Thong Lor: The Way Back into Loop (part 2)

This overview of the Thai font scene points out the need for more typefaces that feature the
loop and capable of serving as time stamps for the past twenty years or so.

The idea of incorporating the terminal loop but still rendering a contemporary feel to a
typeface is not new. For Cadson Demak, it began some five years ago: a client had
requested a Thai custom font with loops, having minimalist construction and being able
to project a modern look. Such requirement ran counter to the market preference of the
time which favored the loopless type and so it represented a new and exciting design
challenge. In response to that design brief, Cadson Demak assigned type designer
Ekaluck Phianphanawate to begin developing the initial glyph construction for Thong
Lor in 2010.
The principles that guided the development of Thong Lor are our notion that, for Thai
typography, the with-loop and the loopless types can be based on the same general
construction, in much the same way the Latin serif and sans-serif fonts can be
constructed for the same family. This notion stood apart from the idea prevailing at the
time that the with-loop and loopless glyphs must be formed from separate
constructions. Despite the enthusiasm that went into the font’s inception, the
development of Thong Lor came to a sudden halt as the client had changed their mind
half way through by opting instead for a loopless design. The work on Thong Lor was
thus put on hold for the next three years. (Cadson Demak could have continued with the
development by turning it into a retail font; but such prospect was not viable due to the
additional time and effort it would have incurred at the time.)
Fast forward to 2013…the novelty of the font’s underlying concept had remained
uncontested and Anuthin Wongsunkakon saw fit to revive the project. By now, the
development of Thong Lor was regarded as an exercise to spur the local font industry’s
interest in the design of new with-loop type varieties. The initial set of glyphs for Thong
Lor was passed on for further work to Choo Rong Kim, a talented Korean national who
had been a keen apprentice in Thai type design with Cadson Demak over the previous
year. The idea was to try to obtain new design perspectives from Kim who, as someone
outside of the indigenous Thai culture, should be able to bring to the task and which
should represent a fresh departure from the tired design clichés of the day. Further
tweaking of the glyph design would take up another year. The design passed from Kim
to Anuthin Wongsunkakon for checking and some final adjustments. It was put to usage
tests by Samit Samanllah, and for post production wrap-up by Suphakit Chalermlap. In
the meantime, the glyphs of its Latin-1 set underwent rigorous outline tweaks by
Christian Schwartz. The resulting Thong Lor may have been one of the few modern
typefaces that have been jointly worked on by so many designers and specialists. That
kind of effort, however, finally paid off when the Thong Lor family won the prestigious
Design Excellence Award 2013, or the DEmark, from Thailand’s Export Promotion
Department, Ministry of Commerce as well as the Good Design Award 2013, or the G
Mark, from the Japan Institute for Design Promotion.

Together with a monoline look, the letterforms of Thong Lor are placed on a wider base
than that for most other with-loop faces. Such construction had been attempted
previously for Cadson Demak’s design of a contemporary font, Anuparp, based on the
notion that a broader letterform would provide more room for placing vowels and
tonemarks. Thong Lor’s letterforms were specifically designed for a larger loop in order
to accommodate a wider range of weight extension which would be necessary for the
face to yield a versatile family. Altogether six weights were generated, ranging from
Hairline, Thin, Light, Regular to Bold and Heavy; the latter weight was achieved without
any loss of glyph integrity — thanks to the roomier glyphs that enabled all of the strokes
to be thickened uniformly throughout. And the larger loop that did not clog up. Most
likely, Thong Lor is the first with-loop typeface to have managed to maintain its true
construction across its entire weight range.
The broader range of weights not only expands Thong Lor’s functionality, but it also
makes the face capable of several moods and tones. For example, a breezy personality
with its hairline version suggestive of high fashion or classy styles, or an authoritative
or respectable feel with its bold weight. It is one of very few Thai typefaces capable of
doubling as body text and display settings, or versatile enough to be cast as both on the
same job. Thong Lor is able to assert itself as a with-loop face that is great for display
setting, an area that has been exclusively reserved for the loopless type. And when cast
as body type, it works with freshness and vigor projecting an air of modernism, not
being weighed down with old-school stodginess.
Wider letterforms typically require wider letterspaces, and both are designed into
Thong Lor with a purpose: to maximize its legibility. The wider glyphs make it feasible
to delineate the fine details on segments of a letter much more clearly to the eye than
what was possible with the typical narrower proportions of other with-loop faces.
Reading tests conducted by Cadson Demak have shown that it takes the eye longer to
scan a text passage set with Thong Lor than that with the narrower faces. But despite
the longer scanning time, the eye is able to process the imagery faster, or able to “read”
the message conveyed by the font faster. This is the result of Thong Lor’s superior
legibility. By contrast, a reader’s eye may take less time to move across the skinnier
typefaces, but the perception of the written meanings could be delayed by confusion in
the glyphs or poor legibility. So an apt descriptor for Thong Lor may be: “Wider, for
slower reading, but faster comprehension.”
The way its glyphs are built up is the most notable feature of Thong Lor. For most Thai
fonts in the with-loop genre, glyphs are constructed pretty much in the same manner as
handwriting where a letter is laid down on paper from beginning to end in one
uninterrupted stroke. This style of glyph drawing —very likely the legacy of a designer’s
habit from school writing — could perhaps explain why so many constructions of with-
loop faces appear like successive copies from one font to another. For Thong Lor, a
novel approach to glyph construction is employed. Each glyph is built up from modular

