The rise of the Indian typographic community

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Meet India’s typographic community, as they adapt regional language scripts for the digital age and take their passion to the mainstream

Meet India’s typographic community, as they adapt regional language scripts for the digital age and take their passion to the mainstream

Seven hundred and eighty languages ​​and 400 scripts: this is the number identified by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2013. Of these, how many scripts do we see daily? Giving text a unique “voice” are typefaces and typefaces, created by type designers around the world. It is safe to say that India is a top player in this market due to the large number of languages ​​we have. Satya Rajpurohit, founder of the Ahmedabad-based Indian Type Foundry (ITF), knows this all too well. Its font family, called Kohinoor, is what your Apple device likely displays whenever you look at regional text.

Innovate and experiment

“Designing Indic fonts is tricky; languages ​​that have nothing in common in terms of writing, such as Hindi and Gujarati, should complement each other,” he explains. After licensing a global brand for fonts from ITF (his other clients include Google, Samsung and Sony), he invested $3 million of his own money in creating fontstore.com, the first model subscription-based Indian. Launched in early July, it says, “It works like Netflix for fonts: pay a monthly commitment of around $15 and use as many as you need. In the first month we had 300 subscribers. It took 35 designers working over two years to design the commissioned fonts which are available exclusively on the site; more will be added periodically to expand the library.

This propensity to innovate is not uncommon in the Indian-type community. Shiva Nallaperumal from Chennai was on the
Forbes 30 Under 30 list this year, for being the youngest Indian at 24 to win the SOTA (Society of Typographic Aficionados) Catalyst Award. A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art in the United States, he recently launched Calcula, his latest experimental typeface, in collaboration with a Dutch type foundry, Typotheque. “It also involved coding (done by a partner) as it self-builds as you type to accommodate the letters on either side. It was just a project to push the boundaries; now the market will have to find uses for it,” he shares.

Go public

Today, interest in Indian types is on the rise, thanks to this emerging community of designers. Public demonstrations also arouse curiosity. “In Delhi, we organize Typerventions, where we meet ordinary people in a public space and do font installations,” says designer Pooja Saxena, who created a Santhali font. These interventions include writing words with pieces of watermelon and stenciling the word “petrichor” on the road in water and watching it evaporate in the Delhi heat. “There are also typography boot camps and workshops in March around World Typography Day,” she says, which are surprisingly well attended.

In Mumbai, typographic design studio Mota Italic, run by Rob Keller and Kimya Gandhi, is hosting Typostammtisch (pronounced too-poe-shtaam-tish) events — there’s one today at 5 p.m. at the Doolally Taproom in Colaba. Groups of at least 30 people meet for each encounter, invariably held in a pub and featuring lively presentations and games using the regional script. “This week we have a Type Tour of India planned,” says Keller.

Latin vs Indian

The regional languages ​​in India were first put together by the British, which resulted in some bastardization of writing. Nallaperumal explains, “South Indian scripts are written with a scribe, so it is a single line with no contrast. Devanagiri is more calligraphic because of the pens they are written with. The person who created the first Tamil fonts did not understand this. He applied calligraphic logic to our languages, which resulted in varying thickness in each character, which in fact does not exist. But it’s too late to go back to the original, because people might not recognize it, the designers believe. “We need to improve on what people are comfortable with right now. Designing an Indian typeface is more difficult than Latin. With English, you’re done with 26 letters; Indian languages ​​are around 800 characters each, most of which are complicated,” says Rajpurohit.

The regional type was also constrained by the cost of the technology involved and limited to the machinery used to develop them. Aurobind Patel, design consultant for major Indian and UK newspapers, says: “Font development is now much more accessible and with smartphones there is a need for fonts that translate the same across devices. Google has pumped huge sums of money into creating fonts, even in dying languages ​​that literally have a handful of readers to ensure that any search that appears on their engine looks authentic. However, the challenge of creating typefaces for uncommon Indian languages ​​is immense. Saxena knows the difficulties all too well, as she worked for two and a half years to design the Santhali font, commissioned by the Center for Internet and Society (they were creating a Wikipedia site in the language). “It took a lot of hands-on research, looking at old print materials, talking to readers and writers, getting their feedback on what it should look like,” she says.

