Interview with Danh Hong, designer of Hanuman

As you may know, the Google Font team recently launched a small handful of non-latin fonts in the Google Font Directory, including Cyrillic, Greek and Khmer. We recently got a hold of Khmer font designer, Danh Hong, to describe his Cambodian font Hanuman and what went into and motivated its creation.

Q: What inspired you to create the Hanuman font?
It comes from my inspiration to have high quality Khmer fonts for both computers and mobile devices. My Khmer language is complex, and the typeface is rich. So I thought the new font technology we have today can help people to use the Khmer language on their computers and devices, and can save Khmer culture in digital age. Windows ships with a Khmer font, but it is small and hard to read. However, Mac OS X and the iPhone don’t ship with a Khmer font yet, and these products are getting usage in the Cambodian market.

Q: Did you try to accomplish something specific with this font, and did you succeed?
The challenge with Khmer is that it has many levels (above and below) so Khmer paragraph’s take up more vertical space than the same paragraph in English. My goal was to compress the Khmer letters so they would be compatible or similar to the metrics of English characters. I also wanted to merge OpenType and AAT together, so this behavior works with all Windows, Linux and Mac OS X devices.

Q: What kinds of documents are most appropriate for this font?
Because it is similar size to English text, it is best for scenarios that have a mix of Khmer and English text. I think it is good for books, daily newspapers and dictionaries. And because it is serif, it looks good for formal letters as well.

Q: Designing a new font is a long journey. What inspires you to keep motivated throughout all the different stages?
The creativity makes me feel happy. I always feel good when I can do new things, and my life is meaningful.

Q: What is your favourite part of the type design process, and why?
This is a difficult question! My favorite part is always changing. For old TrueType fonts, creating new typeface is interesting, but for OpenType, the “smart” behavior embedded into fonts is my favorite. I also enjoy hinting, because it can make the text clear to read.

Q: Can you recommend how other type designers can learn the skills involved in making Khmer fonts?
I recommend that potential Khmer type designers to learn Khmer art and old text, in addition to western typography. New things sometime come from mix between the traditional and modern technology.

Q: What are your favourite fonts, and why?
My favorites are handwriting fonts, because they are very natural.

Q: What do you think could be improved about the type design process?
Hinting is always hard work. Right now, there doesn’t exist an auto hinting tool that can do better than hand, but I think it is possible in the future.

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