Hitesh Malaviya (Rocky)

We chat with Baroda based Type Designer, Hitesh Malaviya (aka Rocky)! Hitesh talks to us all about his early love for sign painting, breaks down Indic fonts for us, and his fascination with display letterforms.

Any hilarious stories about you as a kid being creative?

In most cases as a kid, having a special interest in drawing, we grow up drawing cartoons, birds, animals, mountains, trees etc. In my case, I started with drawing letters. I was in class 4th and my drawing teacher in the school happened to be a sign painter and he taught me how to make uppercase letterforms in dual lines. Later in 8th grade, I was introduced to an art teacher to sharpen my drawing skill and fortunately even he happened to be a sign painter as well (the best sign painter in my home town). This was pivotal, as I found my mentor (Guru) in him and that was the turning point of my life. From him I learned the basic techniques of drawing and since I was very fascinated with type, he taught me calligraphy in Gujarati and introduced me to a grid system for latin type.

Armed with this knowledge, in high school, I started making my pocket money by designing classmates’ names in vinyl for their pen clips and bicycles. Not many kids got enough pocket money those days from parents and this was my first step at being a commercial artist. In some ways I knew exactly what I was going to do in future.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied Fine Art and majored in Applied Art from the M.S. University of Baroda. Baroda Fine Arts made my foundation stronger and also imbued an understanding of Art aesthetics. Having a strong interest in advertising, I decided to work at Ogilvy & Mather, Delhi, and later moved to Wieden+Kennedy, Delhi. At Wieden+Kennedy I worked on brands like IndiGo Airlines, Royal Enfield, Coca-Cola, Incredible India, Oberoi Hotels and Heineken. It was here where I started developing an interest in designing typefaces and lettering for Indic scripts. After working for six years I quit advertising.

In 2013, I started researching and learning type design by my own and by 2014, I had joined Indian Type Foundry as a type designer, where I worked on both Latin as well as Indic fonts. There I got a chance to work on the custom typefaces for some of the best brands of the world. My typefaces include scripts ranging from Latin, Gujarati, Devanagari, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Thai. I left ITF in 2018 and started working as an independent type designer. Currently, I’m working as a consultant with “Universal Thirst ‘Type Foundry, Bengaluru and collaborating with multiple type foundries across the globe apart from taking type-design workshops at design colleges.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. 

I design fonts. Fonts for different Indic scripts, for Latin and non latin scripts, for retail and custom purposes, for web and print, for a stand alone script as well as bilingual and multilingual scripts (multilingual type system is where the visual aesthetic of all scripts remain similar across the entire type family). I’m keenly interested in designing fonts for Indian scripts. As compared to Latin (English and Western European) scripts, there’s so little that has been done in the Indic type design area. In short, I design something which lasts forever.

As a type designer I have to design fonts that solve very specific problems or address concerns which are very inherent to a certain regional script.

Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if so how it shapes your practice?

Yes, I do very actively. This was one of my prime intentions when I started working as an independent designer. I’m a self taught type designer and I know the frustration and difficulties in learning Indic type design by yourself.

Most Indian design institutes do not have adequate teaching expertise when it comes to type design. We also don’t have enough learning material and resources on Indic type design as compared to Latin, which has a large number of dedicated websites and bibliography for research and referencing. There is a huge lack of open-source documentation regarding the Indic languages and scripts. I also feel we don’t have enough design writers in the country who can understand all the regional languages and scripts to write about.

I do my part by sharing the knowledge by conducting small workshops and teaching at various design institutes as a visiting faculty where students learn the basics of the Latin as well as the Indic type design. The best part of teaching is that I also learn from the fresh talent and that I find is a refreshing way to take some time away from my hectic type design practice.

It’s my way of giving back to the community. Like Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Any passion projects/collabs you would like to share?

I really enjoy collaborating with friends who understand the passion and the value of Type Design. One example would be the St+art India Foundation in Delhi, who work around public spaces to create art for the masses. In 2015, I collaborated with St+art and it’s founder Hanif Kureshi to design a type installation for the city of Mumbai.

I wanted to incorporate the heart symbol into the Devanagari script. From the roadside romeo to Milton Glaser (the designer of ‘I heart NY’ logo), use the heart symbol to represent love. This powerful icon cuts across demographics and language barriers. The idea was to incorporate the love symbol (heart) into Devanagari script. Instead of the latin script, the transliteration of love ( लव ) in Devanagari adds a multi-lingual, fun aspect which imbibes elements from our hinglish speaking generation and popular culture.

Later in 2017 and 2019, I made few more small letterings collaboration for St_art India’s art fest as well.

Another collaboration I would like to talk about is with Artists Unite. A call for action for Indian cultural practitioners to unite against hate, for democracy. The custom typeface and a multilingual identity was designed by November (a design studio in India) for Artists Unite India, and I got a chance to work on few Indic script companions including Gurmukhi, Guajarati, Bengali, Oriya and Malayalam.

