Art Nouveau, emojis and ignoring conventions: Emily Jing Sum Chan on her latest typeface Orna

Eclectic in her practice, Emily channels her creative frivolity into the architecture of Orna – her art nouveau-inspired display typeface.

13 October 2021

The practice of New York-based creative Emily Jing Sum Chan doesn’t stop at design, far from it in fact. Defining herself as a designer and creative producer, Emily tells us: “I thrive when I am involved in the entire picture.” This has resulted in a remarkably varied practice that has – over the last few years – manifested in a unique approach to the design and construction of typefaces. “Type design is a department in which I am very personally invested,” Emily explains. “I have big dreams for my typefaces in the future.” 


Emily Jing Sum Chan: Orna (Copyright © Emily Jing Sum Chan (@lil.emili) , 2021)

Emily’s latest typographic endeavour is her dramatic new typeface Orna, an enigmatic display typeface that commands a contemporary redirection of the typeface’s art nouveau and blackletter inspirations. “The condensed letterforms, wedged Latin seifs and star-shaped titles act as contrasting modern elements,” Emily explains, contrary to the traditional design practices of the genres at hand. “The blend of rich rotunda influences and intense art nouveau curvatures allows the strokes to pour into their distinctive spaces,” she adds, constructing colourful, ornamental fluid strokes that compliment the rigidity of Orna’s foundation. These complementary elements, Emily explains, “allow Orna to lead with intensity and whisper allure,” in doing so showcasing an immediate acknowledgement of typographic history, whilst simultaneously challenging contemporary conventions in the field. 

GalleryEmily Jing Sum Chan: Orna (Copyright © Emily Jing Sum Chan (@lil.emili) , 2021)

With all the historic rigour and intricate detailing of Orna’s architecture in mind, Emily still made sure to not lose the playfulness and individuality that sits at the core of her lively practice. In this case, we can see Emily’s character shine through in the design of Orna’s own emojis that are included within the typeface’s glyph set – an element that she describes as “my absolute favourite feature of Orna.” Rather than turn to the existing anthropomorphic interpretations of emojis, Orna utilises other glyphs within its emoji construction – such as punctuation, symbols and numbers. “They allow Orna to stand out from the rest,” Emily tells us, “I love these easter egg moments of incorporating surprise glyphs within the typeface’s letter set.”

Reflecting on the process that led to Orna’s final form, Emily recalls how rewarding seeing the final typeface set was, able to take a step back and see Orna “all laid out, fine-tuned, and quality controlled.” She adds: “It was a deep breath after months of hard work.” The most meaningful part of the journey to this stage, however, was the nitty-gritty of its process. “With the intention of Orna being a display typeface,” Emily recalls, “the freedom of experimentation with the letterforms that I allowed myself to explore is something that I did not take for granted.” Using each letterform as a blank canvas to express herself, Emily explains: “I allowed myself to adjust the vectors and strokes however and in whatever way until I felt that the overall form was at its best,” impassioned by the experimentation and exploration of unconventional letterforms. “Thus, I allowed my creative mind to play with each glyph’s forms in a boundless way,” Emily concludes, “which was the most meaningful aspect of making Orna.”

GalleryEmily Jing Sum Chan: Orna (Copyright © Emily Jing Sum Chan (@lil.emili) , 2021)

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Emily Jing Sum Chan: Orna (Copyright © Emily Jing Sum Chan (@lil.emili) , 2021)

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About the Author

Harry Bennett

Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.

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