The World’s Writing Systems

Author: Isabella Krüger

When we first heard about decodeunicode, our typo hearts jumped a little higher—what a great idea to capture all the characters in the world in Unicode. Now Prof. Johannes Bergerhausen together with the Institut Designlabor Gutenberg (IDG), the Atelier National de Recherche Typographique, and the Script Encoding Initiative of the University of California has initiated the new project worldswritingsystems.org, which gives an overview of the 292 writing systems of the world! These writing systems can be sorted chronologically, alphabetically and geographically. You can also discover which writing systems are alive or extinct and how many have been included in the Unicode standard.

We asked Prof. Johannes Bergerhausen a few questions about the project:

How did this project come about?

At www.decodeunicode.org you can see all the Unicode characters, currently there are 137,374 characters. Every year new characters are added; meanwhile Unicode 12.0 covers 150 font systems. At some point the question arose: how many are still missing? That’s what I asked the linguist Dr. Deborah Anderson from Berkeley. After months of research, she presented a long list of 142 scripts that are not yet available on the computer. Then I was visiting professor at the ANRT in Nancy and suggested the joint project “Missing Scripts” to the director Thomas Huot-Marchand. For each font we researched a typical character and designed it in a characteristic style.

How can you imagine researching centuries-old systems? Where do you start searching?

In the relevant literature there are almost always experts somewhere in the world, mostly linguists or paleographers, who have been dealing with their obscure writing system for years. Often they are scripts that do not yet have a fixed typographic canon of forms. That’s what makes it so interesting. In the post master at the ANRT in Nancy, students can spend 18 months researching and designing one of these writing systems.

Which writing system do you particularly like and why?

Oh, there are many of them. I find the African scripts very interesting. Here it is often very difficult to find an expert. The writing system Bamum, for example, is very fresh and lively.

Thank you very much.

For the project, a typical character was researched and a glyph designed for each of the 292 writing systems during an 18-month post-master period. A four-color screen print now presents all glyphs on a poster.

The World’s Writing Systems Poster
Release: 2018
Edition: 600 copies
Format: 80 × 120 cm
Workmanship: 4-color screen printing
Print: Lézard Graphique, Brumath, France, 2018

Price: 22,– €
The poster is available here

Data: Dr. Deborah Anderson, Berkeley, USA
Type design: Johannes Bergerhausen, Arthur Francietta, Jérôme Knebusch, Morgane Pierson; ANRT, Nancy, France, 2016—2018
Design: Ilka Helmig, Johannes Bergerhausen, helmigbergerhausen.de, Cologne, 2018
Design/Coding/UX: wysiwyg*, Düsseldorf, 2018

WWS Screen 2 WWS Screen 3 WWS Screen 4 WWS Screen 5 Bildschirmfoto 2019-06-25 um 14.37.25 Bildschirmfoto 2019-06-25 um 14.43.48 0-2-1