A few weeks ago Rahul pointed me to the mixed-script logo for the latest edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The style of the Latin letters, which have already been a part of the art festival’s branding repertoire, has been extended to Devanagari and Malayalam; and the three scripts are used together to spell out the festival’s name. When I saw the logo on Facebook, I was astounded at the adulation it was receiving. Was I the only one who looked at the first word, Kochi, and thought that the design of the Devanagari vowel sign ी was ambiguous and the name of the city could also be misread as kocho?
Some days later, I came across another version of the logo on the festival’s Facebook page that uses a different spelling of Kochi. The original logo I had seen is still on their Facebook page, and I couldn’t find any indication that the second one is meant to be a correction. As far as I understand, both spellings are wrong, and Kochi is spelled कोच्चि in Hindi. Neither logo spells it like that.
Design-wise, the vowel sign ी isn’t the only Devanagari glyph in the logo that is not upto scratch. The leftmost curve of the ल is truncated. The vowel sign ि is not designed to match the width of the letters it is attached to. Even though the र and स are written in the same way, the design of these letters is quite different from each other, for reasons I haven’t been able to work out. All this on top of the fact that the widths of Latin letters are inconsistent, many curves aren’t well drawn and round shapes in the numerals look too large compared to the rest (I’m refraining from commenting on the Malayalam because I don’t feel confident critiquing the design for a script I neither read nor write, and have never researched).
Designing a mixed-script logo is not easy. Using vastly different scripts together needs care, research and expertise, and this is not an undertaking that should be taken lightly. It is not often that a local organisation or event invests in mixed-script or multilingual branding, and it is a lost opportunity when attention is not paid to fundamental issues like legibility or spelling. I think it is truly unfortunate that in one of the logos above, the name of the festival could be read incorrectly. Design work for high-profile brands, such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, is seen by a large number of people and sets a benchmark for the quality of design we expect to see in the future. This branding sets a bad precedent. Of course, the organisers of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale should be commended for choosing a bold approach for their branding; I only wish they had made more of an effort to get it right.