India – not helvetica country

Today, while watching the nice documentary Helvetica for the second time, I was struck by the ubiquity of the Helvetica typeface in Europe and the US. It is one of my favourite typefaces and I keep seeking it in everyday life usage. If one looks closely, Helvetica is hardly ever seen in casual use in India. It is very much visible in agency jobs but otherwise it is quite rare.

Maybe surprisingly, I think a software company is the reason for this. India is one of the hotbeds of piracy and Windows is a pirate favourite. Microsoft’s inclusion of Arial as the sans serif font of choice on the Windows platform meant that most computer-literate Indians never heard of Helvetica.

The typical “DTP” (Desktop Publishing) shop one sees all over Mumbai is run by pure profit motive usually by a Gujarati businessman who cares not a whit nor knows anything of typography and printing. Arbitrage is what eggs them on – so they buy cheap assembled PC’s running suspicious copies of Windows and other publishing software. They might grab a few CD’s of “1000 fonts” but can’t be bothered with what looks good, so they stick with the defaults of Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana and of course, the eternal Comic Sans.

Most consumers can’t tell a sans-serif from a serif, so I think the state of things will remain the same for a long time.

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