Series on design teachers in India:
Professor R K Joshi with the design students at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay, 2007
Professor R K Joshi Designer, Artist, Teacher, Calligrapher and Poet passionaltely contributed a life time of work towards Indian typography and type design.
The words expressed by his students here speak volumes on how much of a difference he has made.
We will miss R K Joshi .......
"I got to know RK (as he was known) when I was a student at the Industrial Design Center, at IIT Mumbai. I came to IDC with an interest in educational cinema with little knowledge and even less interest in typography. In fact, during the admissions interview, RK asking me to identify a typeface I had used in a poster, and I failed to do so. You can gauge the level of my ignorance by the fact that that type I could not name was Helvetica! One class with RK changed all that. Type came alive in his hands, and his passion was infectious. It wasn’t that I knew much more at the end of the semester, but now I knew what I didn’t know. And what a wonderful world I had been missing out on. RK taught me to love typefaces, their bowls and curves, quirks and instabilities, individual characteristics and personalities, their rules and their inherent lawlessness. He taught me how media influence meaning, how Indian scripts, meant to be scratched into palm-leaves, were destroyed by the standard typewriter, and then came back to life in the digital world. This passion with type, their shapes and meanings, stays with me to this day."
(click here for details)
"He was one of the rare contemporary designers deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Whilst all of us struggle to understand contemporary interpretation of Indian tradition, he made it look as easy. He was one rare designer who transcended design and art with ease"
"He has been an inspiring guru for his passion and total life long dedication to typography which he loved so much. I had the privilege to be his assistant for a very short period soon after my graduation and we made a trip together to Delhi to present the logo for post office to the minister. That had been quite an experience to see how RK built a rapport with the senior managers at postal department and delicately handled the interaction with minister with such humility. The minister actually took a pen and starting making changes to RK's logo ! Now whenever I see the logo on the postboxes, it always brings a smile to my face. It is exactly as RK designed."
"I remember him, sharing his exhaustive research and documentation to guide the Indian language Text-to-speech technology development at C-DAC. It was amazing and inspiring to watch him work at his age, with the same intensity, despite going through the bi-pass heart surgery.
Some memories that I cherish...
During my IDC days- I remember him telling me, as my guide; enough of animating birds and animals, Walt Disney has done that well; why not animate the letterforms? That one line set a new direction to my project. I ended up animating a story of Devanagari letters.
RK has been an inspiration to many generations of designers. He will always be remembered for his profound contributions to typography."
"I still remember his words in Marathi 'Ek akshar lihava, ek tap thambava' (Write one letter and wait for ages before writing the next one).... during a workshop with our batch in 1999."
"My association starts with R K since his 'ULKA' days. RK my guie, my teacher and my friend has inspired numerous designers, design students and art lovers to make this world a better place to live.
His powerful demonstrations on Calligraphy and talks on Indian scripts and typography are always mesmorising."
S K Mohanty
"When I talk to him over phone, he used to tell me his plan of experiments for another 10 years and I used to feel ashamed of myself for not having a plan for a good thing even for next week. He was engaged in his ideas and thoughts always. He was a great teacher and a very good human being who is so influencing. I thank him for the light he had spread on my way and his valuale guidance....and pray for him."
"I find myself lucky to be taught by him in IDC. I remember those days
when he opened up a new world in front of me- a beautiful world full
of letterforms. He used to talk very passionatley about letterforms...
and all of us used to wonder when he used to bring old copies of U&Lc
magazine to the class and talk animatedly about various fonts.... oh!
look at that lowercase r of rockwell.....a of charter.........G of ITC
veljovic........that "O" of poster bodoni............. It went on and
G V Sreekumar
by a student using R K's work
Question: How did you get into typeface design?
Answer: “Another interesting thing I’d like to tell you is, we used to have these competitions in school, this is in about 1950s. And people in class used to get up and say I want to be a doctor, engineer etc. I would stand out there and say “I want to be nothing, Nobody, I will just go ahead! “. So one of the things was, that I had no particular family background in this area and second was that at the time, I had some problems in my speech, and I used to wonder why not do something where I don’t have to talk to anybody. So, I thought, perhaps I could paint boards. And then I went on to decide that I would join the JJ school of Arts in Bombay, which is another long story! As I was one of the brightest students in my class at school in Kolhapur, it was a shock for people and teachers that I was going on to join an art school. They had not even heard of J.J. School of art or of what all happens there. But anyway, I headed to Bombay and during my time at Art College, I always endeavoured to do all my assignments in Indian languages. So, in about 1952, I started with that and found no facilities at college to support me in it. I questioned also why there were no facilities? but I did not receive an answer. So, I used to carry out all my works in hand in Devnagari script. Our’s was also the first batch to take up ‘printing’ as a subsidiary course and we learnt in that, the process of hot metal press printing and I wondered again, why there were no Indian language typefaces as part of course. So, I decided to learn about them, by going after school hours to a press outside college, where I figured that there were indeed many problems with the Indian typefaces and all typography was thus in the latin script. I learnt about composing the fonts, publishing of books but all of it was also in the Latin script and I questioned yet again “why we don’t have Indian typefaces?! “.
At the time as part of our diploma project we did an exhibition, the first ever on typefaces in India. So, out of the need for more Indian language typefaces, I did some at that time. But then I got introduced to a topic by accident, through books of Italian masters. The topic was CALLIGRAPHY and it changed my entire life. And I thought of exploring the calligraphic style in the Indian context. I went to various libraries and studied rare Indian manuscripts for about 3 years. Interestingly at that time one great book by an Indian author ozha. ”Bharatiya Pracheen Lipimala” opened me to the world of ancient scripts, like Brahmin, Kautilya, Gupta script. Various aspects of the historical Indian scripts influenced me a lot. So after these studies and research I designed two fonts in 1966, which have not yet been cast.
Hence, I became a typeface designer, as there was a need for Indian typefaces. There were many questions that plagued me, why not typefaces in Indian languages? Then, what should they be like, what form should they have? Whose handwriting should they be based on? Why not calligraphy? How can calligraphy be used? So, then I started practicing calligraphy and tried to get a good hand at it and so on.
I feel after 50 yrs also, the fundamental idea, that the typefaces we develop should have a calligraphic mind behind them to understand form and how it evolves is essential. Still holds true. Otherwise one can’t design a typeface! To design a typeface, to conceptualize and execute it, is a long and lengthy process and I got involved in it in a very fundamental way as there were no existing typefaces to really refer to. One would often question about the ‘Nirnayasagar typefaces’ but nobody knows how they were created as no one documented them. I therefore describe my journey as an attempt to scratch the surface and say “look!, this is the world of Calligraphy, this is Palaeography, this is Typography, and now, what I call Compugraphy !”. I wish to urge to go deeper into the subject as depth is important for any domain. I would sum up by saying that have always been concerned about everything Indian, the Indian languages, Indian typefaces, Indian history, Indian culture, Indian design, Indian design students!”
Question: So, what were your endeavours regarding the Indian typefaces as a professional?
Answer: “Even as I got out from art college, I was confronted yet again with a completely english language dominated scene. You think in english, A-Z has to be in english, you write in english, do everything in english. And for somebody like me from a small town, it was difficult to breakthrough this mould. I said that campaigns for the farmers, housewives had to be designed in hindi, they do not understand english! So the first campaign I planned in 1962 was completely in Indian languages. There were many questions like who will write the text? Who will do the calligraphy? But it had to be me so; I did all of it by hand. I planned and executed the entire campaign by hand and felt at the time that there has to be a way out to do this more professionally and on a larger platform.
These were exciting and exhaustive times in my life, to be pursuing these endeavours almost single handedly without any support from the seniors or the commercial world. These campaigns would feature in some small newspaper in Bihar etc. and people would question me “ Why?..R.K. joshi!, why are you wasting time thinking about these farmers; their languages, do something in English, it will come in the Times of India!, we’ll earn more money”. I also planned a family planning campaign in Indian dialects, after collaborating with people from all over the country. All along I have very strongly believed “jo apna hai who apana hai, so one has to think about our needs”. So I tried to bring together people from Bengal, Assam, Kerala, all over the country and tried to explore the notion of multilinguality. I first insisted “NO ENGLISH”! We looked towards developing campaigns in Malayalam, Bengali and other Indian languages.
And one interesting endeavor I took up was staging multilingual happenings on the streets of Bombay. In one year we staged 16 happenings, done nowhere in the world. It was to expose the common people to the rich heritage we have in our languages, scripts and how beautiful they look and sound. It was to urge them to come together sing, dance and interact. So I went cross media, to music, theatre, dance. It was a theatrical fantasy when people from different regions conversed simultaneously in their languages completely understanding each other. Such an event could have happened only in India. Rehearsals for the street theatre happenings were carried out for 3-4 months to get the diction and timing correct. Such efforts were put into producing the multilingual environment.
So multilinguality has stunned me in India, and I believe it is a powerful tool to express India in various domains. Today we detest multilinguality and find comfortable convenience in English, but its important to own up to it to recognize India and its culture. And this has been the one common thread in all my activities as it is multilinguality that has to used as a powerful tool we already have in our hands. We should device the teaching aids all creative works based on this. There is huge scope in exploring multilinguality in India in every field. Researches and studies need to be carried out in Indian typography itself, in terms of column grids in Indian language newspapers (why do they have to conform to the grids and column layouts to the english newspapers), scanning ranges of Indian languages etc. There have been no significant efforts in these fields and much more needs to be done.”
Question: Which project has given you lots of pleasure?
Answer: “I was very excited when I collaborated with CDAC on designing and developing a software for designing typefaces. That is ‘Vinyas’. It is a calligraphers tool. I wanted to wipe out this notion that calligraphy is an ancient old art, an old people’s tool and that one can do it only with dead old peoples’ handwritings. So I worked here for 3 years and it gave me immense pleasure to be collaborating with the software people and develop the software which gives typographers so many options to create typefaces.
Another project was a campaign called the Ashok Jain campaign. At the time it allowed only 4 ads in a campaign for a special cause, but I put forth that I will have to do 16 ads as we had 16 languages a the time. So I put together the campaign and through those ads I opened up the cultural parameters of each of the languages including Sindhi, Urdu, Kashmiri etc. I went beyond my domain and it was an interdisciplinary effort and hence it excited me a lot. I interacted with people, collected information and carried it out in totality. It was the first ever campaign done at that scale. I referred to it at various forums of the time and also carry out updates of it.”
Question: A comment on the upcoming trend of technology within the arts.
Answer: “Let me admit to you, my association with CDAC has been from 1976. They invited me to have interactions about calligraphy and developing the software. Until then I had not even touched a keyboard. There are many creative people here and I got an opportunity to exchange ideas with them. So this interaction of creativity and technology is very essential. Earlier there were no facilities such as these, so universities that have such opportunities must have this exchange in terms of technology and art, technology and design, technology and architecture and so on. And, In my own mind what I dreamt of was when I was at IDC that the technology umbrella we have today, should actually be a design umbrella. But we don’t have that, we have design as such a wonderful tool, which is a human centered activity, technology only helps. Parents look at their children today when they are 3 years old and say ‘oh god!, he doesn’t know how to operate the computer ! How is he going to go ahead like this.” They should instead be worried if their child doesn’t know design. They should say, only if he knows design he will be fit to live on this earth, under the sun! Design should be inculcated from the grass root levels, from the very fundamental beginning. People should learn to see things in that way, appreciate them. Then most of our problems of bad architecture, bad products, and bad visuals would get solved automatically. Design has the power to be that umbrella and that ought to have been achieved. And I still have the faith that it can be achieved provided we have faith in ourselves as designers, we create our domain so strong, we make ourselves interdisciplinary in a large way and we show that design is involved in each and every part of our activities. Technology is great, it helps and we should salute the people who invented it, but at the same time we must also salute the guy who first drew that line on land and when sun falls on it a play of shade and light was created and he exclaimed “oh it looks beautiful! ”
All the best.”
1952 - 56
Studied at Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai.
1956 - 60
Worked as artist with then D.J. Keymer & Co. (now OBM).
1961 - 83
Worked as Art Director at Ulka Advertising, Mumbai.
1983 - 96
Faculty at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay
- taught courses on Calligraphy, Typography and Type Design.
He was involved in multi-lingual communication activities as part of the Indian advertising industry for almost 30 years.
As faculty at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay, he initiated academic and research projects in promoting Indian languages and scripts in the field of design and computer technology. He influenced a whole generation of students on typography and type design. Some of these students went on to design typefaces in many of the Indian languages.
One of the most memorable academic events at IDC, 'Akshrayaoga' in 1986, was held under his co-ordination. He had also co-ordinated an international exposition on Calligraphy, 'Akara', in N Delhi in 1988. Students remember him for being a highly motivating force in typograhy and Indian type design.
Professor Joshi conducted a wide variety of activities centered around seeking and spreading knowledge on type - concrete poetry readings, workshops, seminars, demonstrations, installations, happennings and exhibitions.
On 9th February 2007, Prof Joshi had addressed the audience at the Icograda Design Week in India Conference, IIT Bombay, where he had received a standing ovation. He was presented with a Grandmaster Commendation on that occassion.
About Prof R K Joshi at the 'Centre for Development of Advance Computing, Mumbai'
Audio recording of 5 interview sessions with Prof R K Joshi available for listening at TypeRadio
'RK, calligrapher, designer, teacher' at his student, Punya Mishra's web log
A tribute to Prof. R.K. Joshi by Prof G V Sreekumar
An article on 'The Religious World of Letterforms'
An article on 'AKARA - The Quest for Perfect Form'