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Morisawa Type Design Competition judges, from left to right: Yasuhito Nagahara, Masahiko Kozuka, Tsunehisa Morisawa, Kenya Hara, Taro Yamamoto, and Osamu Torinoumi. Photo courtesy of Morisawa, Inc.

Morisawa Type Design Competition call for submissions nearing its end

Japanese type powerhouse seeks innovative Latin and Kanji faces for its 2016 contest.

Since its competition debuted in 1984, Morisawa, Inc., has provided a showcase for typographic innovation and creativity. This year marks the tenth edition of the Morisawa Type Design Competition, with a call for entries going out worldwide.

The competition is comprised of two categories, Kanji and Latin. This year’s entries will be reviewed by a stellar panel of jurists: Type Network foundry partners Matthew Carter and Cyrus Highsmith; Fred Smeijers, and Sara Soskolne (Latin); Kenya Hara, Yasuhito Nagahara, Osamu Torinoumi, and Taro Yamamoto (Kanji); and Tsunehisa Morisawa (Akashi Award). In addition to the prizes awarded by the jury, Morisawa offers the public a voice: voting for its “People’s Choice Award” will begin in October.

“Being a judge at the Morisawa Type Design Competition is an honor,” said Highsmith, who also served as a jurist in 2012 and 2014. “The competition itself has a great reputation, and I very much admire the work and opinions of the other Latin category judges, Matthew Carter, Fred Smeijers, and Sara Soskolne.”

Highsmith finds common ground with his Japanese counterparts without words: “I very much enjoy getting to know the judges in the Japanese category, such as Osamu Torinoumi. I don’t speak much Japanese and he doesn’t speak much English, but we are still able to connect with drawings and examples of our work.” 


Morisawa Type Design Competition judges, from left to right: Cyrus Highsmith, Matthew Carter, Fred Smeijers, and Sara Soskolne. Photo courtesy of Morisawa, Inc.

The 2012 and 2014 competitions saw at least 1,000 entries submitted from more than 20 countries. That’s a huge jump from the submissions for the inaugural awards in the pre-digital era.

“In order to apply for the competition 30 years ago, applicants needed to submit a typeface printed on paper and send it to Japan—not like we accept submissions in PDF today,” said Morisawa’s Keitaro Sakamoto. “It was the era when there was no Macintosh, no printer, no internet.”

The large number of entrants is indicative of the explosive growth and interest in type design. One of the things that makes the Morisawa competition so compelling is the opportunity for exposure it affords to designers from all walks of life. Morisawa has leveled the playing field with an easy electronic submissions process, a lack of entry fees, and the substantial rewards offered: winners are eligible to earn individual prizes worth up to 1 million Japanese yen, depending on placement. In addition, typefaces taking the Akashi gong are eligible for production and publishing by Morisawa.

Winning a Morisawa prize can be life-changing for emerging voices in the field of type design, Sakamoto said. Twombly, who took honors in 1984, has become one of the world’s best-known type designers after serving as a pioneering member of the Adobe Originals team. Other award recipients, such as Lo Celso, Porchez, and Van Bronkhorst, have established successful independent foundries.

The award winners aren’t the only ones profoundly impacted by participating in the competition.

“Japan is an amazing place to visit,” Highsmith said. “I love the food, the cartoons, the graphic environment—and Morisawa is always an excellent host. Being in Japan has also lead to some very fruitful projects with type designers there as well as new friendships.”

A special moment for Highsmith came during a poster signing with the other judges. “Dainty Western-style signatures can look pretty weak next to the big Japanese names written in Kanji with brushes,” Highsmith said. “Matthew insisted I use a large chisel-pointed marker to write mine. Mr. Kozuka, the elder statesman of Japanese type design, was looking over my shoulder as it was my turn. When I was done, I looked back at him and saw his eyebrows raised and a smile on his face. I like to think that he approved.”

Submissions for this year’s competition will be accepted through July 31, 2016. There is no entry limit; designers are welcome to submit multiple typeface designs in each category. Winners will be announced in December, with an exhibit of the top typefaces to follow. For more information on the Morisawa Type Design Competition, including entry rules and conditions, please visit the official website.