A few weeks ago, the Indian Ministry for Tourism launched The Hinglish Project, a new hybrid typeface that combines Latin and Devanagari letters to can help foreign tourists demystify the Devanagari script and make them feel more at home. There has been a lot of positive chatter about it on the internet; it has won the Gold at Cannes in the Design category; but I’m not a fan!
The project claims that the font can help one “tell the phonetic sound of a Hindi character by looking at the corresponding English alphabet superimposed on it”; only it is not as simple as that. Take the welcome text on the website, for instance. The Latin letter “o” represents different sounds in the words “go” (gō) and “something” (ˈsəmθing), and ends up being correlated only with the Devanagari ओ (oː), which represents neither sounds. There are more than a few pairings that I would be willing to argue against. The fact is that one letter can not only represent more than one sound, there is no one-to-one correspondence. The linguistic premise of the project is pretty shaky.
The project might have started with noble intentions, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe that this typeface is a good solution to familiarize a non-native reader with the Devanagari script. Linguistic inconsistencies aside, the typeface isn’t very legible. The letter-shapes are constrained by a geometric grid, and must match up with their counterparts. That doesn’t leave much of a canvas to make easily recognizable letters, which I would think is essential for a project with these aims.
The project fails on both linguistic and typographic counts. At best, it ends up being gimmicky—too concerned with making an attractive image, and removed from function. While my criticism in this post is limited to the rationale and execution of the project; I’m equally, if not more, distressed by the reception it has enjoyed. There has been little critical thought in the reviews I have come across so far. This does not make a good case for design in general, and especially not for design and design thought coming from India.