October 19, 2014

TypoDay 2014

Vijay and I attended the Typography Day 2014 (28 Feb-2 March 2014) at Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune. Our daughter Ragini was in the core team and had been working on this prestigious international event for the last several months and so, we were tempted to register and be part of it. We were also curious to see what discussions on 'Typography and culture' - the topic of this Typoday - could be all about.

The place was colourful, artistically decked up and abuzz with activity. The sheer energy of the place was invigorating for this team from BluePencil, normally used to a quiet and sedentary work style.

While the list of topics and papers presented can be found here, some that I enjoyed listening to and made notes of are briefly detailed below:

Matilda: A typeface for children with low vision (Bessemans Ann, Belgium)
Besseman researched on the font preferences of children with low vision vs children with normal vision, and based on the findings of this research, she developed a font called "Matilda" to provide support for visually impaired children in the first stages of the reading process. Even though the presentation itself was a bit too academic, I found this study interesting and meaningful.

Sensory experiences in Typography (Meaghan Anne Dee and Cassie Hester, USA) 
While the presentation of this paper was somewhat monotonous, the paper itself is very interesting and suggests that to be effective, designers should think of incorporating as many of the five senses into their designs as possible. For example, while one sees type all the time, musical score is the most literal visualization of sound. Similarly, designers can incorporate smell (scratch and sniff technology), taste (watermelon to represent summer) and touch (caramel letterforms make you feel the stickiness) to their designs. I liked this quote by Paula Scher: “Words have meaning. Type has spirit. The combination is spectacular.” The presenters also mentioned a very interesting TED talk: Design for all five senses by Jinsop Lee. I did watch it after getting back...it made me view design with a different perspective.

Hawking gawking in Singapore (Kok Cheow Yeoh). 
This paper investigates how the three nationally recognized languages of Singapore - Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are used on hawker center signage. Hawker centers are unique attractions both for locals and for tourists. Yeoh feels that designers should find a place to speak from within culture and not position themselves outside and above it. He seeks to find answers to how visual treatments of multilingual fonts could be enhanced. He concludes saying that while the taste of the food is very important, signage should not merely be decorative, but should influence the effectiveness of the message. Yeoh has an interesting website. Check it out.


A break from the papers to talk about the poster display that was part of the event. The posters were designed for a competition by students from various countries and from different design colleges in India. I particularly liked posters by students from Turkey and Iran, and by Shrishti School of Design, Bangalore.

Across Opposites - 'Life and Death' by, Özgür Alican, Turkey

More posters can be seen here.

From within it, from outside it, and from above it (Deshna Mehta, India)
Deshna drew our attention when she said, "In a country with many needs, why should designers create a need and then try to meet that need?" Referring to a book called "Thinking design" by S. Balaram, she said designers should not have a one-way take-take relationship with society; it should be a two-way give-take relationship. I also liked this: "Don't make something unless it is both necessary and useful. And if it is necessary and useful, don't hesitate to make it beautiful".

The focus of her paper was primarily on the process of creating display type and the documentation of it, with the Indian masses as the intended audience. Deshna runs an organization called Anugraha where they design, write and publish, do art research, curation and photography. (Check out Anugraha on FB and Deshna Mehta on Tumblr).

Gunjala Gondi script: A new tracing (S. Sridhara Murthy and Prof. Jayadhir Tirumala Rao)
This was another meaningful work which made me feel that considering the number of tribes and languages under threat of extinction in India, a lot of work was needed to be done in this field. This paper explores details of a particular kind of Gondi Script of a hundred years antiquity, and still alive in the village Gunjala in Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana State). Old manuscripts in Gunjala script were still intact. Based on this, a font has been designed and the first text book designed and the book "Undi Vachakam" released in January 2014.

While there were several papers that were interesting, the two that, in my opinion, perfectly fitted two sides of  the spectrum that defines 'culture' were Jalpa Shah's paper on a Gujarati font she designed and Sujith Eguravatta's paper on developing a font that had common features of Sinhala and Tamil fonts.

'Babuchak' - Gujarati display font (Jalpa Shah, Mumbai))

Jalpa Shah's paper talked about how she developed a font to represent Gujarati culture. It had to be bold, emotive and eye catching, encompassing the look of a display font "that should bring out the emotions of every Gujarati".These illustrations demonstrate the idea behind this font. 

Inspiration from Krishna (above) and from the colourful Garba costumes (below)

Jalpa started by saying, without batting an eyelid, that the Babuchak, the display font she developed, incorporating various aspects of Gujarati culture was essentially rounded like the "obese bottom of a typical Gujarati woman"! With every alphabet having a distinct personality, the font takes inspiration from one of the liveliest and vibrant cultures of India. The designs have been taken from religion, festivals, weddings, paintings, architecture, embroidery, and "most importantly, cuisine"! Jalpa's paper drew many laughs and lightened the ambience of the conference hall. Her presentation was simple, but the work she did on developing this font was painstaking and artistic. I do look forward to travelling to Gujarat and see this type being used. Do read this interesting paper and see the stunning fonts and their suggested everyday use here 

The other letter: A hybrid of Sinhala and Tamil scripts for Sri Lanka (Pathum Egodawatta, Sri Lanka)

This was truly the one paper that affected us deeply. This paper documents and discusses the development process of a new hybrid script based on Sinhala and Tamil scripts. Language has been identified as the main reason for the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and the post-war reconciliation process has created new issues related to language.