How did you develop your style as a Type Designer and what tips would you have for others?

Unlike artists and illustrators, I don’t have my own style because as a type designer I have to be very diverse and flexible enough to adopt different styles and genre of typefaces. As a type designer I have to design fonts that solve very specific problems or address concerns which are very inherent to a certain regional script.

Having trained under a sign painter before my art education I have always been fascinated with display letterforms specifically for regional scripts. My prime source of inspiration as a type designer were display fonts which I grew up seeing in the form of letterings in vernacular book covers, newspaper mastheads, audio cassettes, movie posters and signboards. My work speaks of a resistance against the norms of formal type design and Western type designers’ affinity for the Latin script. I try to bring about the myriad variations of display type alive in the quirks that are unique to Indic typefaces.

Designing typefaces means following a strict regimental discipline and it takes a lot of practice to get it right but it’s all optical and not mechanical so train your eyes and trust your eyes.

Where do you think Indic Type design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

Compare to other countries India is lagging behind when it comes to type design but the progress has been good in the last decade or so. India has a huge number of non-English internet using individuals and even organisations. This population demands more and more Indic typefaces as the future of internet is likely to be dominated by them.

A recent survey says that Indian language internet users have grown from 42 million in 2011 to 234 million in 2016. Currently there are 234 million Indian language internet users compared to 175 million English internet users. NASSCOM with Akamai Technologies said that, by 2020, there would be 730 million internet users in India and 75% of these would consume data in their respective local languages.

This happened not just because of rising smartphone usage and cheap data costs that have made it easier for people in rural areas to go online but also because of bilingual typefaces. Multiple bilingual digital typefaces, have enabled all smartphones to provide regional language support for their users. Noto Sans for Android and Kohinoor for the iOS have impressively helped users who don’t know how to read and write English to use smartphones, tablets and computers by choosing their local scripts/ languages.

There are so many endangered scripts in India that didn’t have proper typefaces earlier but because of the new digital platform some of which support Unicode now. This has made it easier to design digital fonts for these scripts and save them from near extinction.

Within this one decade India got multiple type foundries and independent type designers producing good Indic typefaces for print and web media. Also, many global brands like Apple, Ikea, Muji, Starbucks, H&M, Uber and Uniqlo expanded their business in India and to reach out to the masses they need typefaces that carry the same visual aesthetics and design idiom across all Indic scripts. That’s when the multilingual type system really comes into play. This is a good time to be designing fonts for Indic scripts because we have the requisite tools/softwares and the technology to support it.

To keep myself abreast I learn new things everyday and try to keep up with the times. Sometime I push myself to take the challenge of designing something which I find difficult like a script I’m not familiar with so I could learn new things.

My future plan is to travel and work. I want to design a multilingual type family while travelling across India and stay in different Indian states, to learn about their culture, understand their scripts/ language well, take help of local resources like public libraries and scholars and design a typeface for their native scripts.

What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?

I started my design career from Delhi and later moved to Ahmedabad to pursue my type design career. From the last one year I’ve been working from Baroda (the same city from where I studied design). Baroda has a tradition of producing very talented artists – painters and sculptors. The Fine Art college has turned Baroda into an art hub where lot of artists live and practice. But I can’t say the same thing when it comes to design. Baroda has a lot of good art galleries but not a single art gallery that celebrates Graphic art (graphic design) the same way as fine art.

Let alone Baroda, we don’t have dedicated galleries for design in the whole country. Galleries like Kemistry or the Design Museum in London or Bauhaus-Archive in Berlin which create an environment for design through their shows and events. I think this platform for a dialogue is what’s missing here.

Baroda, thankfully has a great and engaging ecosystem for artists and art enthusiasts such as myself. Much of my interactions with my artist friends have influenced my approach towards type design. One small but significant example of this is a typeface I designed, called Kihim. Kihim is a grid based display typeface inspired by Nasreen Mohamedi’s drawings and photo-work. Nasreen Mohamedi was a contemporary Indian artist who studied and taught at the Fine Art college of Baroda.

Her body of work explores the creation and consumption of form by light and shadow. Nasreen’s work involved highly structured grids and lines with a sharp dedication to form. Her work achieves a unique abstraction, in which simple pencil lines and marks form and deform grids that pulse rhythmically. Using the same abstractions in letterforms, I’ve tried to achieve a rhythmic quality through the use of diagonal lines, creating positive and negative space in the letterforms. Often, the letterform gets illegible or unrecognisable and one starts seeing only the pulsating interference of thick and thin lines (repetitive pattern) and then at one moment you see the written word and not a pattern.

What I’m trying to say here is that we need to create an environment that’s conducive to art practitioners. Such an environment steeped in the arts and design at large will definitely help in encouraging new talent and producing work which derives from the different allied fields of visual art.

Where to find Hitesh:

Instagram: @rocky_sandboa

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