Rajeev Khare: Fonts are everywhere ...

Calligrapher and font-design expert, Rajeev Prakash Khare discusses an under-valued aspect in design: typography. He tells Rahul Kumar how it is organic to the development of print

08 Oct 2013 | By Rahul Kumar

Rahul Kumar (RK): The role of fonts is undervalued.  What role does a font play in print?
Rajeev Prakash Khare (RPK): Day and night, indoor or outdoor, you cannot live without fonts. This statement may be awkward but it is true. While watching television, working on a computer, surfing the net on a tablet, reading a newspaper early in the morning etc, you are always confronted with all types of fonts. 
RK: explain.
RPK: Text, which covers 80% of any newspaper, creates a bonding between the reader and the newspaper. Do we really read a full newspaper? I think, we don’t. We just read the maximum visible or highlighted items in the newspaper. The main aim of an editor or designer is to engage his or her reader for the maximum duration for reading the newspaper. For this, a font is a successful tool to fulfil the need.
RK: What is the role of a typeface, today?
RPK: A typeface cannot replicate the intimacy of pen and ink, but in a newspaper, where the volume of text is very high, we have to compromise with pen and ink and take help of fonts. Selecting a font is like selecting a dress for a particular occasion. Similarly one decides the font according to the message. Main headline, subheads, running text and caption fonts are generally different. In this, section of text is important because running text is the lifeline of a newspaper. 
RK: What are the factors to take into account before selecting a font for a newspaper?
RPK: There are more than three-lakh font styles in English to choose from. Selection of a font is based on the mood of the news but we should know that in a newspaper we cannot use multiple fonts in running text except for a special occasion. While selecting a font, the main issue is whether one should go for a serif or sans serif font. 
Experts believe, serif fonts have extra curls and are almost linked. It gives the feeling of calligraphy. Most of the designers feel that serif fonts are more readable for a newspaper. In sans serif fonts, each character is completely separate; there is more white space. Sans serif may be readable in headlines of a newspaper, textbooks or an advertisement copy where the text forms a small part. 
A good typeface (font) creates an emotional response in relation to the message it is conveying. It plays a vital role in maintaining smooth grey value on the whole page. The type (font) used for a newspaper sets the tone and mood for its communication with the readers and so this ‘voice’ of newspaper needs to be carefully considered and crafted. Thus, type plays a memorable role in a newspaper design.
In the newspaper there is so much to read but the readers mostly do not have much time to read every word, so these fonts help them to focus on the most important part of the newspaper. It can control the reading time of the audience. 
RK: What about Indian languages’ fonts for newspaper?
RPK: Indian scripts are known to be complex scripts. There are more challenges for vernacular newspapers. Basic characters in Devnagari may not be as complex as Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada or Tamil scripts. There are complex conjuncts and complex matras below, above, before and after conjuncts. In newspapers, these combinations are the main challenges for creating readable text in small-sized fonts. 
I personally think that there are traditional manuscript based thick and thin stroke fonts and mono thickness fonts  available in Indian scripts for running text. I don’t call it serif and sans serif as in English. Devnagari fonts (used in Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit and Nepali) are commercially available since more than hundred years. Nirnay Sagar Press of Mumbai was known as a quality font producer. A lot of research has been done as to how they have crafted such beautiful and readable fonts for small size texts. Fonts used to look as if they belonged to the same family even though they were designed and cast separately in different point sizes.
RK: Your views about Linotype and Monotype?
RPK: Linotype and Monotype developed beautiful and most readable typefaces. Till today there is no substitute to these companies’ fonts. They supplied fonts for hot metal and photo type-setting technology.
RK: And the fonts developed by Indian companies?
RPK: Indian Typographical Research (ITR) has done remarkable work in Indian languages’ type design. Almost all newspapers used to use ITR fonts for Apple Macintosh computer till 1990. Yogesh and Nataraj fonts of ITR were very popular in the newspaper and desktop industry. After 1990, many companies developed Indian language desktop publishing software on MS Windows and Apple operating systems. These companies developed their own fonts and also purchased fonts from ITR. There were several companies like CDAC, Modular, Summit and VSoft, which, while developing their own fonts could not do without ITR fonts.
RK: The portability issue among different English fonts is far less than that in Indian languages’ fonts. How much this can be blamed to coding differences?
RPK: All font development companies are following same coding in English fonts. That is why text portability problem is not there in English text. But in Indian languages’ fonts the scene is very different. All font developers were having different font coding. That is why one developer’s font file was not compatible with another developer’s font file.
Unicode has fixed the codes for all available international languages. Now compatibility problem will be solved in Indian languages also. Many operating systems are following Unicode. Unicode fonts are useful for internet, cell phone, tablets and office documentation. 
RK: What are the issues that can plague  for those who use non Unicode fonts? 
RPK: Most popular software do not support Unicode for Indian languages. Although, third party plug-in solutions are available for Indian languages but they are not very much in use. Many newspapers are still using non-Unicode fonts. These fonts will create a big problem to archive newspapers in future. 

All the newspapers, whether they are big or small, want to publish their e-newspaper. A lot of research has been done for e-paper in English. Special fonts, called web fonts, are being developed for internet. Still, developers are not comfortable with readability and aesthetic quality in the web fonts. So font designers and software developers are tweaking the fonts. But these things are available in English.
If we have to get these things in Indian languages, either we will have to use third party plug-ins for Indian languages’ Unicode or convert the existing non-Unicode text in Unicode and then publish the e-paper. Mangal and Arial Unicode fonts are pre-installed in most operating systems. So font compatibility problem will not be there if the text is in Unicode format. Arial Unicode font has been designed beautifully for print and as well as web purposes. Arial Unicode font from Monotype is the maximum readable font for Indian languages today.
RK: How much stress should a publisher give on web fonts?
RPK: Mangal and Arial Unicode fonts are available on most of the operating systems. If you design your e-newspaper using these fonts, readers can read your paper without any problem. If you use some custom fonts in your e-newspaper, the readers will see the garbled text if same font is not installed in their computer. To get rid of this problem, either use web font or use Unicode font.
Web fonts can surely improve design of e-newspaper and help us (as designers) to have fewer restrictions and more fun with website creation. Web font have become a new trend that is likely to stay for a while. It allows the designers to add their own unique touch to the typography of an e-newspaper.