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Arcane art form is a job for creative types

Arcane art form is a job for creative types

Typographer Danh Hong’s work demands technical and artistic skills in equal measure

Photo by:

Eleanor Ainge ROY

Typographer Danh Hong has been working in the art since 1997.

Typography, the art of setting and arranging type and designing new fonts, is an important element of graphic design.

Danh Hong, a Khmer Krom from south Vietnam, is a trained typographer, a rare certification in the counry, although he initially fed his interest by teaching himself tricks online.

He gained his certificate in 2002 from the Microsoft Typography Group in Washington, DC.

Danh Hong has passed on his skills to 10 interested students in Cambodia,  most from the information technology sector,  some of whom are following in his footsteps.

Although he is in high demand, he only works part time, as he says to create unique fonts he must feel patient and have a "good feeling".

He has been influential in Cambodia in adapting the complex Khmer script to the modern typography design program Open Type.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It is very important for scripts such as Khmer, Laotian and Thai  to remain essentially traditional, but also allow them room to evolve stylistically just as English and other languages do.

There is quite a lot of resistance in Cambodian psychology to modernising traditional scripts, but I find if you talk through changes with people, they can be willing to accept them.

What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

Typography is extremely time consuming, and also there is no school here, which is  a real problem. The only courses I have been able to attend are short courses, which can be frustrating.

Is typography an art - is it very creative?

Yes, it is. However, to work as a modern typographer you have to be able to combine technical and artistic elements in equal measure. You must have some idea about programming and software development, and also have an artistic side that has fresh ideas and likes creating new things.

What makes a successful  typographer?

Well you must study programming and software development and art and excel at both subjects equally well.

Also, if students have time to learn about architecture and drawing, etc in their free time, this will help their work.

Has the typography industry been affected by the global economic crisis?

The industry in Cambodia is much too small for it to have had any serious effect, as all the typographers working are part-timers.

Overseas companies are being affected a little but largely they are well-insulated because their main clients are software companies and that market is still booming.

How much do you earn as a typographer in Cambodia?

Sometimes I earn nothing and sometimes I earn US$600.It largely depends on who my client is. But my average rate is $300 for a new font and it will take me about two weeks to a month working part time.

How do your see the typography industry changing in Cambodia over the next decade?

I think as the software development industry in Cambodia develops it will boost work for typographers, too, because our main demand is from software companies.

I can see the two industries developing in tandem and I think in the future we will have typographers who are able to work full time.

Is this a job you could do for the rest of your life?

Yes, I could. In the future, when I retire and have free time, I would like to do typography work on a voluntary basis, and also to write a book  on typography for the next generation. But right now we need to live ... so we need to work. 

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