‘Baybayin New’: Could this be our national font?

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Team Manila's winning entry to the typography category at the Adobo Design Awards Asia 2018 is a typeface that incorporates the Baybayin into its design. Photo courtesy of TEAM MANILA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When the House Committee approved Baybayin as the national writing system, some Filipinos online expressed their disapproval, saying that it’s too Tagalog-centric or that it only serves an aesthetic purpose rather than provide a substantial value.

But recently, graphic design studio Team Manila won gold at the the Adobo Design Awards Asia 2018 for the typography category. The studio, known for creating lifestyle products that showcase day-to-day elements people see in the Philippines (jeepneys, Jose Rizal, tapsilog, etc.), submitted case studies of typefaces called ‘Baybayin New,’ which incorporated the Baybayin into their designs.

With the new bill, local government units will be required to include Baybayin on locally produced products as well as signages of public facilities, publishers of newspapers and magazines will also have to show Baybayin translations on their platforms, and government agencies will be obliged to circulate Baybayin reading materials to schools and universities, among others.

These impending requirements could certainly shape not only the agencies’ and studios’ approach to design but these could also mold how Filipinos think, feel, and behave. Typefaces have been known to display historical connections. As such, they have been a “microcosmic representation of culture,” and once Baybayin inscriptions are put in public spaces in the country, they can easily seep into a nation’s collective consciousness.

“We chose Baybayin as the main component of our design in our belief that taking inspiration from our roots is significant to make today’s generation become aware and educated about it,” says Oliver P. Santiago, the studio’s designer who created the final art of the Baybayin New as a typeface.

The creation of the winning typeface was a collaborative effort among the members of Team Manila — from account executives and copywriters to graphic designs and creative directors. Amid several parties disagreeing on what the ramifications would be of having Baybayin in our everyday lives, Santiago and the team behind Team Manila are certain that it could only contribute to our knowledge of the Filipino heritage, and in turn, enrich our culture.

CNN Philippines Life talked to Santiago about the role typography plays in our daily lives, how the inclusion of Baybayin in contemporary culture can reflect our heritage, and what brands and designers should take into account when trying to represent Filipino culture. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

d105d264858381.5ae02eed03564.png The designer of the Baybayin New typeface, Oliver P. Santiago, says that "The team wanted to create a design language that is uniquely Filipino, can be used by us Filipinos, and can be shared to others on a global scale." Photo courtesy of TEAM MANILA

What sort of research did the team do to come up with Baybayin as a form of typeface?

We did research on how we can bridge the gap between the Baybayin and its readability as a typeface, and reintroduced it as one that can be publicly used and applied. We took inspiration from the form of its original script, taking its distinct strokes and incorporating them into the newly developed font in an effort to preserve its general appearance.                                               

We treated the Baybayin with much respect. We veered away from doing a literal transformation of the script and made no modifications. Instead, we worked with the modern English alphabet, injected elements from the ancient writing system and made sure of its universal comprehensibility. As a result, we created a decorative display typeface of the script.

Did you consult an expert or a linguist during this process?

We did not consult a linguist or an expert in doing this. As of the time that we created the entire decorative and display typeface, we only aimed to reintroduce the basic elements of Baybayin to allow continuous modern practice of the language forms in the past. This contemporary typography approach is easily used and understood not only by Filipinos but also by the people from foreign countries.

For the said purpose, we see no debatable issue that will arise with the development of this typography. It is not intended to meet the taste of purist entities, but it is our way of sharing what we can do as Filipino creatives.

What other design ideas did you guys consider? What was in Baybayin that wasn't in any of the options?

The team wanted to create a design language that is uniquely Filipino, can be used by us Filipinos, and can be shared to others on a global scale. Since Baybayin plays a vital role in our history and culture, we treat its Tagalog-centric characteristic as its actual strength, since most of us use Tagalog as our native tongue. The Baybayin New font is representative of our local heritage and pride.

9b434f64858381.5ae02eed024be.png On what to take into consideration when coming up with designs that reflect Filipino culture, Santiago says "Brands and designers should consider the significant values that it holds, as well as the notable history that the current generation can learn from it." Photo courtesy of TEAM MANILA

The approved House Bill 1022 seeks to declare Baybayin as the country's national writing system. Your team's typography sets an example of how this bill can be utilized. How do you think typography can amplify the use of Baybayin? And why is this important to your team's work?

Now that the House Bill 1022 has been approved, typography and branding can amplify the use of Baybayin as it is evident in our daily lives. We see signages the moment we step outside our home; we consume products with packaging designs on a regular basis. With these, it will impart us of our rich history that is something to be commemorated.

This is considered as one of our significant works as it showcases the Filipino culture, which Team Manila has been doing for years — representing the country in the design community across the world.

On the other hand, the bill has also been met with several issues, such as that Baybayin is not representative of the entire Philippines, as it a very Tagalog-centric script, among several other concerns. Do you think that design can address this issue in any way?

Design can address the issue when Baybayin is seen in a historical perspective. Design, in general, has always served its purpose of providing solutions — bringing improvement and order for a better community.

What should brands and designers take into consideration when coming up with designs that reflect the Filipino culture?

When coming up with designs that reflect the Philippine culture, brands and designers should consider the significant values that it holds, as well as the notable history that the current generation can learn from it.