In Malaysia, the hypermarket is a common occurrence dotted around its multicultural towns and cities. “It’s like a one-stop place where you can buy everything from groceries to furniture to electronics at a pocket-friendly price,” explains designer David Ho. No stranger to visiting these markets, David’s witnessed the hypermarket’s expand since childhood. With white tiled floors and racks on racks on racks filled with brightly coloured packaging, the Westerners among us can relate to these stores by imagining Walmart or one of those huge Tescos that sell everything (but for a ridiculously cheap price).
In the Malaysian hypermarket however, the aisles are filled with fluorescent price tags adorned with handwritten labels and prices. In some sections, primarily the fresh produce and meat sections, the food prices often fluctuate so handwritten marker pen labels are ideal for the frequently changing prices. “As a child, I didn’t notice these price boards at all” says David, “but through my graphic design education, I couldn’t help but pick out the details of these heavy marker penned letters. These letters, clearly written by a marker, contain some very curious angles and are constructed with a speed that shows both haste and confidence.”
He asked himself, “How are these price boards being written and who writes them? Are these writings consistent across different stores as well?” On his quest, David had the opportunity to interview the sign artists entrusted with the writing these price tags for a living. The designer assessed the similarities in writing styles between branches of hypermarkets as well as competing stores and came to the conclusion that the skeleton of each letter was very similar. Thus, the typeface Pasaraya evolved from David’s studies on the subject.
“In this rare age where everything is a copy of a copy, I felt lucky to learn this style of lettering that appears to be born in isolation within the walls of the Malaysian hypermarket," adds David. "It was like a local design secret that I unearthed.” As the designer’s research continued, he realised that the handwritten price boards (similar to many other handmade entities) are a dying art. “This lively form of writing was being replaced with a run-of-the-mill Arial, haphazardly stretched and distorted into all sorts of grotesque things.”
Consequently, David created Pasaraya as a way to commemorate these handwritten price boards. “I didn’t know how much longer this marker pen phenomenon would hold out in the future, so I felt the need to capture this cultural oddity in a fitting homage, perhaps, in a typeface.” Pasaraya is the English translation of the word “hypermarket” in Malay, an apt fitting for the highly contrasting display typeface. It pays homage to the spirit of the master marker penned letter while spurring a refreshingly contemporary look; accentuating the oddities and contrasting thicks and thins of the writing style. David goes on to say: “I can’t and won’t claim that this is a definitive typeface to represent hypermarket price board letterings, but this is merely my humble way of bringing its spirit to a world beyond hypermarkets.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.