Q&A Kimya Gandhi

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It seemed interesting to us to make you discover the profiles of our guests. Discover Kimya Gandhi‘s interview.
Biography Kimya Gandhi is a type designer from Mumbai, currently living in Berlin, with a passionate interest in Indic letterforms. She specialises in creating new and innovative Devanagari typefaces. Kimya co-runs the type foundry, Mota Italic, with her partner Rob Keller where they design custom and retail typefaces for clients worldwide. Kimya believes there is great potential to reinvent vernacular typography in India and encourage a new generation of contemporary type design. When not designing typefaces she spends her time teaching, or conducting workshops at various design institutes. Other than letters, Kimya likes cooking, plants and the colour black.


Describe your typical day?

Kimya Gandhi I am not a morning person, so my day starts later than some I guess, I’d rather not say when. But I wake up, eat a banana, have a coffee and go to the studio which is a part of our apartment, so the dress code isn’t very strict. I work on ongoing projects until evening, then go for a run, come back, and cook dinner. I really enjoy cooking so I spend time trying new recipes and cook for an hour or two on most days! Then I eat, watch some shows or read, and sleep!

What is your favourite way to start a day?

Kimya Gandhi Hm, I don’t know if I thought of a favourite way of starting a day before, I can tell you what isn’t my favourite way—waking up early! I have started making notes of things I want to do work throughout the day, so the first thing I do is make a list in my little notebook and that is helping me keep track of goals for the day.

What is your work environment?

Kimya Gandhi My partner Rob & I spent some time in getting custom desks built when we were living in India, we also gathered a lot ephemera–posters, prints that are a part of our studio set-up. We also have a nice library and lots of plants so our studio has evolved to be a space that I really enjoy being in. So yes, I’m happy to work from this space every day! Although, it was sunny in Berlin, so I did write the answers to this interview at a cafe : )

Have your work habits changed notably as a result of the pandemic?

Kimya Gandhi I have been working independently since almost ten years now, this was always a home studio, so the pandemic did not affect my working hours or habits really.

Do you listen music while working?

Kimya Gandhi I listen to a variety of different music depending on the project I am working on, it also depends on my mood and how I’m feeling on a given day. I hate to admit this, but I do sometimes also watch videos while doing some not-so-exciting tasks, I am a big fan of home tours and interior design videos.

Do you read news?

Kimya Gandhi I listen to news podcasts when I go for a run. On the days I don’t run I usually read through Flipboard. I wish I read more news than I currently do, but these days it just seems to make me sad or angry, so yeah…

“I’d like to take the audience on a visual trip to India, share letterforms from there, and talk about some of the letters I draw. I hope to showcase the vast diversity of letterforms in India and encourage a fresh perspective toward Indic typography.”
– Kimya Gandhi

Type design studio — Mota Italic (Berlin)

What do you do to evade yourself from work?

Kimya Gandhi Evade! I usually like the work I do, so I wouldn’t call it evading necessarily. As I mentioned earlier, I love cooking, recently I got into making Indian spice mixes—I cook almost 4–5 times a week! Since moving to Berlin I also got into running, being from Mumbai I was never into sports as such but I am enjoying this newfound activity very much.

What drives you to create new typefaces?

Kimya Gandhi India has a rich visual landscape with a diversity of scripts that are reflected through many media, especially hand-drawn letters on shop fronts and apartment buildings. Traveling across India, and walking through local markets has been my favourite way and the most inspiring way to familiarise myself with a script. Rob and I have made many of these trips, taking pictures of letters; and over time we have built a vast collection of images. I enjoy drawing display typefaces a lot and looking through these images sometimes sparks an idea for a project. The other factor in deciding what to design is rooted in function. I mostly draw Devanagari typefaces because, unlike Latin, there isn’t as much diversity or range as yet. If there is a need for a particular style, for example, a text face required for really small typesetting or a bold condensed design for headlines and posters, this becomes the context and inspiration for my work.

What is your ratio of self-initiated typefaces vs. typeface for clients?

Kimya Gandhi I think the ratio is almost equal. I think it’s tricky to say which one I enjoy more, it really depends on the project. I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work on some really fun custom projects or collaborate with generous, talented people and enjoyed working on them very much!

Redrawing type classics or inventing new forms?

Kimya Gandhi Again, I don’t think I think in absolutes, it’s not one or the other. As a preference, I enjoy drawing display typefaces, really heavy styles that create some fresh new visual language for Devanagari typography. I think Devanagari typography needs to be reinvented – contemporary design that reflects the full potential of Devanagari type design is on the way to be explored.

