Love your letters, they are your babies!

The Khatt Foundation Center for Arabic Typography just published an interview with Pascal Zoghbi, independent type designer, as part of their Multiple Baselines series. I really loved this quote of Pascal’s at the end of the interview:

Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares: What is your advice for the younger generation of type designers from the region?
Pascal Zoghbi: I still consider myself part of the young generation of Arabic type designers, but I guess your question is what would be my advice for the beginner type designers. I would say first and foremost: learn, practice and understand Arabic calligraphy.

Read the full interview on the Khatt Foundation website.

Different stages of the Hamsa font design process.

Different stages of the Hamsa font design process. From

The tale of two Alphabets

I just read an interesting article by James Souttar that compares the development of the Latin and Arabic alphabets. He has some good insights (I think) on how the differences between these two scripts reveal different divergent cultural values.

Gutenberg’s revolution, which made possible many other technological revolutions in Western Europe and North America, couldn’t have happened without two highly significant characteristics of the Roman alphabet. First, the isolated nature of its letterforms and, second, the fact that the shape of each letterform is wholly independent of its context.

Visual language says a great deal about a culture and in particular these two alphabetic characteristics say a great deal about that of ‘the West’. This was a culture that valued the breaking down of things into simple, consistent and context-independent components – so as to exercise greater control and effectiveness over those things – whether the ‘thing’ in question was a system, a process or an aesthetic composition. And the monks of the mediaeval scriptoria, whose incanabulae Gutenberg so carefully copied, clearly understood this: they had produced the alphabetic characteristics that enabled Gutenberg’s revolution to facilitate a proto-industrial process of document production. It was this emphasis on decontextualisation – literally, separating the letterform from its context – that later gave birth to the stripped back aesthetic of modernist typography.

The Arabic alphabet, which was common to all of the languages of the Islamic world (principally Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Urdu) provided a different trajectory to modernity. Arabic may only have 28 letters but in writing the appearance of each one of those letters depends, critically, on whether it appears at the beginning, middle or end of a word (and in fine calligraphy this is extended to include a much wider range of variations). Furthermore, although its letterforms are no less considered than their Roman counterparts, each is valued less, aesthetically, than the beauty of the unique word shape they contribute to (and, indeed, than the form of the whole text). The Arabic letter is inseparably part of a whole – which makes for exquisite calligraphy, dependent entirely upon the fine judgment of the calligrapher – but does not lend itself to a simple, repeatable set of mechanical rules.

In the 2010s it seems more likely that we’ll be celebrating a ‘world design’ aesthetic that is about positive qualities of connection and context, dialogue and relationship – qualities that resonate increasingly strongly for many of us. And, ironically, these are exactly the qualities that have always been implicit in the visual expressions of the Arabic alphabet.

The full article can be found here:

So what do you think? Is the recent creative explosion in the world of Arabic typography responding to our need to be more inter-connected? How have our typographic sensitivities changed in recent years?

Arabesque—it’s trendy!


I just read an article at that discussed 2009 logo design and branding trends. In this article, the Paris-based design studio analyzes new logos produced in 2009 for recurring design patterns. They have come up with several categories, including psychedelic pop backgrounds, origami, tactile elements, “classic modern,” pictograms, etc. One of the categories they discuss is called “arabesque.” The logos in this category use the Arabic script or decorative elements which are reminiscent of Arabic. I particularly liked this quote:

Logo designers who use the Arabesque style often have to be sensitive to one of the defining characteristics of Arab calligraphy: thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes with in-between gradations.

Check out the rest of the article here: