Virunhaphol, Farida (2017) Designing Khom Thai Letterforms for Accessibility. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This practice-led research aimed to design letterforms for an ancient Thai script known as Khom Thai, to aid learning of the script by today’s Thai population. Khom is a script that was developed in Thailand around the 15th century. It was widely used as the country’s official script for historical documents and records in Pali, Sanskrit, and Thai until 1945. Now, very few members of younger generations can read the script, which poses a major obstacle for preserving the knowledge of Khom Thai and severely limits access to the country’s historical documents and heritage. Although there are some relationships between contemporary Thai letters and Khom Thai letters, the unfamiliar letterforms constitute the largest hurdle for Thai readers learning to read the Khom Thai script.

This study’s goal was to resolve this problem by creating three new Khom Thai letterform designs for use as learning materials and writing models for beginners. This study investigated whether Khom Thai letterforms could be redesigned so that modern Thai readers could recognise them more easily. To explore this possibility, three letterform designs, TLK Deva, TLK Brahma and TLK Manussa, were developed.

This practice-led research employed mixed methods, including interviews, a questionnaire, and a letter recognition study. The first section of the research discusses the theoretical framework regarding familiarity in enhancing letter recognition. Additionally, analyses on Thai, Khom Thai, and Khmer letterforms were also included in this part.

second section is about the design process resulted in three designs. Among the three, TLK Brahma and TLK Deva maintain a close connection to the proportions and writing style of the traditional script, and could potentially be used as writing models for those learning the script. By contrast, TLK Manussa is adapted to characteristics and proportions of the present-day Thai script and is intended to look more familiar to Thai readers. One potential use of TLK Manussa is as a mnemonic aid for learning Khom Thai characters.

Interviews were conducted with Khom Thai palaeographic experts to gather opinions on the designs. A questionnaire was also used with 102 participants to establish which of the three TLK designs had most familiar characteristics for Thai readers. The results showed that TLK Manussa was the most familiar among the three.

After further refinement of the designs, the third section describes the data collection procedures. A short-exposure technique was used with 32 participants who already had some knowledge of Khom Thai, to compare letter recognition. This method was used for gathering reader feedback on the designs. In general, the findings did not indicate any significant differences between the three designs regarding the accuracy rate of letter identification. However, certain individual letters that more closely resembled the Thai script received higher scores than did unfamiliar characters.

The three TLK designs constitute the primary contribution to knowledge. However, further contributions made by this research are its analyses of Khom Thai characters and its systematic guidelines for developing Khom Thai letterforms, the guidelines will aid future type designers of Khom Thai on letterform design. The study contributes to the field of research in non-Latin type design by endorsing the role of design in enabling contemporary audiences to learn ancient Thai scripts.

FINAL THESIS - Virunhaphol.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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