( Photo: GT)
Post-90s designer Ye Tianyu has always had a keen interest in reviving classical Chinese culture, and now he's using that passion to address the dearth of digital Chinese types by creating a high-value digital character bank.
Over the past 18 months, Ye has designed 13,982 characters packaged into two types of Chinese font in different styles - classic and sporty- for personal use. The classic design won him the Special Mention Prize at the 2016 Granshan Competition, a renowned international type design competition.
After working around 14 hours every day for the last two years, Ye launched his products for only 99 yuan ($15.77) for indefinite use - a wallet-friendly price for those unable to afford the typefaces developed by the industry's leading companies.
Passionate about promoting China and the origin of Chinese characters, Ye was determined to become a leading player in the typeface-design industry.
"I'm determined to change the face of shop signboards along Chinese streets. The younger generation usually complains that these signboards have failed to inherit the true aesthetics of Chinese writing," Ye declared.
"There are thousands of typeface designs for Chinese characters designed in Japan in the computer system, but those designed in China are only a few hundred."
While his peers are going out to party in the evenings, Ye's only dates for the past few months have been with his "characters."
Ye's story and efforts even got the thumbs up from the Communist Youth League of China, setting him as an example to motivate the younger generation.
Going all in
Ye quit his high-paying job at an internet company and committed himself to the cause of reinvigorating the legacy of Chinese type-designing.
"When I decided to quit my job and become a full-time type designer, everybody around me thought I was crazy, including my parents, who had always been very understanding," said Ye.
"Creating a complete Chinese typeface requires a template of at least 6,763 characters which takes designers a few years to polish. This is precisely why there are so few people willing to be involved in such a labor-intensive project," Ye explained to the Global Times.
"Since it is not a work that sees instant effects or feedback, I've been worried and indecisive for a long time, with concerns that it won't be popular when it comes out."
In order to speed up his program, Ye works for 14 hours a day, raising concerns from his parents over the state of his mental health.
During sleepless nights, he enjoys opening up his design drafts and listening to romantic music, prompting his friends to tease him by saying that "others spend nights making love, but you spend them making fonts."
Ye admitted that his endless devotion to his calling does make him feel like a young boy in love.
One of his best-selling products is based on a fun design that incorporates animation elements, which have become wildly popular online, especially among kids learning to read.
He is confident in his ability to lead a new visual revolution by designing beautiful Chinese characters that reflect the true Chinese style.
Brush with law
The high fines attached to copyright violation are another reason behind Ye's dedication.
Many vendors in China face a struggle when using digital characters for commercial purposes: a poster that costs a few hundred yuan to produce may require tens of thousands of yuan to purchase the characters on it. Those unaware of the law could end up facing lawsuits from license holders.
To help with these concerns, Ye charges lower than average for his products in order to attract ordinary vendors and fledgling designers with a limited budget.
"It will help them avoid the hassle of dealing with illegal use without license and credit for commercial purposes. What's more, it will encourage people to become aware of copyright issues with the fonts," said Ye.
Back to the beginning
In order to create the characters that reflect a true Chinese style, Ye went back to ancient texts, crosstalk, calligraphy and art books for inspiration. He spent enormous amounts of time studying the strokes, structures and meanings of each character, thinking of ways to give the typefaces themselves a story to tell.
In creating an animated font, he believes that conveying the spirit of a character in a dynamic manner better delivers its essence, as "Chinese writing is not only pictorial but also ideographic in the sense that each character represents an idea."
In the process of bringing the characters to life with amazing kinetic typography animation and "putting on their own show" like crosstalk performers, Ye built up an army of followers.
"Such creations are a feast for my 5-year-old son's eyes. He is now fascinated about how meaning and emotion can be expressed dynamically. Now, he's starting to learn the characters intuitively and more quickly," said one parent in a comment left at Ye's Magpie Type Designed Studio.
The praise from mainstream media and government organs also helps bring a high traffic flow to his Taobao online shop.
"It seems dull for many people born in the 1990s, but it is a daily routine I find fascinating. It is not profitable, and I have to pay for it out of my own pocket, but it really pays off when I see it benefiting people," said Ye.
Ye feels proud to bring a vivid and versatile look to ancient typography.
"I regard every character I design as a living body, into which I put my emotion and sense of duty. I see my role as a bridge linking those characters we are familiar with, which I call 'acquaintances,' to those which we find strange, and to present their charm to the public as a whole," he said.