I mentioned in an earlier post about how most printed Thaana looks juvenile and not very formal. I’m not going to retract that statement because I still believe that it’s true. However, I thought of another way to explain/justify my stance, having realised that my explanation was quite vague. I still wouldn’t be able to express concisely in words what I mean when I say it’s juvenile, which is why I thought it would be better to explain my thinking through the concept of “Airport fonts”, that is, the fonts that would/could be used at an airport.
Why an airport as opposed to any other public place with signs? Two reasons:
- An airport is a relatively formal space
- Writing (signs etc.) is meant to be more practical than artistic
- More often than not, it is an airport which gives people the first impression of a city or a country
The first two reasons apply to many other public places (and just to be clear, formal doesn’t have to mean black tie) but the third one makes an airport different.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
The font(s) used at an airport can make or break it. Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated but it can be the difference between orderly/functional and pretty but impractical.
It’s very hard to find the right word to explain what the wrong font does, so now I’m going to show you some “Airport fonts” from around the world as well as some samples of what should and should not be an “Airport font”.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport – Thai
It is simple and ordered – two very important features in an Airport font. The passport control sign is a little more ornate, but it is in a way that adds rather than subtracts from the overall “formality”.
Chennai Airport – Tamil, Devanagari
This example shows that straight lines aren’t necessary for a font to appear formal. The Tamil in the second picture is not a great airport font, however, because of the variation in the line thickness.
Brunei Airport, Abu Dhabi Airport- Perso-Arabic
The Brunei example (on the left) shows how not to use a given script/font. For one thing the sign is not wide enough meaning that both the English and Malay writing is squished together. Secondly, the Jawi (Arabic) script is bordering on calligraphic. It’s not too bad, though – if the dots and the tails of the letters were a bit simpler, then it would be fine.
Abu Dhabi on the right shows how it’s possible to turn what is normally a flowy intricate script into something simple, legible and worthy of an airport without sacrificing the “essence” of the script.
Here is another one from Brunei which pretty much breaks all the rules. (Sorry Brunei, I don’t mean for this to be some kind of attack on you)
Tbilisi Airport – Mkhedruli (Georgian)
Another example which shows that straight lines are not an inherent characteristic of an airport font. However, the fact that this alphabet is based on Greek probably helps with maintaining a neat, ordered look.
Yerevan Airport – Armenian
This one bears a little more resemblance to the Latin script, making it just as easy to make a good airport font.
Seoul Incheon Airport – Hangeul, Hanzi, Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji
A very convenient example seeing as it includes not only Korean and Chinese, but all three Japanese writing styles. Once again, everything is ordered and as non-calligraphic as possible. There may be some problems with the legibility of the more complicated Chinese characters but that is not a problem of the font, but rather the way it interacts with the script.
Hanimaadhoo Airport, Dharavandhoo Airport – Thaana
Where to begin with this one? The letters and diacritics are all at slightly different angles, the spacing isn’t consistent, the letters are rounded at the ends, everything is italicised, and the list goes on…
This one is better in terms of the consistency of spacing and angle. However, the letters are still rounded at the ends in that Comic Sans fashion, and they are still italicised. Nonetheless, they are ordered and neat, so they get a few plus points there.
Hopefully you now have a better idea of what I meant when I said Thaana looks Juvenile. I still can’t put it in words.
And because it’s pointless complaining without proposing some sort of solution, here are some fonts which I believe lack all the problems associated with the standard Thaana font:
Simple, bold, no rounded ends or italicisation. Some letters may need to be changed slightly to make them easier to recognise.
Clear, easy to read, no italicisation, and recognisable letters. You can see a sample of it here.
A similar one (the name of which I don’t know) is also used on this sign in Villingili, written in what I assume is Huvadhoo Bas.
It looks good and it doesn’t look out of place. It also matches the Latin script without losing its Thaana essence. It’s kind of ironic that such a sign is (only?) found in a place so far from the capital, let alone the main airport where it is really needed.
One of mine
That was kind of the whole point of making them. Not necessarily for an airport though. I know it’s unlikely, but if it happens, I’m not complaining…