Is it possible to draw a typeface for a language we do not know?

Kimya Gandhi This is such a nuanced topic that I’m not sure this space is enough to go into detail. I believe sensitivity, honesty and hard work are prerequisites that would make drawing typefaces for scripts one is not familiar with possible. There are several advantages to designing in a script that you are native to but that does not necessarily give an absolute advantage wrt to the quality of typefaces. Typeface design requires patience, effort and passion and I feel if one has honest intent, it should be possible for someone to learn, draw and explore other scripts. Having said that, some regions and scripts have suffered at the hands of colonization and other factors and don’t have access to equal opportunity as some other scripts. Understanding and educating oneself is important while forming an opinion on this much-debated topic!

Kimya Gandhi’s work

What do you think of this trend of free fonts?

Kimya Gandhi This is a question I have found asking myself over the years as well. Speaking about the type design industry in India specifically, after the advent of digitization, and when metal type foundries converted their libraries to digital formats there were many problems. Indian scripts need complex rendering and in the initial years legacy type input software enabled the use of unstandardized fonts that were rampant in the industry. With the increase of internet usage, Unicode fonts were the need of time and India has seen a significant rise in the number of typefaces designed in the last decade—a large portion of which are available open source. On one hand, this has made a large library of typefaces available to a very large audience and the statistics for the number of downloads of these open-source fonts are staggering. But this number reflects the ease of availability, not qualitative choices. It very much affects retail sales from foundries and is cultivating a generation that is getting more used to not paying for fonts. Is there a way to change this? Is it only egotistical of me to want people to license fonts rather than use open-source options? I don’t know! I would hope that companies that can afford to, graphic designers, and brands that have bigger budgets will invest in licensing typefaces.

“It is important to work hard but also be kind to oneself when necessary, to believe in yourself but also be empathetic towards others, and mainly be honest towards your craft.”
– Kimya Gandhi

In which direction should contemporary Indian typography go?

Kimya Gandhi New media require new typography. With the exponential use of the internet and mobile devices in India, the consumption of local languages has gone up. I would love for newspapers, apps to create appropriate typography for these new mediums. At the same time, I would really love for graphic designers to play, experiment, and innovate using new typefaces and create a visual language that celebrates the vibrancy of the scripts of India!

What made you choose design?

Kimya Gandhi We had typography modules during my graduate studies that I enjoyed a lot. At the time I wasn’t aware that type design was a career option, but the more I explored this aspect of design, the more fascinated I became by the vastness of the field. During my Masters, I was introduced to various Indian scripts and saw the diversity of beautiful letterforms from different parts of the country. The lack of standardised Indian fonts at the time was another reason I decided to focus on font design, as I saw a growing need to create a better range of Indic fonts.

Have you ever got a mentor?

Kimya Gandhi I have had several people who have been instrumental in encouraging and inspiring me. The most important influence would be my mentor from my Master’s course, Prof. Kirti Trivedi. He is the one who introduced me to design in India and Asia and I will be forever indebted to him for opening up this world of design to me. His methodology and overall perspective on design are also highly inspiring and continue to inspire me and my work.

Kimya Gandhi’s work

Do you sketch–draw on paper?

Kimya Gandhi I like physical objects and the feeling of pen on paper is something I enjoy. I sketch before starting a new design, at least the base characters to understand the general proportions of a typeface before moving to digital software. I tried drawing with an iPad but turns out, it’s not for me!

Do you have words of wisdom for someone who wants to become a designer?

Kimya Gandhi Wisdom, hm maybe caution is better? : ) Here are my three cents: • Typeface design requires immense patience, hard work, and passion—these qualities are good for life in general too, I guess! • It is important to work hard but also be kind to oneself when necessary, to believe in yourself but also be empathetic towards others, and mainly be honest towards your craft. • The only way to find out if you like designing typefaces is by doing it!

What is the message you want to convey during your talk in Paris?

Kimya Gandhi I’d like to take the audience on a visual trip to India, share letterforms from there, and talk about some of the letters I draw. I hope to showcase the vast diversity of letterforms in India and encourage a fresh perspective toward Indic typography.

What other speaker should not be missed?

Kimya Gandhi I look forward to seeing Ulrike’s talk! Her work in OpenType excites and encourages me to also add more features to my typefaces!

Thank you very much, Kimya!

– Interview by Yi Shen

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April 26, 2023
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