Typeface Review

Ashoka Odia

Reviewed by Erin McLaughlin on October 18, 2018

Centuries of Latin-centric typesetting technologies have had a clear influence on most Odia text typefaces.

The natural, fluid forms found in manuscripts and handwriting are squished to fit inside uniformly narrow, Latin-proportioned glyph boxes. Unique features are shrunken, while the less-important “crest” shape at the top of letters is emphasized. The result is a script whose letters, when typeset, look very similar, and can be difficult to differentiate when used at very small sizes or under poor printing conditions.

This is why I was delighted when Pratyush Das’ Ashoka Odia was released. Das has pushed back against these conventions, allowing his letters to return to more natural widths and proportions. The information-rich internal shapes occupy a greater portion of the space, so letters are easily discerned. The curved crests have receded to a supporting role, and the design is loosely spaced, resulting in a beautiful interplay of positive and negative space.

Ashoka is the first Odia typeface to offer a range of weights. Historically a monolinear script, Odia’s forms are prone to getting clogged when too much weight is applied uniformly. Das has chosen a novel approach of diagonal stress, moving weight away from the top crests and toward the sides, allowing the interior shapes to retain their clarity. The resulting design is very well-suited to text setting, offering a great deal of flexibility, and looks incredibly handsome at larger sizes.

Perhaps the best surprise was finding out that it started as an undergraduate project. Das’ project documentation is filled with meaningful research and process work, providing clear evidence of the quality of type education offered at NID, and the incredible talent and dedication of Pratyush Das. I hope the type community will join me in supporting him in his future efforts in type design.

Erin McLaughlin is a typeface designer and consultant who specializes in South Asian writing systems. She is a graduate of the MATD program, and worked previously at Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Erin helps to organize TypeCon, and is currently developing projects for a new Indic script-focused foundry, Fontwala.

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