Arabesque Book Interview

1. short paragraph about yourself … (3-6 sentences) – where and when born, grown up … – education – profession (where have you worked … what are you doing now) – favorite field of design

I grew up in a small village called “Cornet Chehwan” in Mount-Lebanon, Lebanon. I completed my primary and secondary school studies at the Saint Joseph School in Cornet Chehwan then received my Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from the Notre Dame University [NDU], Lebanon in 2002, and my Master of Design in Type Design (Type and Media postgraduate course) from The Royal Academy of Arts [kabk], in The Netherlands in 2006. I started my professional Graphic Design career in 2002 and my professional Arabic Type Design career in 2006. Prior to my postgraduate studies, I worked in Beirut for several years as a graphic designer in print and web design agencies. I have been working independently as a type and graphic designer since August 2006 and I am currently a part-time instructor teaching graphic design and typography courses at AUB (American University of Beirut) and NDU (Notre Dame University) in Lebanon. For more info about my work please visit my website

2. what’s the design scene in lebanon like?… – how did it develop over the past few years? – how do you see future trends? – main source of inspiration for young lebanese graphic designers … – in which way does globalization and new media like the internet affect design styles in Lebanon

Lebanon is the leading design hub in the Middle East. Every year tens of fresh graduates or experienced graphic designers go to work in the Arabic nations especially in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other places. There are four qualified Universities that have Graphic design programs. Every year around 120 to 200 new graphic designers are being introduced to the small Lebanese nation. This results in: 1. over-saturated graphic design professionals in a small nation 2. low salaries for graphic designers (since senior graphic designers can be easily replaced with fresh graduates with lower salaries) and 3. increasing immigration to Arab nations which is the result of the first two points and part of the intellectual immigration that Lebanon is suffering from due to economical and political problems.

Despite the mentioned bad points, the Arabic graphic design culture is growing and awareness of the importance of Arabic type is increasing. Over the past three to five years, there have been several important initiatives in Lebanon, the Middle East and Europe like the TypoBeirut Conference, the Kitabat Conference, the Typographic Matchmaking project, the Tasmeem fonts and plug-in, the Tanseek fonts and project alongside other events that are helping in the development of the Arabic typography field. Furthermore, there is an emergence of young contemporary Arabic type designers that are helping in the creation of modern Arabic typefaces.

The source of inspiration for young Lebanese graphic designers is mostly from Western design trends and from a few renowned Arabic graphic and type designers. Lebanese people in general are more influenced by European and American cultures rather than Arabic culture. Designers rely on international design magazines, posters, books and websites. Western design and trends appear modern for the young designers whereas Arabic cultures and trends appear to them as old stylish and traditional. This is mainly due to the fact that most Lebanese read and write English and French more than Arabic.

Globalization and new media are great sources of inspiration for young designers that allow them to have an overview of what’s happening in the design scene worldwide. Lebanese designers tend to observe the international design trends and try to imitate or recycle them to produce original work that relates to their language and culture.

Being an Arabic type and typography instructor, I am always trying to push forward the love of Arabic type and Lebanese culture and make the young design students aware of the richness of their culture. I remember myself when I was a student and how it took me a while to transform my dislike of Arabic type into admiration and respect.

3. arabic typography and type design
-how/why did you get interested in type design

I got interested in the Arabic letters while I was working on my graduation project during my BA program. Back then, I started to read and research about revolutionary Arabic Type projects like the work of Mr. Nasri Khatar (Unified type) and Mr. Saïd Akl (Lebanese Type). I was also fortunate to have MR. Saïd Akl, renowned Arabic Lebanese poet and philosopher, as a teacher in the Arabic Literature class. Prior to my Master study in type design, I was experimenting with Arabic type, and during my Master studies at Type and Media and learned the professional type design profession and gained a lot of information about Arabic type from my intensive research about traditional and contemporary Arabic type calligraphers, designers and typefaces.

-development of the arabic type market over the past few years?
-what role does bilingualism play? why is there a stronger demand for arabic and latin matching fonts?

The market of Arabic typography is bit poor at the present moment but the need for new design culture and new Arabic typefaces is expanding more and more and the growing awareness of the importance of Arabic typefaces will surely enrich the Arabic typography market in the coming years.

The market of Arabic corporate typefaces is expanding rapidly in the Arab world in several categories: 1.All of the international companies who are opening branches in the Middle East that need Arabic companion fonts for their Latin Corporate fonts. 2.Local Arab companies who are newly opening and need a corporate typeface and identity or present local companies up-dating their identity. 3.New Arabic newspapers or present Arabic newspapers that are re-designing and upgrading their layout are asking for new corporate Headlines and text typefaces. 4. The need for multi-script typefaces (Arabic/Latin) since most of the publications in the Middle East are bilingual or trilingual (Arabic, English & French).

