Designer of the Week

How Seven Thai Designers Use Typography to Explore Their Roots

Guest Author

January 7, 2020

Through typographic form and motion design, Thaipface is a virtual sketchbook run by seven overseas Thai creatives exploring their relationship with the motherland through the lens of design. 

The Thai alphabet is widely believed to be derived from Sanskrit and was created by King Ramkhamhaeng (1279–1298). The first record of Thai typography was in the Sukhothai period (1238–1438) in a form of a stone scripture. With that said, there are several schools of thought, and the true origin of the Thai alphabet continues to be debated. Nowadays, Thai typography has been simplified to two main forms, looped and loopless. Both forms are equally valid though they have different usage.

For instance, some designer might rely on the looped design to do the heavy lifting with the main content, and the loopless as quotes to add a contemporary feel to the work. To Thaipface, typography is the primary element of their craft and also the main tool for arousing different feelings in the design. Specific weights, angles, proportions, lines and curves reflect different emotional response and convey specific attitude and tonality.  

Each Thai character connotes a distinctive meaning

Unlike the Roman alphabet, each Thai character connotes a distinctive meaning, from a chicken (ก, which is the first letter, it is read as kor kai, kai meaning chicken) to a man-eating giant (ย, read as yor yak, yak meaning giant). In phase one of this multistage project, Thaipface celebrates this very uniqueness by reimagining each letterform (44 letters in total) based on their essence in today’s context. As part of their journey, they must interpret abstract ideas like beauty and resiliency into type.

A key aspect of the project is decoding and encoding feelings and attitudes of a character in addition to their literal meaning. Thaipface liberally celebrates type as image. For example, ฃ, read as Kor-Kuad directly translates to “a bottle.” To the team, the letter itself, however, connotes a hidden sense of defiance. As a solution, they drew ฃ with rounded edges and a self-assured curved body. When in motion, the letter blurs into tiny sharp pixelated squares. This design is then used to open up a conversation about Thailand’s censorship law. Thaipface writes:

Kor-Kuad (Bottle) ฃ ขวด ██ คำเตือน ██ เป็นเหตุทะเลาะวิวาทและอาชญากรรมได้

"The Thai government leaves little room for unfiltered content in the media. Any scenes showing cigarettes and alcohol consumption, violence and cleavage must be blurred with mosaics. These restrictions underline how the Thai government discourages its citizens from criticizing authorities by dictating what is right and wrong for them. This animation is an example of how a Thai TV station would broadcast “Kuad” of Alcohol. One can only guess what kind of “sin” it is through imagining what is hidden underneath the pixelated mosaic."

Why 'Thaipface'?

The name Thaipface reflects this collective’s light hearted attitude towards Thai typography; it is a play on words between Thai and Typeface. The group was founded by  Ta S. Kasitipradit (Chiang Mai), Natvipa “Nana” Tejapaibul (Bangkok), Nathantham “Na” Rojanusorn (Hatyai), Eing Opastpongkarn (Bangkok), Sara Hilany (Nakhon Sri Thammarat/ New York), Suting “Budsaba” Shi (Chiang Mai) and Sinrapee “Kat” Pongtornpipat (Bangkok). They were brought together through their love for design in New York and quickly bonded over their overseas art school education and how much they missed home. As working designers in New York, they could not shake off the feeling that they were losing touch with Thailand, especially its art and design culture. From the desire to reconnect to their roots and to explore their bond with the Motherland while living abroad, Thaipface was born.

“Though we are Thais, we were trained in the West.  We don’t often get the opportunity to apply our design skills to Thai projects. Together, we collectively agree that we want to carve out a special space for us to contribute to Thailand’s creative culture”

Thaipface also serves as a playground for the team to experiment with typography and push their design sensibility.

They currently publish their work three times a week, and are set to finish phase one by late January 2020. After introducing all the letterforms, phase two will be about reimagining and celebrating the local vernacular, the puns, and the slangs. Definitely hit them up if you want your name written in Thai!

At the end of the day, Thaipface’s ultimate goal is to be a home for Thai type and motion designers; to be a community that celebrates forms and beauty as a function, and a family that heightens each other’s cultural awareness and social responsibilities. They are currently welcoming additional Thai creatives. So do slide into their dm if you are interested in having your work featured on their instagram page.

In closing, here is a quote from Thaipface about the letter ข (Kor-kaai) and a sense of belonging: 

"I think an egg is every chicken’s first home. They love this home, not so much for all the ways it is perfect, but rather for all the ways it is not, the fragility and versatility of it all. Cheers to all the beautiful cracks and crannies, for they are the little secrets that make anywhere a home.”

Welcome to the world of Thaipface!

Meet the wonderful author, and lead behind this project, Ta S. Kasitipradit. You can view more of Thaipface's virtual sketchbook right here. We'd love to also have you write on our blog, we are open for stories, interviews and opinions on the industry.

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