The 12th issue of Idpure Swiss magazine of graphic design and visual creation was dedicated on young type designers work in the glob. I was the young Arabic type design interviewed for the 12th issue of the magazine alongside Nikola Djurek, Kai Bernau, Anton Koovit, Christian Schwartz, Frederik Berlaen, Xavier Dupré.
When and Where did u grow up and study?
Which types of studies did you follow (artistic, technical, etc)?
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.
At what point did you realize that it was the typographical design that interested you?
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.
When did you begin your professional career?
I started my professional Graphic Design career in 2002 and my professional Arabic Type Design career in 2006.
Were you independent or was this within the framework of a studio, or an agency?
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.
How would you define your current activity?
Arabic type designer and typographer
Arabic typography instructor.
What is a typical working day for you?
Well it is: 1.Arabic Type Design work, 2.Writing articles about Arabic type and design related topics for my website and Blog, 3.Preparing for lectures and class sections and 4.Teaching typography courses.
On what kinds of projects do you usually work?
I work on Arabic Type design and typography projects. For the type work, it is either creating new Arabic typefaces for my own Arabic type library or creating Arabic corporate fonts for clients such as newspapers, publishing houses, etc. As for typography projects these or they can range from creating corporate identities to designing books. Mainly I work on all typography projects.
How do they come to you?
1. From my website and blog.
2. From colleagues of mine who have recommended me.
3. From my instructors at NDU and KABK who have recommended me.
4. From friends.
How do you manage these various types of projects?
It is all about time management. I do most projects by myself, but when I have several big projects that I need to finish at the same time then I ask some of my colleagues to help.
Do you work with other trade areas (programmers, graphic designers, etc)?
Naturally, I work with graphic and type designers when I am collaborating in a design project. I also work with programmers and font-mastering professionals when I need to add hinting to my fonts, write scripts to help me in the development process of my fonts (like python scripts for Robofab), or advanced OpenType features.
RELATION WITH TYPE DESIGN:
How would you analyze the current state of the Arabic typographical creation (influential tendencies, people, evolution…)?
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 Pascal Zoghbi 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.
Which are the directions that interest you the most?
Creating modern new Arabic fonts that meet the needs of the young Arabic graphic designer, corporate Arabic fonts, newspapers modern titling and text types, etc.
What is your relation with the area of graphic design and graphic designers? How does it influence your work?
I am an active Arabic graphic designer besides being an Arabic type Designer. My work ranges from creating new Arabic fonts, to designing layouts for books, to creating corporate identities, to designing and organizing events like exhibitions and other graphic design projects. My Arabic type design is directly influenced by the need of the modern Arabic graphic designers. There is a immense need for new Arabic fonts from graphic designers that will enable them to design modern layouts using modern Arabic typefaces, and there isn’t a big variety of proper Arabic fonts in the market. So that is why you always hear from Arabic graphic designers that they need new Arabic fonts or that there is not enough Arabic type options that they can choose from and work with. Since I am a young Arabic type designer, I am always trying to create new Arabic fonts that fill the needs of the modern Arabic graphic designer.
What is your relation with the abstract form?
The Arabic letters can be seen as abstract forms (especially to non-Arab individuals). When I’m drawing Arabic glyphs and trying to balance the black and white areas in each glyph by itself or between other glyphs, I am working with abstract forms.
Are you interested by Art and Theory?
Does it influence your design?
For Arabic type design, it is about Arabic calligraphic art and Arabic calligraphic drawing theories and techniques. The first step of starting an Arabic type design project is to choose what Arabic calligraphic style (Naskh, Kufi, Thuluth…) the design is going to refer to. So even though I am designing a modern font, I am always referring back to the artistic and theoretical information about the Arabic calligraphic style that my design is based upon.
The market of corporate typeface is fully expanding.
What do you think about the impact on type design?
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. Recently I created a headline Arabic typeface for an Arabic newspaper (the project is still confidential, so I will not be able to say the name of the newspaper until it’s launching in December 2008). The newspaper 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.
Regarding the impact, I think it is very positive and important for the development of the Arabic typefaces and the up-rise of new Arabic type foundries. 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.
For you which are the determining elements of your formal choices during the creation process of a corporate typeface.
The intended use of the typeface and the look it needs to portray are the two primarily elements for me to start sketching the letters. So if I am designing a corporate typeface that is going to be for a bank whose clients are big companies it will be completely different than designing a corporate typeface for an Arabic cultural magazine whose readers are between 16 and 28 years old.
Do you have around you particular people (colleagues…) to whom you submit your work for feedback or does everything occur with the client?
