To spell things out in our Reborn in India issue, we commissioned a special headline typeface from a duo of graphic designers. Geetika Alok, who divides her time between India and the UK, first caught our eye with her final project at the Royal College of Art. Drawing inspiration from the Indian decorative arts, 'Englishes' was a typographic work, exploring the status of English as a language in India. This secured her a place in our 2011 Graduate Directory, making her fresh in our minds as a contender for the India typeface. And because two heads are often better than one, she worked with her former RCA tutor, graphic designer and all-round typeface king, Henrik Kubel, who co-founded London studio A2/SW/HK and the recently launched type foundry A2-Type.
Here, we take a look at early sketches of the India typeface, and some of the designers' individual projects. Plus we hear about how the typeface came to life, what's next for the duo, and what makes them tick.
What inspired the typeface you created for Wallpaper*?
Henrik Kubel: The basic structure of our India typeface is the dot grid used in traditional Indian floor drawings and pattern art known as Kolam.
Talk us through the process of designing it.
HK: We started researching Indian culture, especially patterns and ornaments. Overwhelmed by the beauty and originality of what we discovered, as we filtered through it all, we formed our idiom (partly briefed by Wallpaper*), namely to create a contemporary typeface referencing the rich visual culture of India. Approximately eight different directions were produced and discussed in the initial stages before we presented a selection of options to the commissioning team at Wallpaper*. In the end it was decided to go with the 'ribbon style option'. The individual letters are created on a 11 x 16 dot grid with all letters being drawn by hand before scanned, and traced in Illustrator, which enabled us to do quick trial settings before drawing every glyph from scratch again. In FontLab, we decided to make two versions: an outline and a solid typeface. Both designs can be used as separate fonts or in conjunction (as layers) to create a filled third design.
Summarise in three words your design ethos?
HK: Simplicity. Legibility. Originality.
Geetika Alok: Inquisitive. Inventive. Individual.
Which single thing, image or person has had the biggest impact on your work and why?
HK: My mother. She encouraged me to draw letters and paint from an early age.
GA: My father. An artist, he used to make me paint sitting next to him while he worked.
Where do you feel most inspired?
HK: When I travel and in my parents' garden.
GA: On streets and auto rickshaws.
Geetika, what are the main differences between working in India and the UK and how has moving between the two influenced you as a graphic designer?
GA: Design is playing a significant role in India to help companies define a global voice and connect with the rest of the world in the present economic transition. On the other hand, I have experienced a great degree of freedom working in the UK. The diversity and a constant state of flux in the design field lets people connect with like-minded peers, building a strong sense of authorship for an individual. Moving to the UK has made me expand my design vocabulary. I enjoy creating work that feels Indian to my Indian friend and also works equally well for something completely different, without an Indian context. There is a sense of place and placelessness, as well a sense of power to be able to speak to the two worlds!
What are you currently working on?
HK: A suite of 15th century typefaces with contemporary proportions for text matter.
GA: A poster for a talk by Marina Willer at the Typographic Circle.