On the Web

Indic’s growth comes, unsurprisingly, at the most opportune time. While a 1997 study by Babel, a joint initiative of the Internet Society and Montreal-based Alis Technologies, showed that in the mid-1990s English made up almost 80% of the Internet, today today, according to internetworldstats.com, only 30% remain. . A paper presented at a social media conference in Barcelona in 2011 found that 49% of all tweets were in languages ​​other than English. And, closer to home, a NASSCOM-Akmai Technologies report released last August indicates that by 2020 there will be around 730 million internet users in India – and of the new users, 75% will access it. from rural India, and a similar number will engage using local languages.

Sarang Kulkarni, founder of EkType, a Mumbai-based foundry that focuses on Indian typefaces, explains, “These numbers are attracting international attention: about 25 countries are developing Indian typefaces, including China.”

Looking back

Earlier this year, the story of designer Robert Green and the beautiful Doves Type he retrieved from the bottom of the Thames made the rounds on social media. In 2016, designer Steve Welsh launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive a font called Euclid – it’s now called Lustig Elements, after its designer. “Many familiar typefaces in use today are retained or revived from earlier eras. Baskerville and Garamond—typefaces from the 18th and 16th centuries, respectively—were revived in the early 20th century. , there are updated derivatives of older types, like the ubiquitous Times New Roman, which is itself a hybrid of the sixteenth-century designs of Robert Granjon and (again) Baskerville,” Green explains, of what we can learn from older types.

While there isn’t much of a typeface revival in India – given that our type history goes back a few centuries, understandably – typography has made its way into pop culture. At EkType, Kulkarni worked with Hanif Kureshi of Kyoorius Designyatra to digitize the hand-painted lettering, preserving the typographic practice of street painters across the country. “As technology advances, 3D fonts can also be used online and in word processing software,” says Kulkarni.

In the classroom

Type design education, including the University of Reading’s Type Design course, is centered on Latin. “We are not taught to design in Indian script. There may be a small workshop, but in formal education we are only taught to design in English,” says MATD graduate Saxena.

Vaibhav Singh, another Reading researcher who has designed fonts for Adobe, agrees. “Young designers need reliable sources of information to inform their practice and these are scarce,” he says. Stating that historical research is patchy at the moment, he believes postgraduate and doctoral dissertations from design schools are beginning to form a basis for future work. “History of printing generally eschews technology, design and production – and this is an area where cross-disciplinary collaboration will add to our knowledge of India’s typographical history,” he says.

To this end, Singh started a publishing house and journal called
Contextual alternative launched next year, to address the lack of academic research.

Pop go type

Brands like Mumbai-based Kulture Shop have made typography cool; they also operate as a collective, with over 40 artists contributing designs to six product lines. Co-founder Kunal Anand says, “Typography and words have a way of cutting through the noise. You can show a picture that can capture a thousand words, but when you say something using typography, the intricacies of one letter can completely change the word. He adds that people can tie their identity to typography, literally wearing it on their sleeve. Kochi-based Teresa George, who runs ViaKerala and the Malayalam Project, says when it comes to Kerala, the script is entangled in culture. “Type can be an extension of who we are. For the younger generation, it’s a way to reconnect with their roots,” she says.

This kind of interest is important because the type we see around us is ubiquitous, says Mahendra Patel, former senior designer at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad.

“The simple life is the hardest life. Within the confines of the older foundries, they created beautiful types. In the digital age, we have a sense of responsibility for these classic and historic fonts, and it’s important to go back and bring them to life. At the same time, many new fonts are released. For me, both are right. There is enough space for renewal and new approaches.

Character Design Basics

Typeface is a collection of fonts: the first is like an album, the second is the songs. For example, Helvetica is a typeface and Helvetica Bold is a typeface.

Fonts are designed based on their use. This includes the spacing between each letter combination, as well as the height and length of ascenders and descenders.

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