There are a few big software companies whose core business is to design software for Indian languages, but in order to support their software they create fonts, too. Not having enough knowledge on the subject, they end up hiring people who have no clue about type design. As a result, they create fonts that are lacking in both standards and quality. Their intentions are good of course, and to a certain extent they solve a purpose, too, but the poorly designed fonts they ship with their software packages ruin the whole idea of good typography.
It's not like these companies can’t afford to hire good designers, or don't have enough good clients to buy their fonts. It's just ignorance: who cares, after all? With the lack of a proper design education, most people can't differentiate between a well-designed font and a poorly-designed font. The local newspaper industries, publishing houses and broadcasting media are their victims, since they are completely dependent on the locally available software.
Another concern is font piracy. Most of these poorly-made fonts are available on the internet and people can download them for free. These fonts have therefore spread like viruses all over India and people use them indiscriminately.
DW: Fedra Hindi is a Devanagari companion to Fedra Sans. Most of us know that multiple scripts and languages exist in India. Can you explain the meaning of Devanagari within this range of scripts?
SR: Devanagari script is a Brahmi-derived writing system originally used to write Sanskrit. It is now used in India and Nepal to write many languages including Hindi, the official language of the Indian government. But it is not the only script we use here in India: in all, there are 9 major scripts being used, and they’re all equally important. But since Hindi is our national language and is widely spoken and understood, Peter and I decided to create a Devanagari companion first. In the future, our plan is for Fedra to eventually support multiple Indian scripts.
DW: Did you have a certain strategy when you started to design the font?
SR: Just like any other design project, we first analyzed the problem and then looked for a possible solution. For Fedra Hindi it was somewhat different, since we had Latin glyphs already designed and we had to design the corresponding Devanagari glyphs to match the Latin ones. Each Fedra Hindi glyph was beautifully designed, and we never forced the Hindi letters to look exactly like Fedra Latin. But personally, if I’d had a choice, I would have done it the other way round — in other words, I would have designed the Indic first, and then added the Latin to it. That way we could make sure that whatever Indic glyphs we designed were free of restrictions and independent of any predefined style.
At the moment, we’re working on a very big typeface family, not just in terms of the number of styles but also the number of scripts it's going to support. This new typeface family will be available in 9 Indic variations, along with the Latin versions. Here, the challenge was to come up with a Latin base model that could compliment all 9 scripts. Because we use so much Latin in our daily lives, it is important to have complimentary Latin glyphs with each typeface we design. So in this case, we designed the Indic glyphs first and then added matching Latin characters to them. We will publish a detailed story about this exciting project on our website very soon.
Kohinoor Tamil Light
DW: You had to translate Latin letters into Devanagari shapes. What was tricky about that? Can you give some examples?
SR: Well, the question in my mind when I first thought about this project was how can two scripts — with completely different design histories and visual appearances — actually look alike when set next to each other? Because that’s the whole idea of a companion typeface. The second challenge was to select a body height for the Devanagari characters in relation with Latin characters. Since there is no such thing as lowercase and uppercase characters in Indics, we had to come up with a unique height for Devanagari that would work well with both uppercase and lowercase text settings. The third challenge was to match the color of the Devanagari and Latin text when set next to each other. Since Devanagari is very dense in nature, we had to make the letters slightly lighter than their Latin counterparts in order to match their grey values when set in longer bilingual text settings. The fourth and most difficult challenge was to deal with technical issues. Fedra Hindi is an extremely advanced OpenType font family that can render Devanagari as it should be in a traditional sense, but unfortunately, until now there has not been a single design software (except possibly Adobe CS4 ) that supports all the features that Fedra Hindi has to offer.
DW: Fedra Hindi is now part of the Indian Type Foundry founded by you and Peter. Tell us a little about the intentions and plans for this new initiative.
SR: Our intention in starting the ITF was to make people aware of typography and to provide well-designed fonts for the Indian market. It is also important for us to educate people — both our clients and design students — about typography, fonts and font licensing. In order to do this, we’re planning on giving lectures, holding workshops and publishing related articles on the web, in books and in magazines. Eventually, we want people to understand and appreciate the effort that goes into designing typefaces, so that they can start buying them legally and using them properly.
DW: What fonts do you accept for the ITF? Do you only accept fonts for Indian scripts?
SR: While our main focus is on Indian scripts, we are open to submissions for other scripts too, especially Arabic and Latin. We’re always on the lookout for potential projects, and if a project meets our standards, we’re willing to work with designers from India or abroad. ITF is inclusive — meaning anyone can submit a font — but we maintain a high standard and therefore only except submissions that uphold our principles and share a certain sensibility, a certain quality with the work we want to do.
DW: India is known for its diversity in scripts and languages. How does the ITF deal with this demanding situation?
SR: It is indeed difficult to cope with so many scripts at the same time, and when it comes to designing a typeface family for a huge country like India, it makes no sense to make it available in only one or two scripts: after all, all the scripts are equally important. An ideal typeface family must therefore support all the Indian scripts. This is the reason we have decided to expand our in-house font families to support all the major Indian scripts, plus Latin. Right now it's more important for us to make some good, basic typeface families that support all the Indian scripts rather than just flooding our library with cool, funky fonts. But we will be surely be publishing independent font families from time to time. These releases will mainly be ones we've received from other designers as independent submissions. And just like other type foundries, we're eager to design custom Indic fonts for potential clients.