Sabse bada Rupaiyya

BEFORE                AFTER

We are going back a little in time to record one of the major rebrand stories of 2010, the rebranding of the Indian Rupee. Scores of opinions have been poured on this already. And yet, a few things have to be said about a change that will impact generations to come.

A public contest announced in early 2009 by the Govt. of India saw 3300+ eligible entries from across the country. Entries cost Rs.500 each, a step that denied a large chunk of poor aspirants a chance to create history, while trying to restrict the entries to a manageable number. A review panel chose 5 finalists in what was billed a flawed selection by many. Reportedly, the 3300+ entries were reviewed by the panel collectively in near 17 hours. That’s barely a few seconds for each entry if you do the math, certainly not enough to see through the explanation/ meaning ( as required by the guidelines) of each entry. This is certainly not how one should arrive at a branding decision. The finalists and the winning entry were announced in the second half of 2010.

Here are the designs by the other four finalists :

The winning entry was created by D Udaya Kumar, an IITian, and this is what he reportedly said:

“My design is based on the Tricolour, with two lines at the top and white space in between. I wanted the symbol for the Rupee to represent the Indian flag. It is a perfect blend of Indian and Roman letters: a capital ‘R’, and Devanagari ‘ra’, which represent rupiya, to appeal to international and Indian audiences.”

For all the issues, I think the final design is a winner. Two parallel lines (that have for some reason become a standard way to denote a currency) have been supposedly used to depict the Indian flag; not an obvious observation for many, you could say.  It combines the ‘Ra’ from the traditional Devanagri script ( mother script to most Indian languages and one of the rare few using a stem atop ), with a modified English ‘R’ to create the new symbol. Its the most logical solution & the simplest too. Those are the toughest to arrive at.

And yet, in the context of a public contest, this can also be a problem with many people (in a wider population) thinking in the same logical manner. Look at the other finalist’s ( Nondita’s) entry, and you wonder if it is too different from the winning entry. From a design perspective, its only a varied typeface. And that is something that will happen inevitably. With time, the symbol will be stylized by designers to match individual fonts and one of them could end up looking like Nondita’s work too. So I wonder how one design is a winner & the other is not.

The review panel seems to have entirely missed the fact that they were choosing a ‘symbol’ and not a typeface per se. This is extremely important as the Rupee symbol would be written by all, all the time, and not just typed or printed in only a particular typeface. And you can’t lay down how each one should write the symbol. That apart, it would be severly limiting for a currency symbol to be used in only one particular typeface. All of us certainly can’t write it that way all the time. The style will vary, the form will remain – that’s the basic definition of a symbol. So you can’t just choose a particular style as the symbol. The form should be the winner.

Another case in point is an entry by yours truly.





Strategically speaking, the new symbol takes the rupee to the elite club of currencies having a unique symbol. From a Branding perspective, it has helped India distinguish its offering from the other similarly named currencies of many countries. It highlights the growing importance of India and its business on the world map, and gives a good direction for the future.

On the creative front, the symbol has been widely appreciated,and marginally criticized too.
Where it works :

  • its different from all letters, numbers, mathematical symbols, and will not confuse you when placed next to a number
  • has a fairly strong cultural connection (though there cannot be anything completely relevant to all Indians)
  • looks good
  • can be altered to suit different fonts
  • can be written fairly easily by people in other countries, an important factor in the growing global context

Where it does not work :

  • writing it may be slightly difficult; say you draw the two parallel lines first, then you have to go back to the top to write the R, and if you write the R first, then you’ll need a little effort to place the 2nd parallel line at the right place.  To be frank, we thought of this and had it covered up in our own design – so you draw 2 parallel lines and write the R from the 2nd line downwards, keeping the flow intact and making the writing effortless. The comparison is only to show how it could have been a bit more easier. Also, when the R crosses the 2 lines, it clutters the imaginary flag a little too, which is considered the mainstay of the concept
  • many hands used to writing in Devanagri will write the R with a loop at the turn, and others could also switch to this as its more easier to write it that way (like an ‘alpha’ if you please)

With talks on with hardware manufacturers to include the symbol in new keyboards, there is still some time to go before we see it appearing on currency notes & coins. Implementation in itself will be a long and interesting story to watch. For now, let’s rejoice the dawn of a new India on the global scene with its brave new symbol.


Strategy : 100%        Creativity : 70%        Execution : 70%


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