Typecraft: Using Font Design as a Means to Create a Difference
Launched in 2012, The Typecraft Initiative, develops a range of display* typefaces based on the rich crafts and tribal arts of India. Our primary aim is to provide opportunities for craftspeople to earn through the creation and sale of the typefaces and allied products.
Craft as a functional starting point in the cycle of creation
We believe that Crafts should form the starting point in the cycle of making a functional product. For instance, a Typecrafted font starts out as a hand crafted object which is then converted to a functional typeface.
Functionality is at the core of what we do. Just creating a craft for the sake of decoration is not going to engender innovation or even change the way Crafts are perceived or engaged with. However, making a functional product like a typeface — which is a tool and the starting point for more creativity, gives the craft a a legitimacy as an important medium as well as a respectful position that it deserves.
We also hope that all our hard work and effort in making this initiative and the typefaces work — will inspire craftspeople, designers, artists, students and others to think about and engage with crafts in new ways.
Craftspeople and design skills
India still suffers from a colonial mindset where the mind (design) is valued more than the hand (craft). This means that while designers tend to benefit more from their interactions with craftspeople, the reverse is sadly not usually true. We believe that craftspeople in India are too dependent on designers for ideas, inputs and methods to address the changing market needs. If craftspersons can acquire design skills, they will also get the value addition designers get. This is our endeavor.
Using Letters to spark Design Thinking
A vital aspect of our mission is to use the workshops with craftspeople to instil design methodologies in them, and to allow for free-thinking, failure and the ability of independent thought in craftspeople, who in India are usually relegated to implementors and not treated on par with designers. We envisage a world where craftspeople will also be designers.
Letters are alien to the everyday world of artisans who make their crafts based on 'traditional' motifs (that are usually based on plants and animals). Giving them something out of context challenges them to really understand what sorts of new forms their craft can take. For instance, some of the embroidery craftswomen we work with, tell us that they are usually given the designs to make, and so they end up making but not applying their minds to think of new forms and possibilities of their craft.
A font or typeface is a tool, a starting point for more creation by anyone, anywhere in the world. Crafts in India has always been seen as an end, not as a beginning or a starting point, a catalyst for more creation. We endeavour to change this.
The typefaces are meant to inspire, create awareness and generate further interest in the art, history, context, and life of the people and the communities we work with. The typefaces are not only an archive of the IPR of communities that are on the brink of merging with mainstream society, but they are meant to be a celebration of their rich artistic heritage that — through the creation of a digital typeface — has been converted to a contemporary idiom.
Thus far, we have worked in numerous letterforms and typeface from a diverse range of crafts — each of which are based in a specific region (see map), use a certain material and work in a specific process, and made by different groups of artisans.
We hope designers, artists from across the globe would engage with and develop new forms of expressions through the medium of typography and graphic design that contribute to continue making this a living craft. Contributions can not only be made through the work created but also by the purchase of the typeface, which will enable us to in some small way, help sustain these crafts and tribal arts and the people who make them.
Andreu Balius, Barcelona
Sol Matas, Berlin
Ishan Khosla, Delhi