Results tagged “design”

October 14, 2008

Romanian diacritic marks

How did we ended up looking half-illiterate?

Lack of standards, wrong standards and then slow adoption of good standards—no wonder the diacritics turned into an endangered species. Magazine headlines, television supers and advertisements cheerfully disseminate incorrect letters.

The situation is so bad that even on national banknotes the spelling is bastardized (if you know who designed this, please encourage the person(s) to quit design):

Ron A Caron Crime Detail-1

Shameless incompetence: A-caron incorrectly used instead of A-breve on Romanian banknotes, as pointed by Bogdan Dumitrache.

What happened? How did we ended up looking like idiots?

An introduction

Romanian glyphs

In the sense of diacritics as being signs added to letters to alter their pronunciation or to make distinction between words, the Romanian alphabet does not have diacritics. There are, however, five special letters in the Romanian alphabet (two of them are associated with the same sound), formed by modifying other latin letters. Strictly speaking they are not diacritics, but are generally referred to as such.1


Romanian language has 5 special letters—they are not diacritics per se, but are generally referred to as such.

Although we only have 5 diacritics (Czech language has 15) we, sometimes, manage to get 3 out of 5 wrong. Most of the time we get 2 out of those 3 wrong: Ș and Ț.

Common mistakes

The most common mistakes are:


Letter A with Tilde or Letter A with Caron instead of Letter A with Breve.


Letter S With Cedilla instead of Letter S with Comma below. Letter S With cedilla is only used in Turkish language.


Letter T With Cedilla instead of Letter T with Comma below. Turns out that Letter T With Cedilla is not used in any living language, only for semitic transliterations.

While the first mistake is caused mainly by indolence, the second one and the third have an epic story behind and deserve a closer look.

The story of Ș and Ț: an epic clusterfuck

For those English-language graphic designers affected by diacritics nostalgia, here's the cure: imagine everything going atrociously wrong—for 20 years!

