Hitesh Malaviya on the challenges of designing type for an Indian audience
- Jyni Ong
- 11 December 2018
“I think India is the most diverse country in the world”, says freelance type designer Hitesh Malaviya. “We have 29 states and almost every state has a different language and culture. People in India currently speak about 780 languages, written in 11 different scripts.” Compared to type designers dealing with latin glyphs, designers like Rocky — as Hitesh is known to his friends — who design fonts for an Indian audience face the challenge of perfecting around 750 to 800 glyphs in each font and weight.
In comparison to latin glyphs, Devanagari (also known as Nagri) is written from left to right and widely used in India and Nepal. It is part of a segmental writing system known as an abugida, or alphasyllabary where consonant-vowel sequences are written as a unit. In Devanagari, each unit is based on a consonant letter and the vowel notation comes second, whereas in the English language, vowels and consonants possess an equal status when written and there is no audial hierarchy.
The language has distinctly “symmetrical rounded shapes within squared outlines and is recognisable by a horizontal line called ‘Top line’ or ‘Shirorekha’ that runs along the top of all the letters.” The words are formed by this interconnecting line that connects the complex individual letters. With an alphabet of 47 primary characters, (14 of which are vowels and 33 consonants), designing typefaces in Devanagari is no walk in the park. Along with the 750 to 800 glyphs, Devanagari also has a lot of diacritics (extra accents) which are only applied in a specific context. This means the written language “needs solid programming to make the letterforms work as a functional typeface."
Due to the extensive amount of detail that goes into the construction of Devanagari, the language requires a high quality unicode software to digitally encode the type as a digital font. A unicode font refers to fonts for the computer that uses code points to map certain glyphs to a specific characters, similar to pressing a key on a keyboard to denote a letter. Unicode Devanagari typefaces were non-existent until a few years ago, but since the development of new technological advancements, Devanagari has exploded onto the digital scene in India in a multitude of different typefaces that express a variety of tones depending on the context.
Rocky pursued a passioned career as a type designer after five years as an art director at Wieden+Kennedy, Delhi. As a designer at Indian Type Foundry, he worked on both retail and custom fonts for Latin script and six different dialects of the Indian language as well as Thai script. While working at Indian Type Foundry, Rocky designed Brahmos Devanagari, “a futuristic display family by traditional calligraphy.” The designer says, “Despite looking like a constructed typeface, its characters appear to have been written with a broad-edged pen. Curves are eschewed in favour of straight lines, usually right angles, and diagonals are still present.”
Alternatively, Quantum Devanagari is another example of Rocky’s typefaces designed at Indian Type Foundry. The ultra-wide, five-weight family has a matching latin comparison with a similarly extended display face, with “forms that are impossible to ignore.” Its wide letterforms have “long, arching curves which keep text set in Quantum Devanagari from looking too technical.” Rocky adds “Marks above and below the base characters are simplified and several consonants feature open counters.” And as with most other Devanagari typefaces designed by Rocky, the typeface includes 750 glyphs which “supports all necessary Devanagari conjuncts and ligatures.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.