Multiple trips to Japan and constant frustration at being unable to read the language has sparked off an unusual typographic project at johnson banks. Earlier in the year we started seeing if we could combine the English language and Japanese script in some way.

One of the three typographic styles that is used in Japan is essentially phonetic, and is called Katakana. We’ve been attempting to find ways to incorporate phonetic sounds with the Katakana letterforms.

Here’s an example – UNIQLO, in Japanese, is pronounced with four clear syllables, U, Ni, Q, Lo (they’re actually spoken like this, Yoo Nee Koo Roh). There are four katakana used for these sounds.


Looks great, but unless you’ve learned the sounds, you’re no wiser. In our typeface, which we call ‘˜Phonetikana’, it would look like this.


My name, Michael, is usually pronounced Ma Ee Keh Roo, so here it is in Phonetikana.


Here are some more characters.


We’ve been developing a series of examples to show it in action – at the top of this post is ‘˜superhero’, below is ‘˜big apple’.


‘˜Moo’ and ‘˜baa’?


Or ‘˜big in Japan’. (If you say them out loud, as you see them, you’re getting close-ish to Japanese pronunciation).


See if you can work these out.



(That’s ‘˜top banana’ and ‘˜tomato’).

We’re also working on some japanese phrases too…


…’˜niko niko’ is Japanese for smile…


…and ‘˜doki doki’ means ‘˜the sound of my heart beating’.


‘˜Kuru kuru’ is the ‘˜sound of something spinning’…


…and guess what the Japanese say when they take a group photo? Yep – ‘˜cheese’ (or ‘˜chee-zoo’ if you want the right pronunciation).

This is all work in progress, so apologies to our Japanese readers for any linguistic blunders.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Phonetikana please submit your email address in the form below and we will be in touch when we have more news. (We won’t share or use your email for anything else).

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There’s also a piece about Phonetikana on the design blog, Designboom, here.

We wouldn’t normally say this but for legal safety’s sake we have to point out that all of the ideas, concepts and designs above are ©johnson banks design limited 2009.