When you first see Kickass Type font used in writing, you may squint a little at the irregular, thick and thin strokes that make it rather difficult to read. Some have called it ugly, but once you learn the story behind this unorthodox font, both its beauty and power become impossible to deny.
Before Kickass Type was expanded into a font set of 6,000 traditional Chinese characters, it was simply a few handwritten words by local freelance designer Kit Man.
During the Occupy Central Movement of 2014, a friend of Kit Man asked him to make a banner that read “I want genuine universal suffrage”. It was against the backdrop of one of the city’s largest civil disobedience movements that Kit Man’s unique handwriting was born.
The designer never planned to mix his art with politics. Things changed in 2012, after the protests against national education in Hong Kong. It was then that the 39-year-old decided to create an online platform for artists to voice their opinions on current social issues.
“I feel like my generation is quite detached from society. We only care about our personal development,” he says. “But the anti-national education movement in 2012 was a wake-up call that made me realise the city has become so different from the one I used to know.”
The year after its debut in 2014, Kickass Type received even greater attention when Kit Man designed a series of T-shirts, banners and flags for Hong Kong fans to take to the 2018 World Cup qualifier between Hong Kong and China. The match, held in November 2015, took place when the Hong Kong-mainland conflict was still at fever pitch. Kit Man’s collection, bearing slogans like “Hong Kong Team Kick Ass” and “Hongkonger support Hongkonger”, was a huge hit.
Seeing how popular his designs were, Kit Man decided to launch a crowdfunding project in 2016 to turn his handwritten words into a digital font. He hoped they would help preserve traditional Chinese characters. Despite getting off to a slow start, Kit Man was eventually able to raise HK$740,000 from more than 900 backers.
The project took two years to complete. Looking back over it, Kit Man says the hardest part of making the font collection was creating a sense of uniformity. To keep the mix of bold and fine strokes, he had to make the characters more square-like, so they looked coordinated when used together in a phrase or sentence.
“Believe it or not, the characters with the least number of strokes are the hardest ones to work on. I struggled to find the perfect way to write the word “ten” for the first year and a half,” he says.
Although the set is now complete, and was showcased at an exhibition in December, Kit Man’s work is far from over. The designer says many of the words need more tweaking, especially the ones he had to rush.
Due to its political origins, Kickass Type will always be linked to the pro-democracy, and even anti-authority, camps. Kit Man admits some companies have hesitated to use the font in their campaigns or products, but his work has become more widely accepted since the exhibition. A number of big brands, including Nike and Cathay Pacific, have reached out to collaborate with him.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have these major brands work with me; it stops other brands from being so reluctant,” he says. “I think brands see the font differently after the crowdfunding project; it has now become the product of the collective imagination of Hongkongers.”
As for Kit Man’s views on Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law, he has once again allowed his artwork to do the talking.
He designed a photo frame on social media with a banner that says “Anti-send-to-China”, referencing one of the main concerns about the bill, which would allow fugitives in Hong Kong to be extradited to the mainland.
“You should find your role in society and do what you can in your power to make a change,” he says. “Don’t just sit there and do nothing.”