My struggle with the rupee symbol

The rupee symbol was a big bother when I was working on my MA project. Every time I thought about drawing it for my typeface project, I would end up confused, and give up even before I’ve put a single point on FontLab. I tweeted about my distress at the time, and Dan Rhatigan put the problem in much better words than I had managed.

The new rupee (symbol) is a conundrum, because it asks to be two different things at once. Elegant idea, but a design hassle. [source]

The new symbol for the rupee was announced close to two years ago. It was designed by Dr. Udaya Kumar, who described his rationale behind the design as follows:

My design is based on the tricolour, with two lines at the top and white space in between. I wanted the symbol for the rupee to represent the Indian flag. It is a perfect blend of Indian and Roman letters: a capital ‘R’ and Devanagari ‘ra’ which represents rupiya, to appeal to international audiences and Indian audiences. [source]

The shapes of the R and र while similar, don’t have to be the same. What happens when they are not? The perfect blend that Udaya Kumar talks about becomes less-than-perfect as soon as one moves beyond the logo-like symbol he had originally  designed. Is the rupee symbol a modified R or a modified र? The answer to this question ends up in the hands of the designer. The way I see it, a modified R might suit a Latin typeface, and a modified र a Devanagari one. Especially, when the typefaces have strong modulation and distinct angles of stress. I am not even beginning to think how it would best fit scripts other than these two.

My personal struggle with this question is a result of my project including both Devanagari and Latin scripts. Not only is the design modulated (which itself makes the letters look different), the R and र in the design are not quite as similar the “perfect” rupee symbol would demand. After agonizing a long time over a common solution, I ended up with two versions—one for each script. I am still uncertain if this is the ideal solution (I can imagine a text with both scripts, what would one use then?), but I do not know what else can be.

Comments 3

  1. Ben Mitchell (@OhBendy) July 6, 2012

    To me, the left version looks more convincing, but perhaps there’s a solution in between?

    Did you end up making them both the same size? I expect your Devanagari headline isn’t the same as your Latin cap-height (or is it?)

    • Pooja July 9, 2012

      For the project I submitted, I kept both. I’d love a common solution, but one of the problems with a common solution is the angle of the stroke terminal on the horizontal problems. Any ideas on how to make it work?
      They are not the same size. The Latin one lines up with the caps, while the Devanagari is closer to the headline, which is a little higher than the x-height.

  2. Martin Silvertant August 30, 2014

    I do think this is quite a dilemma and even though I’ve never used the rupee symbol before in my life, I always get annoyed when having to design it because to me it’s a terrible symbol; it’s not a beautiful currency symbol on its own and it looks too much like R to become a truly powerful currency symbol.

    What’s curious to me however is that the guidelines for designing the rupee symbol don’t seem to be right. I designed the rupee symbol for my latest typeface to be this half R with two horizontal strokes, like all the images you will find with Google search. Looking at your symbols I feel you have a better understanding of how the rupee symbol SHOULD look like (not according to the designer or official guidelines but according to common sense but adhering to the bigger conception of typography).

    Having said that, I still feel you might be designing the rupee symbol under the misunderstanding that the rupee symbol is a letter and should be designed as such. I’m not familiar with the Devanagari script so I can’t say whether it’s stylistically necessary to design the rupee symbol differently for the Devanagari script as for the Latin script (though I suspect it could be good practice). However, don’t forget that currency symbols really are symbols, not letters. For example, when designing the euro symbol you might take the /c and add two horizontal strokes and you basically have an euro symbol, but that’s not strictly what a euro symbol is. There are very strict guidelines on the appearance of the euro symbol, such as the bottom terminal being cut vertically while the top terminal is cut diagonally. In practice more liberties are being taken to make the euro symbol look more like the letters in the alphabet, and certainly the currency symbols SHOULD match the style of the typeface, but don’t forget that currency symbols are graphics with certain guidelines which are distinct from the script you’re working with. So in that regard it should be possible to design one rupee symbol and have it fit with both scripts.

    In practice I don’t know if it’s the better option to have two distinct rupee symbols. Looking at your designs, I think I might stay away from the guidelines and use your design instead, because the horizontal strokes with nothing in between work much better and makes the rupee symbol look like a unique symbol, rather than a half R with two strokes on top of it. I don’t think the serif on the leg is necessary, so it might be possible to design one rupee symbol for both scripts. In fact, your left rupee symbol is too calligraphic to my taste and the right rupee symbol is too much like a Latin letter; the perfect rupee symbol is probably in between these two, and not like the official guidelines describe.

    Thanks a bunch for this post. I don’t know if others will appreciate it necessarily, but I’m not going to follow the official guidelines anymore when it comes to the rupee symbol. It’s their own fault for not designing a logical, coherent currency symbol before making it official. I don’t know what the process was like to come up with a new design for a this currency, but I feel they didn’t do a good job.

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