Pei-Jeane C. Keller
UX/UI Intern
Made with

Chinese Circular:
A Case Study

Research and development for a bespoke Chinese typeface.

Testing out various typefaces to see if they matched EF Circular's latin characters.
Testing out various typefaces to see if they matched EF Circular's latin characters.

Introduction

EF Education First released a new corporate typeface based on Linetto’s Circular font. EF’s new identity relies heavily on the typeface, and a equally beautiful and bespoke font was required for the Chinese market.

Due to the complexity of Chinese characters, a custom typeface is usually disregarded. However given EF’s new facelift, this seemed like the opportunity to find the "Chinese Circular."

Because of my Chinese-American background and interest in Chinese typography, I took on the role of researcher to ensure that we find the right type foundry that is also passionate about bridging together Western and Eastern typography.

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My Role: Researcher

Analyzing the details on a prospective Chinese typeface.
Analyzing the details on a prospective Chinese typeface.

We needed a font that shares the same DNA as EF Circular — geometric, sans, quite professional, with personality. Our font would require three weights: black (if not too chunky), bold, medium, and light. Ideally the font would also work for web in addition to regular use.

With such specific parameters, we were also on the hunt for a full-time type foundry, one that is knowledgeable with Chinese and Latin characters, and could consult and assist on Chinese-led designs.

Defining the problem

The research process

Potential candidates

I created a list of potential Chinese type foundries, listing the pros and cons for each company, in addition to the price quotes being offered.

Chinese Circular:  A Case Study
Chinese Circular:  A Case Study

Desk research

I spent a lot of time clicking through foundry after foundry and contacting places I thought had potential. Unfortunately, these were more font factories vs. a type foundry that truly cared about the essence and creation of a typeface.

It was then when I stumbled across an amazing article about the future of Chinese type design. The interview featured leading type designers from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. 

I added each person to my list and reviewed each of their foundries. It was Li Zhiqian's 3type.cn that caught my attention.

Enter 3type.cn

3type.cn was founded by two passionate Chinese type designers based in Shanghai and Berlin. I was delighted to discover that they specialize in creating Chinese typefaces with Latin (and even Arabic!) counterparts. When we contacted them and told them of our proposal, they were eager to get started as they shared our ideals about the importance and accuracy of matching fonts from different languages. Below are some screenshots from their website.

Conclusion

Official cover page of the official proposal between 3type and EF. Since the project is still ongoing, I am unable to post any work-in-progress photos.
Official cover page of the official proposal between 3type and EF. Since the project is still ongoing, I am unable to post any work-in-progress photos.

Staying true to the market

Because of my personal interest in the topic, I wanted to delve deeper into this subject as I believed by not doing so—that is, choosing a generic Chinese font as the company had been doing for years—would be a missed opportunity from an educational standpoint, especially coming from an education company that prides itself in its visual design and branding. 

The Type-geist article further empowered my reasoning to convince my all-European team about the importance of finding the right Chinese foundry—one that shares the same ideals as we did when it came to crafting a typeface. 

It is the key to this partnership between the western and Chinese language. As a western company, EF spent a lot of time, money, and energy into finding the perfect typeface for our worldwide rebrand. China is EF's biggest and growing market, so why would we not put the same amount of effort into the same task?

The research of finding the right type foundry was the highlight of my process, as this will help bridge the gap between western and eastern typography.