK designs can’t reproduce high quality typography across languages. One hopes Apple is spending the money and time to get those differences right for each language group, C+J+K if you will, because it’s not easy.

What will a SF C+J+K design instead of an all in one CJK design look like? Hiragino Sans GB is a good font to examine as it represents an early Apple lead effort to create a mixed Japanese and Chinese design, best described as a “Simplified Chinese version of the Hiragino typeface…designed to make Simplified Chinese characters look good in Japanese texts, and vice versa.” When I talked with one of the key Hiragino designers, Osamu Torinoumi, in 2009 about the Hiragino Sans GB bundled in Snow Leopard, he explained that one design does not fit all.

Hiragino Sans Comparison 2
The modifications for Simplified Chinese characters in Hiragino Sans GB from the original Hiragino character designs are circled in red

We (JIYUKOBO and Screen) visited Beijing Hanyi Keyin Information Technology Co. in December 2007. The top designer is a young woman, Ms. Zhong. We couldn’t talk to each other because of the language barrier and didn’t know if we had the same design sensibility so she started pulling out the hand drawn templates for one of their designs and we went through them one by one. I would point out the design problems and she would nod her head in agreement and after a while I realized we both thought alike.” JIYUKOBO sent all the original Hiragino design data to Hanyi Keyin through Screen and they adapted the designs for China.

“We worked with the Adobe GB 1-4 character set (29,064 glyphs) at 2 weights. Basically we had to finish one weight in 6 months. One year for the entire project. At first we only thought we would be there as backup, but Screen kept passing us all the questions from Beijing. It turned out to be a lot more work than we anticipated.”

“One of the major differences is that Chinese design demands that Gothic (sans serif) characters mimic handwritten style. This means the character should be slightly off center within the virtual body. Even after the project was over I still didn’t understand the difference between Japanese and Chinese “Kokoro” glyphs which the Chinese designers insisted were different.”

If one of the top font designers in Japan cannot understand the differences between Japanese and Chinese “Kokoro” glyph designs, I doubt Apple designers will be able to figure it out on their own. I hope for the best but all too often ‘all in one’ CJK font designs sweep those kinds of important differences under the rug.

Japanese Typography and Font Index

This is a collection of long form Japanese typography posts. They were written as stand alone pieces, so there is some background explanation overlap, always a weak point of the blog format.