Fit Armenian – Variable Font

ՖԻՏ
ՀԱՅԵՐԵՆ

Gor Jihanian  +  David Jonathan Ross

Introducing

FIT ARMENIAN
ՖԻՏ ՀԱՅԵՐԵՆ

Designed by

ԳՈՌ ՋԻՀԱՆՅԱՆ
GOR JIHANIAN

in collaboration with

DAVID JONATHAN ROSS
ԴԱՎԻԴ ՋՈՆԱՏՈՆ ՐԱՍ

The story behind Fit Armenian

ARMENIANS
IN
INDIA

Text and images by Gor Jihanian

Fit Armenian draws inspiration from unexpected origins, tracing a nearly forgotten history of Armenians in India.

HISTORY
ՊԱՏՄՈՒԹՅՈՒՆ

Since the days of remote antiquity, Armenian merchants travelled from snow-clad mountains to the tropics of India searching for spices, muslin, and precious stones – birds of passage who found favour in the court of Mughal Emperors.

In the 16th century, Akbar the Great, learning of the global network of the Armenian trade, induced the merchant princes to settle their sojourn in his dominions. They established first in the royal capital of Agra then spread throughout commercial centres: Surat, Calcutta, and Madras. In each, they built communities with schools, churches, printing presses, cultural institutions, and, ultimately, cemeteries.

Historic Surat was the port city linking East and West. It is here that the English merchants, arriving to India in the early 17th century, saw with grave concern that the Armenians – the pioneers of foreign trade in India – were well established in the country. The eventual rise of the English East India Company and the shift towards Bombay as the ‘Gateway of India,’ brought the decline of Surat. The only remains of this once flourishing community of successful merchants, eminent lawyers, renowned poets, skilled artisans, military commanders, clever diplomats, and able administrators are left inscribed in the tombstones of the Armenian Cemetery at Surat.

JOURNEY
Ճանապարհորդություն

In December 2016, I had the opportunity to travel to India with my dear friends Zenab Bastawala and Kostas Bartsokas. While visiting Zenab’s hometown of Surat, we discovered, to our surprise and delight, the existence of the cemetery. Stricken by curiosity we took a rickshaw towards Katargam Gate, the northern entrance of the old city, and soon found ourselves inside the walled complex.

Beyond the towering collection of grandiose mausoleums of the British and Dutch was a mortuary chapel encircled by two-hundred tombstones, beautifully decorated and inscribed in Armenian letters.

INSPIRATION
ոգեշնչում

The tombstones we found varied in size, ranging from a small book to a table. Each stone follows a particular format, as unique as the letterforms themselves:

  • simple or decorative border
  • ornamental header with iconography
  • strict grid of rows defining the height of letters
  • thick gaps between lines

To fit the text into the grid row, the carver used a variety of tactics:

  • cutting thin counters the width of a chisel’s edge
  • nesting and wrapping letters in and around each other
  • placing hovering abbreviations marks within in the gaps
  • ligating letters by sharing overlaid shapes

What is most striking about the tombstones is that the letterforms are cut in relief. This is unlike the traditional stone carving I’ve observed at medieval monasteries in Armenia, where each letter is incised into the stone. At Surat, the carvers cut away the counters and surrounding space, allowing for shadow to define the letter shapes. This technique combined with the format of the tombstones produces a unique style based on maximising the impact of text in a limited space.

COLLABORATION
ՀԱՄԱԳՈՐԾԱԿՑՈՒԹՅՈՒՆ

It was during this journey that I first heard of Fit, the radically experimental variable font by David Jonathan Ross. Fit is a pioneering design released in early 2017, shortly after the announcement of the OpenType Variations format. The following year, the family was expanded by Oded Ezer to include Fit Hebrew. This sparked the idea – what would an Armenian version of Fit look like? The narrow counters, the variable widths, text made to fit the container – I was immediately transported back to Surat.

I proposed the idea of an Armenian expansion to David. Whether it was my tale of traveling Armenian merchants or his quest to make Fit the Noto Sans of illegiblity, a collaboration was born.

The design had to strike a balance between following the Fit formula while still retaining the identity of the Armenian script. The challenge of working in a design space where letters are reduced to minimal shapes with the capability to span a wide spectrum of widths, is that it forces you to confront of what elements are important for legibility.

Maintaining Fit's maxim – filling up space with maximum impact – the design integrates traditional features of the Armenian script, allowing for select letterforms to freely extend above and below other letters. From a programming perspective, it was a rewarding puzzle to develop a system of contextual alternates where letters can influence surrounding letters. This extending feature along with special attention to proportions and alignments helped guide the design. Even the unique set of Armenian punctuation marks take on the impactful forms of Fit.

After several months of drawing and correspondence, we are proud to announce that the typeface is complete – heralding in the first variable font for Armenian!

Note: Fragments of the text copy respectfully borrow from the words of the historian Mesrovd Jacob Seth, whose 1937 publication, Armenians in India, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day provides a fascinating and detailed narrative of the history of Armenian communities and individuals throughout the Indian subcontinent.

ՖԻՏ
ՖԻՏ ՀԱՅԵՐԵՆ
FIT ARMENIAN
ԳՈՌ
ԳՈՌ ՋԻՀԱՆՅԱՆ
GOR JIHANIAN
DJR
ԴԱՎԻԴ ՋՈՆԱՏՈՆ ՐԱՍ
DAVID JONATHAN ROSS
2019

AYBUBEN – THE ARMENIAN ALPHABET

38
LETTERS
Ա
ԲԳ
ԴԵԶԷ
ԸԹԺԻԼԽ
ԾԿՀՁՂՃՄՅՆՇ
ՈՉՊՋՌՍՎՏՐՑՒՓՔՕՖ

FEATURES

ՄՎԿՆ

Contextual Alternates

ՔՍԶՍԷՍՓՍՋՍԸ

Extending Forms – Stylistic Set 08

ԲԿԵՎՏ

Simplified Forms– Stylistic Set 09

ԱՉՔ

Horizontal Cha – Stylistic Set 10

ՌՉ

Alternate Ra – Stylistic Set 11

ARMENIAN PUNCTUATION MARKS

Ո՞Վ Է
QUESTION
Ե՛Ս ԵՄ
EMPHASIS
ԵՍ Ե՜Մ
EXCLAMATION

Fit even the longest Armenian words

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Gor Jihanian  +  David Jonathan Ross © 2019