The timeline

  • 1987. Romanian language is associated with ISO 8859‑2 (Latin 2)—the international standard stipulates S-cedilla and T-cedilla glyphs. Romanian officials are oblivious to the matter. Very, very bad.
  • 1995. Unicode consortium specifies in version 1.1.5 codepoints U+015E (Latin Capital Letter S With cedilla), U+015F (Latin Small Letter S With cedilla), U+0162 (Latin Capital Letter T With cedilla), U+0163 (Latin Small Letter T With cedilla) as suitable for both Turkish and Romanian, and defined them as containing the cedilla accent. Turkish language indeed uses cedilla in U+015E, U+015F but does not make any use of U+0162, U+0163. Romanian language doesn't use any of them. Very bad.
  • 1995. Windows 95 launches with no support for Romanian language by default. Support is available on CD-ROM Extras for Microsoft Windows 95 Upgrade. The typeface ILP Rumanian B100 substitutes Q/q with Ä‚/ă. Dark ages. Bad.
  • 1997. Apple’s MAC OS 7.6.1 honors Romanian S/s with comma below and T/t with comma below diacritics with MacRomanian (ten years before Microsoft). Interesting enough, its tables do not resolve U+015E, U+015F, U+0162 nor U+0163 (no S/s with cedilla nor T/t with cedilla)—at all! Good.
  • 1997. Adobe Glyph List (AGL 1.0 and 1.1) specifies "Tcommaacent" and "tcommaaccent" instead of Tcedilla/tcedilla (no resolve for Scedilla and scedilla). The consequence of this decision is that Romanian documents using the (unofficial) Unicode points U+015E/F and U+0162/3 (for Ș/È™ and Èš/È›) are rendered in Adobe fonts in a visually inconsistent way using S/s with cedilla and T/t with comma below. Good going bad...
  • 1997. It takes ten years for ASRO to react. In 1997 the association complains to ISO about the S-cedilla and T-cedilla standardization requesting an amendment. Good.
  • 1998. The revised version of ISO/IEC 8859‑2 (Latin 2) is ratified without the requested amendment. A note mentions that "the letters S and T with cedilla below may be used to substitute for the letters S and T with comma below". Very bad.
  • 1998. Adobe switches 015E/F back to T/tcedilla. Defines 0218/9 as S/scommaaccent, 021A/B as T/tcommaaccent before Unicode's 3.0 revision but after Apple's MAC OS 7.6.1. Good.
  • 1999. In its release 3.0 the Unicode consortium adds the mappings U+0218 (Latin Capital Letter S With comma below), U+0219 (Latin Small Letter S With comma below), U+021A (Latin Capital Letter T With comma below), U+021B (Latin Small Letter T With comma below), and defined them as containing a “commaaccent”. Great.
  • 1999. The Romanian Standards Association adopts SR 13411 standard that stipulates S/s-comma and T/t-comma as official Romanian letters. Good.
  • 2001. ISO publishes ISO/IEC 8859-16 also known as Latin-10 or "South-Eastern European" incorporating Romanian SR 13411 standard, in spite of strong opposition from USA's representatives and from Mr. J. W. van Wingen, Netherlands' representative. Finally Romanian language's standard form is also the correct one. Good.
  • 2001. Microsoft Office v. X for Mac OS X is released crippled, without support Unicode font display or input. Office documents with diacritics created on Windows won't display properly on the Macintosh. Bad.
  • 2001. Apple immediately aligns their OS X to ISO/IEC 8859-16. Good, but...
  • 2001. Unfortunately, Mac OS X does not recognize the "*commaaccent" glyphnames that are defined by Adobe for Romanian and Baltic languages (such as Tcommaaccent, Rcommaaccent, Kcommaaccent, Ncommaaccent) but instead only recognizes the "*cedilla" names (T/tcedilla, R/rcedilla, K/kcedilla, N/ncedilla) or the "uni****" names (uni0162, uni0156, uni0136, uni0145). This means that Mac OS X will fail to recognize the glyphs T/tcommaaccent, R/rcommaaccent, K/kcommaaccent, N/ncommaaccent and map them to their respective Unicodes. [Adam Twardoch2] Bad.
  • 2001. Microsoft along with other software vendors disregards ISO/IEC 8859-16. Ugly.
  • 2001. Microsoft Windows XP is launched. In order to correctly encode and render both S-comma and T-comma, one has to install the European Union Expansion Font Update. Unfortunately, there is no official way to add keyboard support for these characters. In order to type them, one has to either install 3rd party keyboards, or use the Character Map. Bad.
  • 2003. Macromedia Freehand MX (11) is released without OpenType support. Bad.
  • 2003. Adobe releases Creative Suite 1 applications with Unicode support. Designers are able to produce inter-platform Romanian typography without hacking fonts. Good.
  • 2003. People protest against Microsoft practices—most notable is Mr. Cristian Secărică with his 2003 open letter to Microsoft Romania (link in Romanian). Good.
  • 2003. The dormant Linguistic Institute of the Romanian Academy finally honors the request concerning the exact form of the glyphs under letters S and T—says it must be a comma. Very late, still good.
  • 2004. Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac is released with Unicode support. Good.
  • 2007. Six years late and five months after Romania (and Bulgaria) joined the EU, Microsoft releases updated fonts that include all official glyphs of Romanian alphabet. This font update targeted Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista. Good, at last.
  • 2007. Mac OS X ignores the glyph-to-Unicode mapping provided in the “cmap” table of OpenType PS (CFF/.otf) fonts, while it uses it for OpenType TT (.ttf) fonts. For OpenType PS fonts, Mac OS X uses the glyph-to-glyphname mapping provided in the font and then maps the glyphnames to Unicodes itself.3. Bad.
  • 2007. The subset of Unicode most widely supported on Microsoft Windows systems, Windows Glyph List 4, still does not include the comma-below variants of S/s and T/t. Bad, as usual.
  • 2008. Some OpenType fonts from Adobe and all C-series Vista fonts implement the optional OpenType feature GSUB/latn/ROM/locl. This feature forces S-cedilla to be rendered using the same glyph as S with comma below. When this second (but optional) remapping takes place, Romanian Unicode text is rendered with comma-below glyphs regardless of code point variants. Good.
  • 2008. Very few Windows applications support the locl feature tag. From the Adobe CS3 suite, only InDesign has support for it. Bad.
  • 2008. Apple updates iPhone OS X to version 2.1, adds Romanian keyboard and correct glyphs for Romanian diacritics. Good.
  • 2008. Nokia phones still use incorrect S-cedilla and T-cedilla glyphs. Bad.

This is how the puzzle looks to me, so far (if you have new pieces of this, please let me know).

But there's room for some more bad news.

More bad news: the keyboards

Romanian keyboard layouts

The current Romanian National Standard SR 13392:2004 establishes two layouts for Romanian keyboards: a "primary" one and a "secondary" one.


Romanian SR 13392:2004 primary layout. Source: Wikipedia.

The "primary" layout is intended for more traditional users that learned long ago how to type with older, Microsoft-style implementations of the Romanian keyboard. The "secondary" layout is mainly used by programmers and it doesn't contradict the physical arrangement of keys on a US-style keyboard. The "secondary" arrangement is used as the default one by the majority of GNU/Linux distributions.5

Sorin Paliga, author of Romanian Keylayouts for MAC OS:

Apple is indeed the only company which sells localized physical keyboards on the Romanian market, but must now re-locate the specific Romanian letters on the physical keyboard according to the Romanian standard. Sooner or later Apple must do that, but the sooner the better.

It turns out that the localized keyboards Apple ships to Romania—although functioning perfectly—are not standard compliant. And that's not all.

Physical keyboard engraving

Even if Apple's OS X was ahead of the diacritics adoption curve and it was the first hardware manufacturer (is it the only one, still?) to ship localized keyboards, they have a glaring bug—for years now: the Romanian keyboard is marked with the wrong glyphs!

Even though it works correctly, the S-comma key is engraved with S-cedilla and T-comma key is engraved with T-cedilla.

Totally surreal, I know!



