October 17, 2019
For Shiva Nallaperumal, a type designer and co-founder of November, a graphic design studio in Mumbai, the first step toward designing an Indic font is deciding its definition in the modern age. “The biggest problem in India is the interplay between tradition and modernity. But unfortunately tradition is always linked to religion,” said Nallaperumal, who early in his career worked at Indian Type Foundry (ITF).
Nallaperumal was originally drawn to typography because of the evocative title designs in the Rajnikanth films he grew up watching, and the hand-lettered type that can be found all over India, on trucks, storefronts, and as magazine mastheads.
Yet, Nallaperumal noticed this diversity in type was not being translated to the digital age. “When the computer came in, it was a boon for everybody but Indians because our languages could not be typeset in it and you had to stick to one font that kind of works,” he said. “Graphic design in Indian languages was really affected by that.”
Nallaperumal, like many other font designers in India, got his start at ITF, arguably the oldest and largest repository of Indian digital fonts, co-founded by Satya Rajpurohit, a graphic designer from the National Institute of Design, India, and Peter Bil’ak, a Slovakian designer. The duo started the foundry in Ahmedabad in 2009, where Rajpurohit had studied. Though Rajpurohit observed that there was little realm for design as a profession in India, he had previously worked as an intern at font company Linotype in London and Stuttgart. This helped cultivate Rajpurohit’s passion for type. He was convinced that India was ready to have its moment. He wanted to give India a font that was Unicode-compliant — an encoding platform that incorporates all the writing systems of the world.