How did you get started in typography and design? By a fluke, actually. I saw a documentary on advertising in my final year at high school, and I had heard the phrase “that person is an art director.” I knew I wanted to go to design school and become an “art director” too, not because I knew exactly what that entailed but because it sounded cool, and I liked what I saw the art director in the documentary do all day. One can’t say there were few design schools at the time, but I just wanted to go to one of two on my list. I made lots of posters for events and took art classes during school holidays—so I was prepared to apply.
Over the course of my undergrad degree at the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru, I realized that typography was my medium of expression across most of my assignments. By then, I was downloading free fonts, turning them into outlines and editing the details as I wanted. That’s when I knew I had the type design germ.
How did you begin working at type foundry Universal Thirst? I was in New York for the summer Type@Cooper Condensed program at The Cooper Union when I met Kalapi Gajjar, cofounder of Universal Thirst, during the typography conference Typographics in 2016. Towards the end of that summer, I got an email from Universal Thirst asking if I was available to work on a project basis. The foundry’s project was similar to something I had worked on previously, so I suppose the team thought I would be a good fit. I worked with Universal Thirst for about a year before pursuing my master’s in type media at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, in the Netherlands. At that point, the team was remote and very small. After my master’s degree, the foundry offered me a job again, and I took it!
Currently, I work as a type designer on North Indian scripts—Devanagari, Gurmukhi, Bengali and Latin. I split my time between retail and custom projects and sometimes research. As remote coworkers, we stay in touch with each other throughout the day: catching up on projects, proofing each other’s work, or sharing type specimens and ephemera. True to our nature, we even did our official team portraits remotely!
Tell us about Biblio, the font you’ve published through Future Fonts. What inspired you to create it? The font actually became Biblio later; it came from my helping the librarians at The Royal Academy of Art by designing signage. When we spoke about what they needed, I felt the type should be inspired by the library and stand on its own. As this project had no restrictions—except for the budget—I had to make up my own brief to narrow down on an idea. My research included looking into different materials like wood, metal and acrylic, understanding their properties, sizing, legibility of letters, and—most importantly—the smartest way to create a font for an indoor signage system. I wasn’t employed full time then; hence, this was a good way to get back into designing fun letters again.
I stuck to simple shapes: no serifs, with geometric counters for ease of producing the signs. As it went on, I needed to have uppercase for the larger sections and categories, lowercase for the subsections that went in between the bookcases because capitals seemed very loud in that environment, and proportional and old-style numerals to go with each case. This whole process put a decent character set together and led to nice-looking letters, and I hoped that the librarians might even use it as a complete font at some point. I approached Travis Kochel and his team at Future Fonts, and they immediately agreed to onboard it. That’s when it became Biblio.
Tell us about Qutub News, the ongoing font family you began during your master’s. How did you develop a font family that comprises Arabic, Devanagari and Latin scripts? Being from India—and you can take any region of India as an example—languages and scripts intersect our lives in multiple ways. They make up the landscape of Indian cities, whether at newsstands, the local tea seller, street signage, on the radio—all over—and this inspired Qutub.
The project attempts to develop a better solution for mismatched Latin and Devanagari fonts being used across our editorials—and just poorly designed news typography. Pick up the Guardian one too many times, and you’ll realize Indian dailies have a very long way to go in terms of their design and typography. So, mopping up the clutter inspired me too.
I placed the project in a publishing house based in Delhi and printing news in the three scripts among the most read across India—Arabic Urdu, Devanagari and Latin. Each is very different in structure and systems, which excited me most about the project: finding similar ground in diversity. Process-wise, designing each script was quite similar—a lot of sketching and proofing with the added research and deliverables of a thesis project. Although Arabic was the most unfamiliar, I had been taking lessons during my master’s in type media, and I had constant feedback from other Arabic designers who are native Persian-language readers (which uses a style similar to Urdu nasta‘līq script.)
Beyond scripts, Qutub grew to have multiple weights and styles for different editorial needs and applications, and it still has a lot of work left to get anywhere near completion. But the whole thing has been a huge learning process for me—and continues to be.
You mention that you primarily design with Devanagari, Gurmukhi and Latin scripts. What unique challenges and opportunities have you found in designing typography for these languages? The main challenge while working on multiscript projects is maintaining the integrity of each script. Devanagari and Gurmukhi belong to the North Indic scripts family and are structurally quite similar. They need to look like a part of the family with matching features, but it’s important to know when the design starts interfering with the script’s core.
Type’s foremost purpose is to do with legibility and communication. If it can’t relay the message, it’s no good.
In my opinion, the best way to know a script closely is by writing it. Nothing compares to the kind of comfort a trained hand has with letterforms. I always go back to pen and paper if I get stuck on a design detail.
What is the type design scene in India like? Bustling with excitement right now! It’s relatively easy to chalk out a new idea, and software like Glyphs make encoding for Indic scripts quite effortless. There have also been many more online meet-ups and virtual conferences within the last two years, so there’s a great influx of experimentation, interest and exchange.
Besides working on typography and lettering, you also create stone carvings. How did you become interested in this medium? I began learning stone carving at the Royal Academy of Art. My teacher is Françoise Berserik, a Dutch typographer and stone carver, as well as one of the most wonderful people I’ve come to know. Learning this was part of my curriculum and worked out quite nicely. We’d get frustrated with designing type all day, and then we’d go outside and hammer our frustration into some rocks. The result would be stress relief, nice letters that one could actually touch and, unfortunately, backache.
After receiving my master’s, I had not actually planned on continuing stone carving, but it became a therapeutic way to deal with stress—more so in a pandemic! Towards the end of last year, I began to feel very burned out. I wanted to do anything but design type. A few days in, my brother was getting the floors redone at his office, and he got me this perfect cube of white marble that was left over from the job. And inspiration finally struck me.
Cube Series is a new favorite project at the moment; it was really fun and challenging to carve—so much so that I might turn this into a series. Personal projects have a big role in reviving me from creative blocks.
You also mentioned that you teach! What design subjects do you teach, and what have you found rewarding about working with students? I teach workshops related to creating type and lettering. During my undergrad, we had very few specialized courses compared to the plethora the Srishti Manipal Institute offers now. But one workshop with veteran Indian type designer Mahendra Patel turned my world around. In a way, this is how I’m giving back and actively engaging with bringing new ideas and talent into the industry. Or industry to the talent, rather.
Teaching is a way of grounding myself, revisiting basics and discovering fresh perspectives. It uses up much more energy than I imagined, but I always leave with more than I had coming in. Breaking down simple tasks into simpler units in order to make others understand something they may be completely new to wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be: from forms into strokes, strokes into points, the movement before that point, etc. Students mostly come with a blank canvas, and seeing how open they are to possibilities and trying to achieve a bizarre idea really inspires me.
What would your dream project be? So many! My top three would be type design and typography for a newspaper, branding a music festival, and revamping the signs of a public market—like the Essex Street Market project Frere-Jones did.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? I get asked a lot: “How should we start?” And I say, just start somewhere. Having all the answers beforehand is not necessary. But I think this can be true for a lot of things. ca