Asia Feature

“Face-to-face” with Ryoko Nishizuka, Chief Type Designer

July 23, 2018

Japanese translation done by Lisa Asai, Talent Scout

As Adobe’s Chief Type Designer, Ryoko Nishizuka has a unique job. How many people can say they design typefaces for a living? For Ryoko, who has been with our Adobe Tokyo team since 1997, she’s living out her passion and designing the career she’s always wanted.

“I studied typeface design in university. After graduating, I worked at a design studio as a graphic designer for packages and posters, but I wanted to take my career to the next level and pursue my passion, which is why I decided to join Adobe,” says Ryoko.

Since joining Adobe, Ryoko has designed a handful of typefaces, such as Kazuraki, Ryo Text, Ryo Display, Ryo Gothic, and most recently, Source Han Sans and Source Han Serif, in which each font includes more than 65,000 glyphs to support scripts used by Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean. If you’re familiar with any of these fonts, then you’ve seen some of Ryoko’s handiwork—literally.

A sample of Ryoko’s Kazuraki typeface.

And by working for Adobe, Ryoko is in a unique position where she gets to work for a company with a long history of creativity, but is also leveraging new cutting-edge technology. “You can only learn from your past experiences. Creativity to me is not necessarily about pursuing new ideas. Instead, I believe it’s about enhancing traditions from the past.”

To get a closer look at Ryoko’s work, we chatted about her inspirations and what her work process is like.

You’ve been with Adobe for over 21 years and was just named a Founders’ Award winner. What would you say is the best part about working here?

Most of my work is around design, but fonts cannot be created without the support of Adobe’s intelligent engineers. What I love about Adobe is the fact that I’m able to work cross collaboratively with engineers who can create high quality fonts. It’s through this culture of collaboration that I can do what I do.

What project are you currently working on and what inspires you?

I’ve been working on a typeface called “Ten Mincho” which was expressed through “choju giga,”* or “wildlife caricature.” As for what inspires me…Well, people used to write a lot more than we do today when computers were not around back in the day. Looking at the variety of creative handwriting from the past inspires me.

*“Choju giga” is a masterpiece of picture scrolls, which were produced in the 12th century in Japan. These had no texts and illustrated wildlife humorously and vividly. 

Can you tell me what your work process is like when designing new typefaces?

In my day to day, I like to think from the user’s perspective when designing typefaces. Once I have an idea in mind, I typically start sketching it out on paper to focus on my hand movement, but I also use Adobe Sketch on my iPad. Once completed, I save the typeface design as part of my portfolio.

And how long does it typically take to design a new typeface?

Since the Japanese language has a lot of characters, it could take up to 2 years to complete. Even for fonts with fewer characters, I don’t release immediately since I’m typically working on multiple complex projects simultaneously. When revisiting an incomplete project on hold, it gives me a chance to see the design from a different perspective and allows me to complete the project with greater value.

What is the most interesting trend you’re seeing in type design today?

As variable font (a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts) and color font are trending, along with new emerging technology, there’s been a tremendous amount of ways to design font. Although it has not been able to cover languages that use Chinese characters, I’d imagine those areas will be fully supported soon. In the meantime, I’ve been seeking for potential design ideas for these Chinese characters.

What’s one word you’d use to describe your experience at Adobe, and why?

Fusion. What excites me the most is when achievements from the past, or traditions, emerge with the latest technology. I am currently in the works of creating a new font, so please stay tuned!

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