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 South Asia. Our primary aim is to inspire craftspeople to engage with design and use the typefaces as a way to engage with new audiences and to make them aware of these crafts and the people behind them.
Craft as a functional starting point in the cycle of creation
Every "Typecrafted font" starts out as a handmade analog object that is converted to a digital typeface.
In a world where crafts have become relegated to decorative objects, we believe that it is important to relink crafts with functionality. This emphasizes the maker and the making process and also highlights the myriad possibilities and applications that “traditional” crafts have in today's technology driven world.
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
South Asia 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 and design students to instil craft and design methodologies to them. To allow for free-thinking, failure and the ability of independent thought in craftspeople, who in South Asia are usually relegated to implementers 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 South Asia 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.
The Typecraft Initiative is also interested in raising larger socio-geopolitical issues such as gender and minority rights through the creation of its typefaces.
It might seem ironic to be making a typeface with craftswomen who themselves are largely illiterate. Working on letters with women in a largely patriarchal society — where more boys are sent to school than girls — makes a statement by reinforcing connections between letters and women which sometimes leads to changes, even if small, in these communities.
Women are considered the gatekeepers of the village society, and it is true that a woman more than a man will ensure the well-being of her children, the family and the larger community.
Each community can be identified by their unique use of motifs and icons manifested in the crafts they make and wear. Typecraft is then a call to action both symbolically and practically, to raise questions about marginalized communities, their identities and the role of women, who, through their crafts, shape and reshape this identity.
Ishan Khosla, Delhi
Andreu Balius, Barcelona
Sol Matas, Berlin