It is a bit strange that the blog is yet to see a post about the rupee symbol. I’ve come close to writing one many times, both here and at *Appendices Attached, but it never quite came through. Deep down I think I always knew the reason for this delay – there was too much being said, and I didn’t know if I had something constructive to add to the discussion. So, what has changed my mind now? At Typography Day 2011, which concluded last week, I had the chance to hear the designer of the rupee symbol Udaya Kumar speak about the design that has shot him to both fame and notoriety. What really got me motivated to write was the conversation that followed his talk.
My single biggest grouse with the competition for the symbol was that it required the designers to submit logo-like specifications for it. The rupee symbol is ultimately a character (like the alphabet and numbers), and I believe that it might have made more sense to ask for a monolinear design and its adaptation in existing typefaces in different scripts, weights and styles. Sadly, that was not to be, and since the release of the symbol, much has been said about its adaptability (for instance, see the comments here).
This very point was raised by Prof. Santosh Kshirsagar in the panel discussion that followed Udaya’s talk. One of the responses to this comment was of Mr. Anil Sinha, who was oddly of the opinion that the design should be retained as a symbol – to be used in these specifications always, and in all applications. That has to be one of the more absurd ideas I have heard in some time. I was very tempted to ask how he imagined that would work – How will people writing it with their hands use it? What about its compatibility with other typefaces that it will have to accompany all the time? I didn’t get the chance to ask my questions, but someone did ask Mr. Sinha to be careful about his suggestions, especially because he is a man of great stature and influence. It would be a complete pity if the symbol was turned into an elitist one, especially when it has already become quite popular with the masses. See, for instance, this advertisement for a real estate company–
Or, this poster for the Hindi movie Do Dooni Chaar–
Or, this t-shirt design from a local Delhi store (pardon the low quality of the photograph, it was clicked by my very shoddy phone camera)–
In his keynote address on the first day, Prof. G. V. Sreekumar raised issues of concern for the graphic design community in India. One of these concerns was to create designs for the rupee symbol, which are compatible for different popular typefaces. To this end, a collaborative forum has been set up by Prof. Sreekumar and NID’s Graphic Design head Tarun Deep Girdher (read more about it in this article in the Ahmedabad Mirror). Prof. Sreekumar also shared designs that his students have come up with as a part of an assignment to design compatible rupee symbols for various typefaces. His blog also showcases some of his own designs.
It will be great to see type designers from India, and the world contribute to this project. I look forward to more details on this project – especially the response of designers and foundries for whose typefaces compatible rupee symbols are being designed. There are also some lingering questions I have – What are the intellectual property issues that will come up in the process of this project? How will these new designs be available for use? Will they be free or paid? Who will be the authority on quality control? What about designing rupee symbols that are compatible with commonly-used typefaces in Indian languages besides English? To get the answers to these questions, one will probably just have to wait and watch.