Academic journal article Visible Language

Function and Expression: Student Typographic Work in English and Indian Languages

Academic journal article Visible Language

Function and Expression: Student Typographic Work in English and Indian Languages

Article excerpt

Teaching typography in a cross-cultural setting poses particular conceptual and visual problems. Using a recipe as the content for a typographic assignment while teaching in India, the author explores typographic approaches that include functional, expressive and integrated perspectives in English, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi and to a lesser extent Malayalam and Tamil and various combinations of languages. This experience is documented through illustrations and commentary on the student solutions.

The students were amused: the American teacher was I asking them to play with their favorite lunch food. This brought back all sorts of domestic and school memories, and discussions of family and regional variations. When translated from English, the recipe text was debated; how to render the word for 'leftover' that did not also imply 'stale'? The sensory experience of the dish was described for the teacher who had never eaten it: white, cool, smooth, mildly spicy, soothing in the heat of the day. The Indian lunch box, the multi-tiered and compartmented tiffin box, was remembered with fondness. The special shape of the vessel for making curd (or yogurt) at home was described. And by an amazing coincidence, on the day the project ended at the first school, we had Dahi Bhaat for lunch in the mess hall. Later, at another school, a student brought enough for the whole class to share on the last day. This was exactly what I had hoped for: a way for me into a new culture through language and food, a way for Indian students into experimental typography starting from some familiar ground.

Graduate and undergraduate students at four Indian universities and design schools worked on a typographic exercise using English and the Roman alphabet, Hindi and the Devanagari alphabet, and several other Indian languages and alphabets. The exercise was intended to explore some qualities of basic typographic composition, some aspects of expressive typography, the design assumptions and necessities of English/Roman compared to Hindi/Devanagari and others, and to prompt discussion of cultural and linguistic traditions in relation to typography.

The students were a mixed lot, coming from all regions of India: second year graphic design students at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (the premier public design school in India) with some typography experience; first and second year graphic design students at the Shristi School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore (a new private design school) with some type experience; graduate students in visual communication at the Industrial Design Center, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (the only graduate design program in India) with moderate type experience; and first year graphic design students at the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (the newest IIT campus, in the far east state of Assam) with little type experience. The core project was the same for each group, however adaptations were made based on student experience and time available (from two to three-and-a-half weeks). Technology was somewhat limited by United States standards; the students began with sketching, some with cut-and-paste compositions of photocopied text, and then moved onto computers using programs they knew (Corel Draw, Illustrator, and PageMaker) with limited fonts in Hindi and other languages.

tiffin treat

dahi bhaat

2 cups boiled rice (leftover)

1 cup curd

1 tbsp. oil

1/8 tsp. mustard seeds

1 green chili (optional)

1/4 tsp. chopped ginger

1 sprig curry leaves

salt to taste

the night before:

cook and cool rice, if there is none leftover

whip the curd

chop the chili

chop the ginger very fine

wash the curry leaves

heat the oil and splutter the mustard seeds in it

add the chili, ginger and curry leaves and fry for a minute.

pour over the whipped curd

add the seasoning and rice

stir well

cover and chill

in the morning:

pack in the lunch box

note: a very cooling dish for summer

[added later: serves 4-6, preparation time 30 minutes]


The exercise used the short text of a simple and common Indian recipe for a rice and yogurt dish, called Dahi Bhaat, often served for lunch or snack. …

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