Usually all the feedback is done directly with the clients, but most often before sending my typefaces to the client I like to ask some of my colleagues about their own opinion. I am still in close contact with my former classmates at Type & Media and with our instructors from the academy like Erik van Blokland and Peter Bilack. I sometimes ask the opinion of Huda abiFares as an Arabic typographer colleague and finally my graphic design colleagues in Lebanon like my former boss at “Alarm Design” Mr. Bassam Kahwagé and my close graphic design friends like Youhana Houjaili.
How do you currently see the market of the typography?
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 awareness of the importance of Arabic typefaces will surely enrich the Arabic typography market in the coming years.
Which role has, according to you, hacking and copying fonts?
Are you interested in the legal aspects of selling fonts?
Hacking and copying Arabic fonts is a big problem in the Arab world. Besides hacking of fonts between Arabic type foundries, Arabic typographers and graphic designers do not see the need of buying fonts but consider it as data that needs to be available for them without the need to pay for it. It is part of our culture and social thinking. Even my graphic design students (who supposedly are the new generation and should comprehend the concept of purchasing Arabic fonts) still do not buy fonts but copy fonts from themselves or buy hacked fonts on a CD with hundreds of fonts on it for just around 3 USD. The other problem is whenever you buy a new computer in Lebanon, the company who is selling the computer installs hundreds of fonts for the future user as a service. So they think that they are doing a good service by installing fonts for their clients for free (and surely the fonts they have are copied or hacked and they did not pay for them initially). As an Arabic type designer, I am always worried about the future of my fonts, always worried that if I opened my fonts for sale in the Arab market then very few are going to be sold and then copies of them will be made and sold illegally. At the present moment I am only selling my fonts to corporate companies. One of my fonts SADA (beta version) was published with the Typographic Matchmaking book. I hope it will not be copied enormously but most probably it will be. So that is why it is beta version and only the regular and bold weights are available on the cd with the book. So if a design company or ad agency wants to have the proper final version of the font and with all the weights, then they need to buy it from me.
How do you establish the link between Arab and Roman typography?
Which are the principal similarities and differences? Up to which point is a particular character transposable from one alphabet to another?
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.
Besides keeping the same stroke width and contrast, and maintaining the same balance for the Loop heights, tooth heights (Loop and tooth heights are equivalent to the x-height for the Roman type), ascender and descender heights; seven main characteristics were used to create Sada and make it coherent with Seria: (I will just list the titles of the seven points and for more info you can link to my website or buy the Typographic Matchmaking book and read more about this.) 1. Borrowed characteristics and the slant angle from Seria Italic, 2.Sharp curves and endings, 3.Naskh and Kufi based structure for the Arabic letters, 4.Open counters, 5.Proportional glyphs, 6.Harmony in the color of the text and 7.No straight baseline. So you can notice that it is not about taking the lowercase “e” and flipping it to become the Arabic letter “waw”, but to study the characteristics of the Roman type and then try to transfer it to the Arabic type without Latinizing it.
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.
Can you briefly give us some historical elements of the Arab typography?
Well I think I will not be able to write enough about the historical elements of Arabic Typography in this interview, but you can visit my website (www.29letters.com) and blog (www.29letters.wordpress.com) and read the articles I wrote about Arabic typography and the links to articles written by other Arabic specialists. You can also visit the newly launched Khatt Foundation website (www.khtt.net).
In what is the design of a font set for a newspaper different from a character of corporate (style, technical constraints, process)?
Imarat Headlines is a good example to compare it to my other Arabic typefaces and see the difference in the design and the proportions. The main points are: 1.Condensed letters and narrow spacing, 2. A sturdy straight baseline, 3.A bold strong letters and 4.A modern look with a classical feel to it. Newspapers are read by most of the people and you cannot make a big change between the old typefaces used and the new one because the readers will not accept it or at least the owners of the newspaper prefer a smooth long-term change instead of an overnight big change with the risk of losing readers. In brief, a modern newspaper type should be condensed in order to acquire a big amount of text in a specific area as well as to be highly legible for fast reading.
Moving on to the technical constrains, most of the Arabic newspapers still use Quark Arabic and did not make the shift to Adobe Indesign ME. Quark Arabic does not support yet Arabic opentype fonts and only works with AXt fonts that are initially produced by Layout type foundry. While finalizing Imarat for the Arabic newspaper, I had to transfer my opentype font to AXt format to enable it work with Quark Arabic. I underwent a big research about AXt fonts and learnt the technical aspects of how to generate proper AXt fonts before I was able to send the font to the client. Hopefully Arabic opentype fonts will be supported by the new versions of Quark Arabic.