Recently I created headline Arabic typefaces for an Arabic newspaper in Dubai, Kuwait and Egypt that are going to be out in the market by 2008. The newspaper in Dubai is present now in the market but they are now up-dating the layout and design of the magazine and they are looking for modern Arabic typefaces that will appeal to their young readers. As for Lebanon, through the past three years there were several new newspapers opening and new Arabic typefaces were developed for them form local and international type design agencies.

Concerning Arabic/ Latin typeface, the Typographic Matchmaking project organized by the Khatt foundation is a good example of how to establish a link between Arabic and Roman Typefaces. You can read more about this project on the Khatt Foundation website or in the Typographic Matchmaking book. I worked on Sada, the Arabic counterpart of Seria that is designed by Martin Majoor, and TheMix Arabic. The main concept is not to copy and paste glyph shapes from the Roman and convert them into Arabic glyphs, but to redraw all the Arabic glyphs from scratch while trying to keep the same feel and look of the Arabic type as close as possible to the Roman counterpart. The type designer must understand the characteristics of both Arabic and Roman scripts and respects them during the design process. The Arabic script and Roman script are completely different scripts that they are not comparable. No character can be transposable directly from the Roman to the Arabic. A proper Arabic typeface will be drawn all from scratch. Well the lowercase “l” can be transformed into and “alef isolated” with few modifications, and the lower case “m” rotated and transformed into a “seen”, but this can only happen in a sans serif Roman typeface and the Arabic counterpart is based on simplified Kufi structures.

Unlike the Latin typefaces, the Arabic type libraries are not that developed or as large as the Latin counterpart; the creation of modern corporate Arabic fonts that will be available in the market (after the exclusivity of the fonts is over) is extremely important to expand the variety of properly designed Arabic fonts in the market. With more awareness about the importance of typefaces in the Arab world, more typefaces will be produced and a larger variation of modern Arabic typefaces will be present for Arabic typographers and graphic designer to use in their designs.

-in which way does unicode and the constantly improving arabic “typeface-situation” affect modern graphic design and at the same time the use of traditional methods/ craftsmanship?

With the Unicode support for the Arabic language and the continual new technological achievements in the type medium like OpenType features, RoboFab and other technologies beside the designer friendly font editors like FontLab enabled the creation and development of Arabic fonts to become easier and approximately most of the technical problems that use to limit the production of Arabic fonts vanished. During the 60s until the late 80s, the transition from analogous to digital, due to the computer’s limitations at that time the Arabic script was constantly faced with problems like the connections of the letters, the limited character set and the right to left direction of writing. It was not the concept of the emerging computer programming technology as such that caused the problems. Certainly there were technical limitations, mainly related to the display and more acutely to printing technology. That is why the Arabic was – and is – always mainly discussed in terms of the need for simplification. Paradoxically, after the mid 90s till our present day, computer technology has evolved in a way to find solutions for all of the problems. There is the extended Arabic character set of Unicode and the invention of smart font technology like OpenType Font supporting Arabic type on all major computer platforms (Mac OSX, Windows NT and later) that handles most of the problems. The development of Arabic font is not linked anymore to big type foundries but to independent Arabic type designers creating modern Arabic typefaces. Hence modern Arabic graphic design will benefit since modern Arabic fonts will help in the creation of modern Arabic graphic design work.

There are three main directions in the Arabic type design word nowadays. Arabic type designers and typographers who are working on simplifying the Arabic script and making it detached represent the first direction. The second direction is backed up by conservative traditional Arabic type designers who state that the Arabic does not need to be simplified any more since the technology is now well developed to accommodate all the needs/problems of an Arabic calligraphic typeface. The third direction is represented by several contemporary Arabic type designers who’s work deal with creating modern Arabic typefaces which are legible and friendly to the everyday applications or to the need of their clients. All of the three directions are important for the development of the Arabic type design field and to expand the possibilities of different kinds of Arabic typefaces found in the market.

Professional graphic designers and students are always asking for new Arabic fonts. Before the launch of Adobe InDesign ME versions and the development of the OpenType Arabic fonts, most of the Arabic typographer used Quark AXt and were limited to AXt Arabic fonts. Until now the AXt fonts are the most used even-though the users of Quark AXt is diminishing. The reason for that is there are not so may new OpenType Arabic fonts for them to use instead of the AXt fonts. Over the last few years, the awareness about Arabic type and the need for new fonts was translated in the rise of Arabic Type Foundries and young Contemporary independent Arabic Type Designers. From the past three years there was Nadine Chahine, Titus Nemith and myself who have graduated with Masters in Type Design and are specialized in Arabic type. All three of us now are working and developing new Arabic fonts that are starting to appear in the Market.

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