We now live in a world of saturated visual language. Yet for its ubiquity, the magic of the alphabet remains undiminished and the diversity of letterforms continues to be a source of wonder and delight. The process of exploring new territories is always exciting. So when Rugwed approached me with his project idea, I didn’t even have to think twice before I knew I wanted to take it up.
Rugwed Deshpande, of Setu Advertising wanted to commission the design of a typeface based on the handwriting of his father, Mr. Sharad Deshpande who has been a prolific copywriter for 50 years and an intrinsic part of Setu. Rugwed explained how handwriting has been an important aspect of his copy-writing career. Mr. Deshpande maintained many diaries documenting his writings and what made them extra special was his beautiful, neat handwriting. It was when he suffered a mild paralysis attack, that he lost the ability to write a couple years back. It was disheartening for a copywriter who was so proud of his writing, to not be able to continue doing what he loved so much. But the Deshpande brothers decided to gift their father something very unique on his 75th birthday – his handwriting. Current technology makes it possible to convert a person’s handwriting into a digital font that they can use to type in various applications. Rugwed saw great potential in this idea and approached me with this project proposal. This gesture was so overwhelming and it’s been humbling to be a part of this project.
Writers love to share their writing with their audience and Rugwed thought it would be a great idea if his father could share his handwriting along with his writing. The concept for the project was exciting to me since I haven’t really come across a handwritten Devanagari font in the format we were planning on designing.
Scan of the handwriting from Mr. Deshpande’s diary
Being a copywriter, Mr. Deshpande had many diaries filled with his writings, so we had many samples to look at before starting the project. His handwriting is very neat and at times even resembled printed text. We began with making high resolution scans of these samples, and found there were mainly two distinct styles of handwriting. After going through the samples available we decided to digitize version B, this style seems to be more commonly seen in the samples.
The nature of handwriting is such that no two letters are ever exactly alike. So I printed a lot of these samples to carefully study and understand the defining characteristics of his handwriting
Some of the most unique features that I made note of while studying the samples were:
– The shirorekha is disconnected
– The shapes of letters are round and open
While studying the samples I saw so many different versions of the same letter. To keep the nature of the handwritten text intact, I decided to include many alternates of each letter instead of selecting just one. Handwritten fonts without alternates look too uniform so the illusion of realism is lost. Modern font engineering gives the ability to display a number of versions of the same letter, in a seemingly random order, so the resulting text looks similar to an authentic handwritten texture. But even though its possible to have multiple variations of a letter, too many would complicate the project and push the limits of font files.
Studying the scans and marking characteristics of different letterforms.
While choosing the alternates, it was important to make sure the alternates were not too different but at the same time, not too similar. Studying the variety of letters in the scans I selected the ones that were the most repeated and best representing the overall look of the handwriting.
The main vowels and consonants, vowel signs, and marks each have four alternates. Conjuncts and numerals have two alternates. The numbers of alternates were based on the frequency that the characters appear in Marathi text – so the letters that are occur more often have more versions to keep the handwritten nature in the text.
After short-listing the alternates from the scanned samples, these selected letters were traced in Illustrator. I made a grid in Illustrator to make sure the scale of all the traced letters was uniform. The resulting outlines were then copied into Glyphs, the application encode the collection of letters into a font file, where they were manually fine-tuned.
To replicate the feel of the handwritten text as much as possible, it was imperative to keep the right amount of irregularities intact: the shirorekha is disconnected and not always aligned, some letters are darker than others to mimic uneven ink distribution, and the spacing is slightly uneven. Adding these nuances makes the digitally typeset typeface render incredibly similar to the handwritten journals.
This project was one of the most exciting and fulfilling typefaces I’ve worked on. The challenge of designing a handwritten Devanagari font with alternates, something that is truly one of its kinds, was a thoroughly exciting process. I am humbled and happy with the feedback from the Setu team.
This font is available for free from the Setu Advertising website. This project inspired me to work on another handwritten typeface called Maku, which I released earlier this year and is available from the Mota Italic website.