Indian Language publishing has long been languishing behind the other cultures for quite a while. Even today, for instance, we do not have a consistent and dependable system to compose Indian languages and all kinds of subsystems and hacks are employed to get even rudimentary text composition.
Recently, a friend accepted the task of creating a rather simple mock-up for an online Learning Module for one of the ministries of the Government of India. He was asked to create a sample from a few slides that the ministry provided. It turned out that the text could not be copy-pasted because no matter what you do, it turned into a garbled junk. Eventually the problem was resolved by a clever vernacular designer by converting the slides into images and then applying OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on those images to recompose the text.
As anyone can see, this is an absurd workflow, and reveals the extent to which our language systems are deficient. We are far behind the western thought process even in terms of basic composition skill because Indians in general no longer appreciate the fineness and sophistication that design or art in general demands. Our designers are trained more like petty sales people who try to ‘sell’ themselves and bag coveted jobs for back-office call centre companies churning out useless junk for the American corporations. On the other extreme, those working in real world designing books are so inadequately trained, so poorly compensated or are so much under pressure from poverty that their minds seldom function and the design output turns out to be hopelessly pathetic.
I believe it is now high time these attitudes and our approach as a society changed. I believe that Indians, especially those high-paid individuals living in the western-style privileged-classes, have sufficiently deep pockets to purchase vernacular books and services at a slightly higher prices. The designers and publishing houses need to show to them, through great products and excellence in design, what’s possible even in the Indian languages. There is a whole market ready to be expanded. This will raise awareness and demand for quality design and thus will alleviate the poor designers and publishers off their long-suffered distress.
With this view in mind, since last few years, I have worked with a prominent Indian publisher creating books and digital systems in Hindi language. My faith in the society’s ability and appreciation for good design was vindicated when the publisher’s investment was compensated with rise in sales and profits despite general slump in the economy. Additionally, we were heaped with awards and appreciation for our heightened design and product quality.
I think this experiment proves that the new century could be rightly the ‘Asian’ century—with Indians playing a role and keeping pace with China’s strides. In conquering this kind of dominance, our designers and publishers must abandon their penny-wise-pound-foolish mentality, respect and pay properly, develop a taste by investing in proper education and develop appreciation for good design to revolutionize the long-staid design space. Most importantly, the software industry, dominated by Indian CEOs, must now respect their motherland’s languages, solve the long standing issues faced by the community and should invest in developing technologies and systems that truly work.
Here is an article I wrote recently for a prominent publishing design magazine explaining in detail and ste-by-step fashion how to approach compositing text in Indian languages: