Finding Filipino-ness in Fonts

Collage of Philippine typefaces.


I started a little self-challenge once I found myself preparing more talks: to integrate more Philippine things into my slides.

For certain topics it was an opportunity to represent with the composition of colors, imagery, and wording. Like finding this group selfie pic that bridges our indigenous people with our self-proclaimed status as social media capital of the world.

Slide from State of the Web Philippines
Quiapo typeface by Aaron Amar, Quezon typeface by Kimchi Lee, and Selfie photo by Jose II Ramos

In other contexts they add color and storytelling, like featuring local women in art alongside the main topic of women in tech.

Slide from Wandering into the Web
Mix Modern Solid typeface by Mikko Sumulong and isometric art by @ewecandraw

And it got me thinking about how we understand and present the concept of being Filipino. How do we define it? Whether or not we’re expert in history, culture, marketing, or psychology — what are our reasons behind it?

How do you convey being Filipino?

Ask any Pinoy and there’s a list of go-to answers: The sun on our flag with its distinctly-shaped rays. Jeepney. Blue + Red + Yellow. Jose Rizal’s silhouette, or his monument. Halo-halo. Kalesa. Bahay Kubo. 7,107 (or 7,641 now). +63.

What if you want to be more subtle, refined, or casual about it? What if you’ve tired of the same old signifiers?

What else would you come up with? “Para maiba naman.”

Could it be a melting pot of art styles in honor of another local icon, the Pawikan?

Could it be humor, in a voice & tone specific to our sensibilities?

Can’t it just be something, anything made by a Filipino? Letting their own point of view shine through?

If something is made by someone who comes from the Philippines, is that not enough to represent the Philippines? No matter how specific or possibly uncommon that experience is?

Our own type

For a long time it didn’t feel like typefaces could do that—fonts feel like a very western, techie thing nobody has time for when majority of this society is just trying to survive day to day. But we do have our own fonts.

In jeepney signage. (We had a MiniFFC that discussed this!)

In precolonial writing systems. In indigenous tribe tattoos and weaves.

In revolutionary newspapers.

In comic books. In literature.

Filipino komiks from the 1950s.
From “The History of Philippine Komiks” by Ernee Lawagan

They’re all around us.

Only they’re not “corporate” or “digital”, so for the longest time we didn’t associate them with the font menu in word processors and graphics editors.

That’s why it’s a delight discovering locally-made type, and even more so when it’s a tribute to something specific. It isn’t the toxic kind of “Pinoy Pride” that desperately clings to the smallest scrap of heritage, but one that’s a little more real. One that has a long and detailed backstory, if you care to listen.

Like a nod to the humble dignity of the labor force.

Or a wry grin at the metropolitan traffic and transport crisis.

I think that could be a good way to convey Filipino-ness: to take something a bit obscure to the rest of the world, and celebrate it proudly until it becomes big enough to be understood. A teaching moment. An opportunity to share.

This is how you get to know us. Come and listen.

So that’s one thing to try. There’s no excuse not to use Filipino type anymore, because as this comprehensive list proves, with fonts dating all the way back to the turn of the millennium, there’s so many you can work with.

Can you name all the typefaces in the collage? Filipino Sign Language font; Quezon; Nyek! Pinoy Komik Fonts; Commute; Obra; Barabara; Maroons; Katipunan; Dangwa; Baybayan; Kundiman; Alfa-Pinoy; Para; Amputa Bangiz

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Design × Code × Words for a better Web,
made in the Philippines by Sophia Lucero.