Apple's Mac OS gets the Romanian glyphs correctly for 11 years now, but their keyboards are still erroneously inscribed.

I filed this with Apple's bug tracker: bug ID 6287188.

Romanian keyboard on iPhone

The new iPhone firmware 2.1 ads a Romanian keyboard with diacritics.


Romanian keyboard setting. iPhone diacritic marks are dead on correct.

In order to use them, switch the Romanian Keyboard on (Settings → General → International → Keyboards → Romanian → On), then press the globe-key and you’ll notice the space bar reading “Spațiu” instead of “Space”. Then tap and hold one of the keys (A, I, S or T) and a row of additional letters will unfold, containing the diacritic marks.



Tap and hold one of the keys (A, I, S or T) and a row of additional letters will unfold, containing the diacritic marks.

Bottom line

Current status: embarrassment

Computers are supposed to be able to process text with ease, consistency and predictable output. In Romania—year 2008—they’re still unable to accomplish this basic task.

Academic intelligentia, when not sleeping, gets busy thinking of maddening spelling reforms. Local computer manufacturers happily crank out garage-quality boxes, completely oblivious to how are those boxes supposed to work. Foreign manufacturers enlist Romania at “others”. Microsoft does only what’s best at: adds in entropy via maligned standards only to be wrestling its own mess later on. Big publishing, advertising and print shops have built closed ecosystems that often work with hacked keyboard layouts and fonts (if they care). The web goes with the flow.

And so we’re stuck with this embarrassing mess—what’s really exasperating, though, is that in 20 years indolence has become a de facto standard: we know we stink but we’re comfortable with that.

Take a stand

How can we improve the situation? Well, by using the correct diacritics, obviously. But if/when that proves difficult, we should better drop diacritics altogether than use some sloppy substitutions (ã or ǎ instead of ă, ş instead of ș, ţ instead of ţ).


Long explanation: Because using the wrong substitution bastardizes the language—those letters do not exist in Romanian. Because it’s misleading for those who don’t know any better—they’ll think it’s perfectly acceptable to align to the bad practice. Because substitutions turn into a baggage of backwards-compatibility issues. Because it means you’re a shitty designer. And because, well, in the end, it’s just bad taste.

Short explanation: Because wearing no underwear is preferable to wearing it on the outside, over the pants.

1 Wikipedia, Romanian alphabet entry.

2 forum post by Adam Twardoch—Fontlab Ltd. Product and Marketing Manager, MyFonts typographic consultant.

3 Idem.

4 Wikipedia, Romanian alphabet article.

5 Wikipedia, Keyboard layout article.

March 28, 2007

Moscow events

Branding and design lectures and workshops in Moscow

I was invited to Moscow by the bighearted people of Identity Magazine1 to give a lecture and a workshop together with Mr. Tony Spaeth of Identityworks, one of the most prominent branding experts alive. Our lectures were part of the 13th edition of Design and Advertising exhibition, the largest Russian event of the trade — where Identity Magazine's booth presented all Best of the Best 2007 entries (competition for which Tony and I were members of the jury).


Identity Magazine's booth at the 13th edition of Design and Advertising exhibition in Moscow.

Tony promoted in both the lecture and the workshop his corporate rebranding analysis tool, the Corporate Brand Matrix.


Hands-on session with Tony Spaeth's Corporate Brand Matrix at British Higher School of Art and Design (BHSAD).


Tony's lecture "Corporate Branding — Towards a unified theory" on Corporate Brand Matrix at Design and Advertising exhibition.

My lecture named "Design: a business escalator" was about using design as a business tool able to leverage the power of challenger companies attacking difficult markets.


My lecture "Design: a business escalator" at Design and Advertising exhibition.

I found dealing with consecutive translation (the were far too many people for simultaneous translation) a bit tricky, but — with the help of a very acknowledged translator — I managed to pull it off without losing the contact with my public. Their applause warmed my heart and the Q&A session went on and on, revealing a mighty interested and motivated audience.

My workshop "Brand idea: a designer's Swiss army knife", took place at the [British Higher School of Art and Design (BHSAD)] in Moscow — one of the most important centers of design education in Russia, run by young people.


My workshop "Brand idea: a designer's Swiss army knife" at British Higher School of Art and Design (BHSAD).

The workshop was about design strategy — using brand idea techniques for developing vast and complex identity programs — for an audience comprising of designers and identity professionals. I had simultaneous translation this time and the show went on exactly as planned.


A part of the audience — "Best of the Best" organizers and British Higher School of Art and Design students.

There were two hours of workshop followed by almost two hours of Q&A with a wonderful audience — it felt really good to see the young Russian designers so interested and smart. A terrific evening — absolutely exhausting, but great nevertheless.

1 Identity is the only high-profile printed magazine focused on corporate and product identity I have knowledge of. Unfortunately, until now its content was in Russian making it difficult to be globally accepted. All this will change, and from the next issue — its editors promises — it will be bilingual (Russian and English).

November 1, 2006

LogoLounge interview

This interview appeared in the 'featured designer' section at

Continue reading LogoLounge interview.