Egodawatta attempted to make a font that both Sinhalas and Tamils could accept without resentment. This young 26-year-old's passion for his country and his cause was apparent in his talk. With great feeling he told us about how people used to be stopped on the border and killed because their accents gave them away. He really hoped to contribute, even if in a small way, to solving this language barrier if his font could be adopted for public signage in the country, especially in the war-torn regions where the sense of otherness was very obvious.

Egodawatta's spontaneous and passionate presentation moved me to tears (passion for one's country always activates my lacrimal glands!). Others in the hall were also obviously impressed -- Pathum Egodawatta was the only speaker who got a standing ovation, and without a doubt, he deserved every bit of sound produced in the hall that day. We went and shook his hand and congratulated him, and he looked at us with a "what did I do?" look!

Check out his paper here and other work here.

Before I end, I have to mention that, at the beginning of the conference, we had the privilege of attending the R K Joshi memorial lecture by Ganesh N Devy, renowned literary critic and activist. He was awarded the Padmashri for his work with education of nomadic tribes and for his work on dying languages. "Designers have a responsibility towards preserving tribal scripts in order to empower them", was one of the many things he said that day.

The other eminent person we heard was Prof James Craig  - graphic designer and educator from USA, who wrote the famous series of books, "Designing with type". He is a big name in the world of typography
(www. designingwithtype.com), and we were honoured to be able to attend his lecture.

Typoday 2014 ended with an inspiring and biographical talk by Aurobindo Patel, who worked with India Today and The Economist, and designed 'Ecotype', the font used by 'The Economist'. He strayed into design and typography from Harvard Business School, and spent a lifetime in this profession.

An unexpected meeting with D Uday Kumar, the person who designed the rupee symbol was a pleasant surprise. I jokingly asked him how his life changed after he designed the symbol. He smiled and said it had not changed!

A word about the superb organization of the Typoday 2014. Kudos to the entire team at Symbiosis Institute of Design; they did full justice to a large international event such as this. Great job!...and  I don't say this because Ragini was part of it!

Note: This writeup is not intended for a scholarly audience. It is an informal report of an event in the field of typography that two editors who use type enjoyed attending.  

October 13, 2014

Lens and Sensibility turns 8

Happy birthday, blog! You are probably feeling neglected for I don't visit as often as I used to, and don't write as often. Several reasons, one of them being too much noise...in the head, and outside.

Also, blogs are perhaps passe (accent on e), but I still find it a great space to pour out thoughts, without getting the Facebook kind of reactions...some likes, some comments, mostly superficial. Yet I continue to be part of Facebook mainly because I learn from it. People post useful, interesting links, and I get to do quite a lot of reading, and watch interesting videos and films. However, I do wish people (maybe even me!) would ask themselves one question before clicking on the 'Post' button..."Is this post boastful?" If the answer is "no", they should post it. Otherwise, not. But then, FB mainly thrives on narcissism, and all of us are willful victims!

Yes, the other thing is that there is so much writing happening everywhere that I sometimes wonder why I should add to it. And there is so much good writing happening that I feel I have nothing to contribute mainly because I am somewhat lazy and don't try too hard to write well because 'other people are writing anyway'! BAD attitude!!

The posts I DIDN"T write: 

In February-March, we attended the Typography Day 2014 at Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune. We were curious to see what discussions on 'Typography and culture' -- the topic of this Typoday -- could be all about. We heard interesting talks ranging from why an Indian designer who studied in London suddenly decided to come back and work only for non-profit organizations to how a designer in Sri Lanka is working to bring about  peace in the country by developing a font common to both Sinhala and Tamil. I hope to write about this some time because it needs to be out there.

Last year, Kobita and I took sailing lessons and discovered a whole new world. I do need to write about this, as also about my timid entry into a swimming pool after the Omega we were sailing on capsized a couple of times (nothing to be alarmed about; it is the rite of passage in the world of sailing!).

End September, we took a much-needed break and drove to Sula Vineyards near Nashik, a 6-hour journey from Pune. The wine-making process is very interesting, and I hope to write this story too.

I wanted to write about the spectacular Bathukamma pandaga celebrations by our enthusiastic new government on Tank Bund early this month, but posted the photos on Big Bad Facebook instead! Here's the link to the photos.

The other thing that turned our world somewhat topsy turvy over the last year has been that my mother-in-law began to need more and more care and attention, mainly because of her dementia. Physical illness is one thing, but dementia is quite another thing. I do want to write about our experience some point.

Writing about death is very difficult. We lost our Aditya (cousin, friend, comrade) in an accident in June, and the whole event is painful, unbelievable, and wholly unfair and unnecessary. Perhaps we will never be able to completely comprehend that our fun-loving Aditya whose smile always ignited many more smiles, is no longer with us. It just seems like he is travelling or in office. Aditya was too young to know how to die, dammit. But he went. He went 50 years too early, just like that.

I read this somewhere: "Often I feel angry with death and the Gods. They take away the best in a way that leaves me inconsolable. I feel helpless not just because of the pain of missing them but because my world shrinks, my map of friendship collapses into empty outlines..."

With permission of his family, I post this delightful photo of Aditya. Miss you, friend.