Reflections on THAT article

One of the things I have thought about since that article came out is why I read that article the way I do, and why others did so differently. I am someone who would both benefit and is restricted by what this article puts forward as an action in point #4. How do I deal with this contradiction? India is home to a lot of scripts and languages. I have lived in various parts of the country and in doing so have had to learn a few of the languages spoken in those parts. My fluency in those languages today is at varying levels. How do I engage with the many scripts that I am familiar with? Can I design for one of the native scripts that I grew up with, which is different from the one I am most comfortable with? Everyone’s worldview affects the way they understand things and I realise how mine has affected my own understanding. This point makes me uncomfortable too. So I push myself to sit with this discomfort. Which is what has brought me to try and view this contested point #4 in non-binary terms. When people are expressing themselves in unfamiliar ways, I assume that my work is to understand their point and that healthy boundaries are essential for everyone to flourish. Allow me to explain this further.

When I read “We need to discontinue the practice of designing for scripts we did not grow up reading and writing for custom/client projects,” I not only think about who else apart from myself will benefit from this action but also who is going to enforce this “Action”? Who is going to hold people accountable? There is no governing body that will penalise people if they do not comply. There is no one who will enforce this “call to action”. It is up to one’s own discretion. This point #4 is at best a request. Maybe it’s important to question why you might read it as an order. Why might you have gotten so defensive about being asked to respect a boundary? Did the discomfort stem from the fear of losing power, privilege, and comforts? Or maybe the fact that it came from a group of women? Would it instead be helpful to reflect on how resistance to foreign ideas can get in the way of a common goal? There is no benefit to pedantically dissecting the article and really no objective response to this call to action.

Additionally, while you have the right to feel uncomfortable, others have silently put up with the discomfort of countless microaggressions and injustices. Not every person experiencing systemic oppression has the benefit of having access to a platform that allows them to speak their mind. They might not have the vocabulary or the ability to articulate the way they feel about this. You have the benefit of reading what I write here because of my relative position of privilege in my own country. Simply growing up in a house that spoke English gave me access to opportunities that are not available to a majority of the people I have studied and worked within my country. This access is not universal even internationally. It does not escape me for one moment that there are far more intelligent and talented people who have not had the luck and opportunities I have enjoyed. I can make valid claims of hard work and effort that I have personally put in, but I also know how much my circumstances have allowed me to reach where I am. Is it correct to label someone that has relative privilege as an inspiration or role model when only a few of us make it past the hardships of a system that has been designed to exclude us? The myth that we are deserving of our successes because we have worked harder than others needs to be put to rest. It incorrectly implies that those who haven’t achieved it have only themselves to blame. Certain groups of people shouldn’t have to work harder than others to feel like they’ve earned their place in life. We shouldn’t uphold the systems that made our own journeys difficult.

And sure, all of us have worked hard to get where we are, some just happen to be born in certain countries that have given them an undeniable advantage, primarily because of their countries’ past actions. All this is of course not fair to anyone involved. But, fairness has always been relative. Maintaining the appearance of fairness that results in a gross distortion of reality. The Mercator projection is an example of this “fairness”. It distorts the size of places and makes countries in the Northern hemisphere look like the size of continents. Yet it is still an accepted way to illustrate maps. Should that continue being the norm just because changing it will make people living in some countries feel uncomfortable? Or change the status quo? Just because someone feels a certain way or there is an accepted way to get things done, doesn’t mean we must not question it. Just because someone feels a certain way, doesn’t mean it correlates with the truth and lived experiences of other people. It might be helpful to enquire the reason why positions of importance in type design are dominated by people who are not native to that script rather than people who have grown up with it? And how can you help change that? It is this discrepancy that the article was addressing. Currently, the global economics of type design do not allow someone to enter the field easily, and even if they do, sustaining themselves purely on this craft is difficult. This is true for everyone but this truth is significantly harsher for people who come from countries with weaker currencies and restricted passports. There also happens to be an overlap in people with weaker currencies and passports and those who are underrepresented in type design. It should also be acknowledged that these are not the only factors that contribute to the underrepresentation of marginalized people in type design, since this is still a problem within Western countries. My experience, however, allows me to talk about factors affecting those outside of Western countries. Scholarships and mentorships can only take someone so far.

The ability to express my ideas stems partly from the very privileged upbringing I have enjoyed but some of it is also learned by consciously unlearning and re-educating myself about political and social and economic issues that affect those who have not had the same experiences I have. Additionally, I am extremely grateful for the benefit of a support system of friends to have heard me out, especially the many women who have trusted me with their stories, some of which are similar to mine and make me feel less alone and more courageous to write mine publicly. I have tried not to generalise my views, but hope they have allowed you the benefit of insight to something beyond what you felt when you read the article. It asks an important action from you. It’s not easy but we cannot put ourselves in the centre of that decision. The article asks the type design industry to take affirmative action that will benefit those it is intended to help. I hope we can reflect on the ways we can contribute and help facilitate this change.

Thoughts on ATypI Working Seminar Colombo

ATypI Working Seminar Colombo 2019 written on a banner with some branding design

The 9th ATypI Working Seminar was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka on the 22-23rd of March. This seminar comes 27 years after the previous one, held in Budapest in 1992. Sri Lanka becomes the first country to host it where Latin letterforms are not used in its primary languages of communication. English is, of course, an official language spoken and used along with Sinhala and Tamil, but only these last two are national languages. This is significant because it shows that ATypI recognises the importance of engaging with voices from countries who may not have the resources to attend the main conference in countries where the cost of conference tickets, flights and stay as well as currency exchange rates along with visa regulations make attendance difficult.

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The process of lettering a pun

When I first heard about Alphabettes, the name immediately had my attention. As an appreciator of all things punny, I was intrigued. I soon found out it was a place where both women and their opinions were encouraged, and they gathered to talk type. They had lived up to their pun.

While I was savouring this wonderful name and going through the website, I couldn’t help notice the potential for another wordplay. The Hindi word for Daughter is बेटी (beti). It sounds a lot like “bette”. I relished the idea of Alpha bette doubling as “Alpha daughter” in Greek/Hindi. To make it sound more like the plural “Bettes” I pluralised the Hindi word बेटी (beti) using English rules to make it बेटीस (betis). If you’ve spent extended periods of time with me, you might be aware that punning is a serious sport for me and I sometimes tend to go overboard which is why I sat on this pun for about two years. It took me a while and a bit of encouragement to go public with this idea. When I finally wrote to the Alphabettes they green-lit this multilingual pun idea for their header swiftly much to my delight and relief.

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