It started, strangely enough, with a guest lecture. In 2006, Indian Type Foundry (ITF) co-founder Satya Rajpurohit was a third-year student at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. The college had invited noted Holland-based typographer Peter Bilak to speak to its students, and Bilak expressed interest in working with Indian scripts. Rajpurohit, 28, had been dabbling in similar areas, and he emailed Bilak with an offer to help. In 2007, Bilak invited Rajpurohit (who was now interning with Linotype GmbH, an international type foundry, in Frankfurt) to his studio in The Hague. Bilak was impressed with his work, and the two started development on a new typeface called Fedra Hindi, which would act as the Devanagari companion to Bilak’s Fedra English (“A font is one of the technological forms of a typeface,” Rajpurohit says. “Just like an MP3 is a possible form of a piece of music”).
“Designing a Latin (English) typeface is much easier in comparison to Indian typefaces,” Rajpurohit says. “Devanagari itself is so complicated—with more than 800 characters across languages.” Work on Fedra Hindi took two years to finish, and Rajpurohit graduated in the meantime, in early 2009. In September the same year, while discussing how best to release Fedra for the Indian market, Bilak and Rajpurohit decided to start the Indian Type Foundry. “The advantage with a type foundry is that all you need is a couple of computers and a good printer. Most small foundries don’t need a physical office, as all of the work is digital,” Rajpurohit says.
The Indian Type Foundry went live at the end of September 2009, and the first requests for licences started trickling in within the first month. It took, however, about six months before the results began to show. TV channel Star Plus came on board a few months ago, and uses Fedra Hindi as part of its new corporate identity. Nokia Global and Reserve Bank of India also signed up soon after, using the font in various promotional campaigns.
“India is a tough market to work with,” Rajpurohit says. “Clients don’t understand the need for high-quality typefaces.” Most regional language fonts are designed by firms such as Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), which essentially make them as companions to software they’ve coded. “These fonts are made by engineers, not designers,” he says. “As a result, they’re of poor quality and they’re not compliant with most international standards.”
Piracy is another problem. “We’re careful about putting up PDFs of our fonts online,” he says. “Most people, and this includes large broadcasting houses and corporations, have no qualms about using pirated fonts.”
We’re not looking back now!” Rajpurohit laughs when asked about a Plan B. “We knew, going into this, that it would take two-three years before we can expect anything.” India, he says, is a market ripe for “future investment” as “education and design sensibilities” start to trickle into firms and media houses.
We spend a lot of time on our fonts, and we do an incredible amount of research,” Rajpurohit says. His online Flickr feed is filled with handwritten samples and photographs of writing in different languages, part of the fieldwork necessary for designing a new typeface.
The ITF’s new typeface family, Kohinoor, took over a year to perfect. Currently available in Tamil, it will expand the Foundry’s repertoire to 10 Indian languages.