How the world of fonts is making room for Indian languages

May 2nd, 2019 by Peter Bilak likes to think of fonts as the voice of the text. They convey emotions and tone, just like voices—and just like voices, there are some fonts that are inherently better at communicating a message. Bilak knows this universe of fonts, with their adjunct emotions, intimately. In 2009, the Slovakian typeface designer had co-founded Indian Type Foundry, the first company in the country dedicated to designing and distributing fonts. A decade on, the Ahmedabad-based company has many distinctions to its name: it developed the first-of-its-kind modern Devanagari font (Fedra Hindi) and spearheaded efforts to create a humanist typeface that supports all Indian languages (Kohinoor) as well as a sans serif font covering 12 Indian languages (Akhand). Its rise did not happen in a vacuum, though. Over the last decade or so, dozens of type designers and collectives have been concertedly addressing a deep disparity—the dearth of fonts for Indian languages. To them, it’s important that in a nation as varied as India, there should be fonts to reflect the linguistic diversity. “We don’t realise (this) but (on everything from) bank forms to film titles, only English was being used because of the lack of suitable fonts in Indic languages,” said Shiva Nallaperumal, a partner at November, a Mumbai-based graphic design studio. Deep complexities The origin of type design in Indic languages goes back to the history of print in India. Girish Dalvi, co-founder of Ek Type Collective and professor of design at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, says the earliest type foundry was Nirnay Sagar Press. Established in Bombay in the year 1834, the publisher of Sanskrit texts produced “hand lettering in Gujarati and Devanagari.” Innovations like those continued for a century and a half, but the production of modern Indic fonts began in earnest only after the proliferation of computers—and, more specifically, the internet. A turning point came with the introduction of Unicode. A computing industry standard, Unicode attaches a unique number to every written character—no matter what language or platform—making it possible for the first time to create a font in an Indian language that could be used and seen across platforms. Of course, fonts could be, and were, developed before, but they were system-specific: if you sent a text in an earlier Indic font, the receiver could see it only if the receiving system supported that type. Those pre-Unicode fonts are today called Legacy Fonts. “They were very basic and not conducive to design intervention,” said Nallaperumal. “The maatras were a bit off and you had to create 1,000 versions to make Devanagari work. Most software was created with Latin type design in mind and could not support complex Indian languages.” The complexity of writing systems in India still poses a challenge for designers. Every major language has its own structure and aesthetic that rarely translates into another language—a sharp contrast from the Latin script. “The structure of the Latin script is pretty straightforward and linear for the most part, where one letter follows the other, with an occasional diacritical accent mark thrown in,” explained Kalapi Gajjar-Bordawekar, type designer and co-founder of the studio Universal Thirst. “But in the case of most Indic scripts, letter shapes transform based on context.” Read more:

The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font

December 20th, 2015 by The story of Chinese characters begins with, of all things, turtle bellies. The kings of the Shang Dynasty—which ruled from the 16th to the 11th centuries BC—had questions. Questions about what the king should do, like whether to “perform a ritual for Father Ding and offer to him thirty captives from the Qiang nomad tribe as well as five penned sheep,” according to one translation (pdf, p. 5). As with many ancient human-rights abusers, the king turned to his royal soothsayers to decide the lives of these captives. The soothsayers etched these pressing questions directly onto the shoulder blades of oxen and the under-shells of turtles, which are also known as plastrons. They then poked the inscribed animal parts with hot metal rods until cracks formed. The shapes of the cracks served as omens, telling the king whether offering captives was a good idea or a very bad one. Often, the answers were etched directly onto the bones and shells, right next to the prophetic cracks. Read more: Quartz‎

Canada’s New Typeface Unifies the Country’s Many Languages

December 10th, 2015 by IF THE UNITED States were to have a typeface, it might be something like Highway Gothic, the sans-serif, designed by Ted Forbes, that’s plastered across our nation’s road signs. Or maybe Helvetica, the famed font found just about everywhere, including your cereal box’s nutrition label. Some people, the ones less impressed with the government’s competence, might even say Comic Sans. While the United States has yet to determine its typographic identity, its northern neighbor recently chose one. Canada 150, created for the country’s 150th birthday, is a typographic family that unites the Latin characters of English and French with the syllabic characters of the country’s many indigenous dialects. It is the work of Raymond Larabie, a typographer who says he sought to create a font that might help bring together Canada’s disparate cultures. “I just thought, well it’s a birthday present for Canada, it kind of has to be inclusive,” he says. Read more: Wired‎

New font lets anyone learn Japanese

October 27th, 2015 by A U.K. company named Johnson Banks has come with an ingenious way to include English pronunciation in Japanese katakana characters. The company has dubbed this new font cleverly as "Phonetikana," where each katakana character featured a few English letters to help English speakers say the word properly. The company started incorporating the new font in simple words like "banana" and "tomato" but also showed what longer phrases such as the "sound of something spinning" would look like. The first simple example that company showed is the katakana characters for Uniqlo versus the new Phonetikana. Read more: Dramafever