Charting New Horizons for Indic Typefaces — Typography Day 2018

Design Log 22 Feb

In conversation with Santosh Kshirsagar, co-founder of Aksharaya, about the upcoming edition of Typography Day and how the conference is reshaping the discourse about typography in India.  

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An installation at TypoDay 2013 IDC, IIT, Guwahati

Scripts and letterforms are precursors of civilization. They’re scientifically constructed forms that were created much before the idea of design came into existence. In India, there has been a reawakening of the collective design consciousness centered around typography. We have only begun to recognize the impact of the humble type, and the immense power it holds on our daily lives.

Native, Indic typefaces are being re-imagined and brought back to life by contemporary trailblazers of type design. Helming this turn of the tide is Typography Day (TypoDay), India’s biggest and most relevant conference on typography. Now in its eleventh edition, TypoDay features workshops and talks that discuss the challenges faced by designers and educators today.

Co-founder of Aksharaya, Professor Santosh Kshirsagar tells us how TypoDay 2018 is scaling new heights, and highlights the nuances of typography that stands at the intersection of the aesthetics of visual arts and the functionality of design.

Ever since its inception, how has TypoDay grown over the years? Has its vision transformed over time too?

Way back in 2008, Professors R K Joshi, Ravi Poovaiah and G V Sreekumar realized a need for a conference to enlighten people about the scripts, calligraphy and typography of India and of other countries and cultures. TypoDay was born out of this thought, to not only start a discourse about typography but also to discuss the issues that surround it. The legendary R K Joshi was an illustrious type designer and calligrapher, and he dedicated his life’s work to re-imagine and design a score of Indian typefaces. Unfortunately, he passed away in Los Angeles in 2008 before TypoDay was realized, so in a way the first edition was inspired by his life and work.

When the conference began, its vision was to investigate the scope of typography and type design in India. But over the years, the vision itself has evolved and now focuses on providing exposure to the young talent in the country, to better understand the science and the methodology that drives typeface and font design. It is now a cross-cultural exchange, where we learn from the leading academicians and professionals from other countries and cultures, inculcating those lessons into our own practice.

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An installation at TypoDay 2015 IDC, IIT, Mumbai

Could you tell us a little more about the theme for this year – Beauty, Form and Function in Typography?

The relationship of form and function was first explored by Bauhaus, where it was underscored that the two are intrinsically related and are interdependent. Beauty is intangible and subjective, as opposed to form and function.

TypoDay 2018 will explore how beauty, form and function relate to each other in typography. There is beauty in every function, independent of its form. Likewise, every form is beautiful, independent of the function it caters to. The beauty of a typeface in itself could be viewed as a function, because it grabs your attention and makes you notice and appreciate it.

What sets TypoDay 2018 apart from its previous editions?

The enormous amount of response we have received from a diverse range of countries, especially for the logo and poster design competition - based on the annual theme - that we open to the global student community. We have received around 900 poster submissions from 55 countries from Lebanon and Armenia, to Russia and Sri Lanka, among others. Of these, we have selected 40 posters which will be on display at the venue that promises to be a fantastic visual treat.

Another interesting feature about this year’s TypoDay is that a group of professional designers as well as students will translate the logo in different Indian languages and typefaces. The realization of this project will also be shared at the conference in an interesting format, but that’s a secret under wraps to be revealed only to the attendees.

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Winning entries from TypoDay Poster Competition. [Clockwise from top] Contemplate-II by Hamidreza SohrabiUSA; Untitled by Alireza Nosrati, Iran; Hunshao by Timofei DekaloRussia; Only Half The Story by John Hemminger, USA

Are there any interventions planned to encourage people outside the design community to attend TypoDay?

Every year, we invite a diverse lineup of speakers from different industries to be a part of the conference, and this in turn encourages people who don’t essentially come from a background of design to join us. Over the years, we have had clinical psychologists and neurologists come on board and discuss the impact of typography on medicinal science. Professors of literature have shared their thoughts on how letterforms inform linguistics. Such talks pull a throng of students and professionals from science and literature backgrounds to inquire about the often-understated influence of typography on our lives. As we keep growing, a core aspect of our vision entails making TypoDay an inclusive experience for people outside the design community.

TypoDay city hops around India every year; the last edition was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. How do the cultural influences from every city inform the conference, talks and workshops?

A study of typography is never just that – it becomes an inquiry into our history and the interlinked web of cultural influences that have shaped our language and letters. With every new city or country that TypoDay travels to, we learn about intricate details of local languages – their birth, growth and how they’ve attained their contemporary form.

Certain cultural nuances definitely seep into the conference through the talks and the research papers that are presented. For example, in Sri Lanka, we learnt a lot about the structure, complexity and innate beauty of the Sinhala script. We also realized how the construct of the Sinhala letterforms had stark similarities with many South Indian scripts.

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Exhibition of winning entries from the international poster competition at TypoDay 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The last decade has been a very exciting time for the growing typography community in India. Are we breaking new ground with Indic typefaces?

Since the advent of digital type design, there has been a young burgeoning typography community making waves in India. There is immense potential, which shows in the way we are pushing the boundaries with Indic typefaces every day. Platforms like Aksharaya and EkType are sensitizing the younger crop of designers about the importance of native languages and scripts.

Meitei Mayek, the script used by the locals of Manipur was rendered dead by the end of the 18th Century. Type Designer Neelakash Kshetrimayum, an alumnus of NID, redesigned the script, bringing it back to life three centuries later. Type design projects like these have tremendous impact on indigenous communities. The power of scripts and typefaces is astounding, as is the scope of typography in India.

TypoDay 2018 will be held from 1st to 3rd of March, at Sir J J Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai.