Ishan Khosla merges graphic design with Indian crafts to make unusual fonts


Ishan Khosla merges graphic design with Indian crafts to make unusual fonts

And his designs have India at its heart

By Subhanjana Das  February 4th, 2020

Visuals and design speak to us before words do. With increasing usage of digital platforms, graphic design has become a force to reckon with for building brand identities. But, how does one say that which has been said before in a way that makes it stand out against the rest? Ishan Khosla, a former computer science student at the University of Washington, took an unconventional route to not only make his graphic design Indian, but also make the world take note of its potential. He merged graphic design and typography with age-old Indian crafts.

After finishing his Master’s in design from the School of Visual Arts in New York, Ishan Khosla came back to the country to find western elements overpowering every aspect of the graphic design being practiced in India: “I asked myself, where was the India in this?” In a quest to explore Indian culture and its crafts through graphic design, Khosla founded his eponymous firm in New Delhi in 2008 with a repertoire that ranges from ceramics and book covers to installations and brand logos. The firm’s Typecraft Initiative remains to be one that has redefined how we see Indian regional crafts and fonts by merging both with the help of artisans who have been practicing the crafts for years.

However, graphic design didn’t simply happen to Ishan Khosla as a natural career option. His experience with near-blindness due to a cyst in the pituitary gland at age 22 pulled him closer to visuals and design. He had, however, subconsciously nurtured this inclination since childhood, thanks to a mother who worked in advertising. “I got exposed to that world of design, photography, and typography and how they used to cut and stick letters. As a child I was very interested in design, although I didn’t know what was design. For instance, I remember writing letters to toy companies and criticise their logo designs, being like, ‘Oh, these logos don’t work.'”

One of Ishan Khosla’s favourite projects, however, is the identity design for the region of Kutch in Gujarat. Crystallising the region’s identity in a logo which represents each of its unique communities is a challenge Khosla and his team took head on. “They (the communities of Kutch) all have a different role and they work in different crafts and skills. They are very diverse in terms of materials and colours.” The result was a logo in the form of a toran, used as a door hanging as a sign of welcome and regarded as a traditional textile object in Gujarat. And, if anything, this directly points to Khosla’s creative north and the well of his inspiration—India beyond kitsch. “I am inspired by India, by the people on the street, in the villages, by the crafts, the markets. Whenever I am stuck or bored, the best thing for me is to get out and be on the streets. For me, the daily life is the most inspiring,” shares Khosla.

Jeni ben, with an “R” embroidered in Dhebaria Rabari embroidery. Kutch, Gujarat

Hetal ben, exploring Soof embroidery motifs as letters on paper, as part of the Typecraft workshop 

His next project? A children’s book with letters in the different weaves, embroideries and prints of India, using his patent fonts. “A child in Bihar can learn the alphabet based on Madhubani, or a child in South India can learn it based on Kolam,” says Ishan Khosla.