segments and the strokes have more joins and branches than commonly found on other
Thai fonts. The distinguishing feature of Thong Lor is in the way the diagonal strokes
are joined to the stems. The joins are positioned away from the ends of the stems in
order to shorten the diagonals, or creating a “shortcut” between the stems. This
construction makes for an unusual mood on the font which the reader may sense upon
casual reading, but cannot readily say what causes it. This is because Thong Lor can
manage a degree of familiarity on the reader due to its having a large prominent loop —
thus conforming to the age-old looped design — and at the same time creating a sense
of modernism with its unconventional letterforms. And most importantly, the novelty of
its design does not in any way detract from the font’s emphasis for effective visual
communication.
More emphasis is also given to the design of Thai numerals for Thong Lor. Two Thai
numeral sets, one default and the other an alternate, are provided. The default set has
numeral height almost as tall as that for the letters — a departure from other Thai fonts
where the numerals are conspicuously shorter than the alphabet height. Design of Thai
numerals has been a relatively neglected area due to the overwhelming preference for
Arabic numbers in general typesetting usage. It is an issue that Cadson Demak has been
coming up with remedies for ever since the early releases of its retail fonts, up to Thong
Lor. In addition to the taller set, the alternate set containing shorter numerals is offered
with the face to cater for the need of designers who may wish to retain the traditional
proportions.
The name Thong Lor might imply the location of Cadson Demak’s office. While it was
expedient to just pick out a familiar name, the geometry of the street itself had a bearing
on the choice. In a similar fashion to the “shortcuts” on the glyphs of the font, the actual
Thong Lor Street provides a convenient link between the many traffic arteries on the
northern side of Sukhumvit Road. Over the years, the area has developed into a favorite
venue for Bangkok’s upscale lifestyle activity and entertainment. With the construction
of a traffic bridge across the canal at the end of the street, Thong Lor has been
transformed into a busy shortcut for commutes between the major roads north and
south of it. The parallel notions of the shortcuts on the glyphs and the traffic routes thus
prompted us to adopt the street name for the font.
Thong Lor has been the result of well thought-out design strategies by the design team
at Cadson Demak. It is the answer to the quest for a Thai face with terminal loop that
would manage a tone of modernism. More importantly, the successful crafting of the
font has demonstrated that, with proper efforts, a seemingly outdated motif — in this
case, the terminal loop — could be so re-engineered as to represent a meaningful shift
in Thailand’s typographic trend of today.

Notes: Loop Terminal and Loopless Terminal are descriptors employed by Cadson

Demak for use in its collaboration with the Linotype Company of Germany. The terms
refer to the presence and absence, respectively, of the loop element at the starting
stroke of a glyph. Requirement for more definitions to cover glyph elements particular
to Thai type is constantly increasing, and more efforts will have to be made to satisfy
such requirement. The larger loop on Thong Lor may also need a new descriptor, and
Cadson Demak is in the process of coining a new term for this characteristic.