Tag Archives: Indian scripts

Gujarati Workshop

We arrived bright and early on Saturday morning for our first internal workshop, an introduction to Gujarati, taught by Kalapi, one of Dalton Maag’s font engineers. We were, in fact, the test subjects for the workshop he will be teaching at TypeCon this year (in Portland this August) and ATypI in Amsterdam.

Kalapi is a native speaker of Gujarati and researched and designed a typeface in that script during his master’s degree at the University of Reading. He agreed to share his knowledge with whoever in the company was interested in learning a bit about the script (and there were quite a few of us there, including designers, engineers and even the big boss, Bruno). Aside from Kalapi, none of us had any previous knowledge of the Gujarati script (although a few of the designers present had previous experience designing related Indic scripts).


The team get down to work on the day

It turned out that no previous experience was necessary. The structure of the workshop allowed us to gain some familiarity with Gujarati letterforms, first by writing down glyphs, then watching a slideshow of wonderfully varied examples of Gujarati lettering, and by the end of the day we were all designing our own glyphs in different display styles.

In the morning we were introduced to Gujarati consonants and vowels. Using different type specimens as a reference, we started writing individual letters at first, and then our own names – some people ventured further and even started writing other words in Gujarati or English. We used slanted markers which, when held at the correct angle, allowed us to see and understand the distribution of weight in Gujarati text (it’s similar to many other Indic scripts, but the opposite of the Latin script). We were then assigned 3 glyphs that we would develop further in the afternoon.


Practising with slanted markers


Using type specimens to learn the principles of Gujarati letterforms

After lunch, Kalapi showed us a fantastic collection of pictures with an incredible amount of variation and styles for the Gujarati script. By then, we could recognise several of the glyphs in the pictures, and Kalapi helped us recognise different letters whenever they strayed too far from the more calligraphic and typographic models we had looked at in the morning. The slideshow was beautiful, fun and really inspiring. We learned that the Gujarati script is incredibly flexible and can be pushed quite far in terms of stylistic variation.

Finally, we went to our computers and started drawing our assigned glyphs. By the end of the day, when we looked at what everybody had done laid out in front of us, there was a wide array of different display styles on the table.


Taking the glyphs onto the computer


Rough sketches, playing with the Gujarati glyphs

All in all, it was a really fun and informative introduction to this beautiful script. It didn’t seem too difficult or daunting, and we left really inspired to learn and design more.

Luisa Baeta

Creating Nokia Pure Bengali

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).


Amélie Bonet

* 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).