“Reading and writing text, whether on screen or in print, has never been as widespread as it is now,” says Massimiliano Audretsch. The German-Italian graphic and type designer has recently completed a postgraduate degree from Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. In his graduate project Ciao, he explores the formulaic compositions behind a letterform and the societal roles it consequently shapes. Designing a publication, a typeface and some installations to expand on the matter, Massimiliano talks us through the ins and outs of Ciao and the phonetic language code he’s devised as a result.
“Every letter of the Latin alphabet has a well-defined form which is associated with one or more sounds within each individual language," says the designer. Though we consume vast amounts of content from reading our phonetic alphabet, languages formed of Latin glyphs have no intonations in pitch attached to the written language, unlike the written Chinese language for example.
For his thesis, Massimiliano has designed a conceptual typeface which includes the intonation of how it is spoken. Naming it Ciao as an acronym for “Comprendere Istruzioni di Accentuazione vocale a Occhio nudo”, the phrase roughly translates as “perceiving intonation with your eyes”. Originally inspired by the historic pencil sketches of the American typographer and puppet designer William Addison Dwiggins, Massimiliano was first attracted to the individual elements of each carefully drawn letter, as well as their unconventional shape connected only by hairlines.
“No repetitive pattern is recognisable," the designer adds on the pencil designs. “Each letter follows a self-contained principle. I went onto contact Bruce Kennett (current administrator of W. A. Dwiggins’ estate) and I found out the sketch is probably a technical draft for a typewrite head, not even a font. It’s just a guideline for finding a form.”
Drawn to the concept of “something being the instruction for something else," Massimiliano celebrated how sketched renders of a typewriter head are highly technical forms that have to undergo a specific amount of steps before becoming a letter. Adopting this step-by-step principle for his own typeface, the designer uses this method to expand on the Latin alphabet, adding a visual system of intonation to denote the tone duration of a sound, as well as the tone strength and change in pitch. While these three factors are common intonation parameters in linguistics, “the letters are designed to give both instruction and a meaning to the intonation of syllables through written language," Massimiliano says on his design.
Designing three parameters for each of the three variables of intonation (duration, dynamism and melody), Ciao is an extensive piece of work showcasing 27 different kinds of intonation for each letter of the alphabet. Containing more than 1400 glyphs for just the basic upper and lower case alphabets alone, this sizeable project is encapsulated in a 150-page document, designed by Massimiliano as well of course.
Fundamentally communicating the emphasis of a word as well as its phonetic sound, Ciao is a pretty spectacular project to wrap our heads around. Not only does Massimiliano present his research, design process and final typeface within one publication, he also creates two video works and an interactive installation piece which demonstrates the multitude of variations within the typeface through sound, print and interaction design. Testing his designs on professional speakers including those recorded for Harry Potter readers for the German audiobooks, Massimiliano eventually assessed that “the physical power of speech and the intellectual understanding of a text are connected to one another like food and digestion.” All in all, this has led to the crucial design concept of Ciao which above all, translates auditive aspects of the spoken word through a typeface.
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.