The Indian Nokia project started with Devanagari and Tamil. After those writing systems, we made our way towards West Bengal to design Nokia Pure Bengali. The project was a steep learning curve yet rewarding.
The research scope for Indian writing systems is wide, whilst the digital source of references is very restricted. Tackling the Bengali writing system was very challenging for both production and design. Luckily, we had the chance to have Fiona Ross* consulting for us, as well as Jo De Baerdemaeker; without them, the project would not have been what it is now.
Designing a typeface is a team effort. Digital typography creates a link between linguistics, design and technology. This tri-party collaboration becomes even more tangible when it comes to designing a non-Latin script involving complex syntax rules.
The first difficulty we had to face was the glyph list, also called encoding. This list answers the question: “what do we have to draw?”. The encoding covers both linguistic and production needs. The linguistic glyphs are the ones used to write down sounds transcribing the language or any languages (transliteration should not be forgotten especially in the syllabary systems). The production glyphs, and often alternates, are created to help the proper behaviour of the final product, the font. As the designer and engineer develop the project, they understand the technical needs and the tricks to create.
Bengali shares resemblances with Devanagari, but its feel is very different. Even in the case of a neutral sans serif, one should not forget the pulp and essence of the designated writing system. Bengali is a very vibrant and dynamic script; you can notice its liveliness in many out-strokes, for example in Da (see below).
Most of the conjuncts** in Bengali are shaped vertically. This becomes a real issue in digital typography. Designers and engineers are working within a bounding box, and the available space below the Latin baseline is rather small; vertical space tends to be lacking. Therefore, when developing a Bengali typeface, the designer is greatly encouraged to restrict the depth of the characters and conjuncts as much as possible. To add more design complexity, the conjuncts are often visually crowded, so this problem has been addressed using many optical modifications and corrections (see below).
Bengali conjuncts are built upon base glyphs; most of them are visually self-explanatory. However, a handful of them are not and need special care and research in order to make sure of their accuracy, like in KTa (see below).
After many months of development, the design and production eventually came to an end. You can appreciate the result compared to its Latin companion (see below).
* Fiona G. E. Ross is the author of The Printed Bengali Character and its evolution, first published in 1999 by Curzon Press. Reprint by Shishu Sahitya Samsad in 2009.
** A ligature is a glyph representing the combination of a consonant and a vowel. A conjunct is the compound of two consonants together to shape one single glyph (see below).