Matching Arabic–Latin scripts in logotypes

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Azza Alameddine is a native Arabic speaker from Lebanon and has been working for Dalton Maag for a few months. Azza recently ran a workshop for colleagues discussing the characteristics of Arabic typography and explaining best practice for matching Latin and Arabic scripts in logotypes.

“It is our responsibility as type designers to educate graphic designers, typographers and branding agencies about the richness of Arabic calligraphy and the infinite typographic possibilities that can emerge from it.”

Azza Alameddine

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Old cities, old calligraphy

Arabic typography started in the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century, a few centuries after its Latin sister. If we can still see the major calligraphic scripts (Ruq’a, Naskh, Nasta’liq) in the streets of old Middle Eastern cities today, it is because talented masters of calligraphy have refined the proportions and shapes over the years, and the styles have survived because they were clear, legible and beautiful. The artistic development of different scripts also meant that there was more room to express the subtle sensibilities of context. We can actually see that some of the styles used in a specific context back then are still used in the same way today.

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Calligraphic Naskh in a 13th century manuscript. Typographic Naskh in a 20th century book.

New cities, ‘new’ typography

Although Arabic typography has always had its shortcomings, it has noticeably regressed in aesthetics and functionality in recent decades. In more modern cities in the Gulf, the geometric Kufi typefaces seem to be setting a trend in the matchmaking culture. Although Kufi has not been used as a reading script since the 13th century, its emergence eight centuries later as an Arabic counterpart for Sans Serif Latin typography (in display but also in text) seems questionable.

The truth is, what we call Kufi today (or some call a hybrid between Naskh and Kufi), is actually a simplification of shapes imposed by the rigidness of Latin typography and rationalised as inspired from ‘Kufic’ calligraphy. If to western eyes matchmaking of the Kufi and sans serif seems to work, to an Arab reader it looks completely primitive and obsolete.

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A Latin sans-serif logo matching a very badly designed Kufi-style Arabic;
The top part of ‘jeem’ is square, the ‘dal’ is too closed and too wide.

Arabic is known for its cursive, flowing and horizontal feel. Reading is made optimal when letters don’t really align, teeth are not repetitive; in other words, when modularity is reduced to a minimum. You can imagine then why the geometric typefaces seen everywhere in the Gulf feel as if Arabic typography is taking a step backwards. Geometric typefaces are not a good option for reading. They strip out all the characteristics that make text legible at the expense of matching their features with those of the Latin. A similar rigidity is found in the real Kufi script which is why it was abandoned a long time ago.

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Quran in Kufi script from the 8th century.      Recent magazine with ‘Kufi’ used as body text.

Although you could argue that looking at a logo is not really ‘reading’ and as a result Kufi could be a good option, in reality the script was never part of Arabic reading habits or visual culture. The only time Kufi might seem like a good choice is if matched with a display, bold, modular Latin. And so, by default, setting it in long texts is widely abusive to Arabic typography.

 

Arabic-Latin logo matching workshop

Azza’s workshop aimed at highlighting bad conceptual decisions that are often made when matchmaking Arabic–Latin typography today and finding alternatives to these.

The workshop started with an introduction to the different styles of Arabic calligraphy and the contexts in which they were most commonly used over the centuries.

Next, Azza showed recent pictures of calligraphy, lettering and typography taken from the streets of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and the United Arab Emirates to illustrate the current visual culture in the Middle East, and draw a parallel between each style’s old and current use. The aims was to bring awareness to the participants about the function of each style.

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Some examples of bilingual signs in the Middle East. Latin sans-serif with a Naskh, Ruq’a and Nasta’liq companion in that order. Matching is not an important issue in vernacular lettering, as priority is given to legibility.

The matchmaking concept

Arabic calligraphy is rich in scripts and each one is used for a specific purpose. But, when matchmaking Latin and Arabic, often designers used to the Latin script make choices which are not suited to the Arabic. People are used to seeing particular styles in particular contexts, so the choice of corresponding Arabic style is often made to fit with the feel and function of the Latin typeface rather than its features. A good matchmaking should convey the feeling of its Latin counterpart rather than its typographic features and traditions should be respected.

Workshop participants made their choices according to what had been explained: Ruq’a is informal, Diwani is fancy, Naskh is traditional, Kufi is display….Few of them were familiar with the Arabic script, but the concept was grasped by everyone and they started by copying the corresponding shapes from existing calligraphic typefaces. They had two hours to figure out the letters, draw them, and then try to match the contrast and proportions of the Latin. They did a great job in such a short time, and although not refined, the results are very interesting.

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H&M in Ruq’a as the Latin is informal. William Montrose

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Vivienne Westwood in Diwani to give it a swashy display feel. Ueli Kaufmann

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Balmain in Thuluth for the majestic feel. Michele Patanè

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Moschino in Kufi because it is appropriate in this case. José Solé

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Marc Jacobs in a slightly modulated Naskh because it’s the most appropriate choice in this case. Riccardo de Franceschi

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Paul Smith in a Ruq’a/Diwani hybrid to translate the informal handwriting but also the fancy feel of the brand. Damien Collot

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 Gucci in Naskh because the Latin can work as text. Deiverson Ribeiro

Conclusion

It is very important that we accept and respect that not all scripts convey the same feeling when given the same features. Actually Latin and Arabic are quite opposites in many ways; this is why even an interpretation of features is sometimes not possible. When you are matching scripts, they should respect your audience’s reading habits, work on their own, and at the same time live in harmony.

To twenty first century designers, calligraphy seems too traditional and ‘uncool’. Everyone wants to experiment with new styles and do something that nobody has done before. But the truth is, if you want enhance Arabic typography, the calligraphic legacy that the Ottomans have so generously inherited us must be preserved.

In the 15th century, calligraphers have refined Naskh to give it a sharper, more modern feel. Calligraphy is not set in stone; it can be modernised in many ways through typography. As long it maintains its primary function (writing beautifully), it can, with the right talent, be adapted into today’s reading habits and challenges.

And so, it is our responsibility as type designers to educate graphic designers, typographers and branding agencies about the richness of Arabic calligraphy and the infinite typographic possibilities that can emerge from it.

 

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Blenny Joins the Dalton Maag Library

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With summer in full swing here in the UK, it’s appropriate that the seaside is one of the inspirations behind the latest font to join our library. Blenny is a fabulously curvaceous fat face display font with elegant hairlines and exaggerated ball terminals. Conceptualized by our Font Developer, Spike Spondike, the design has a retro feel with lively and voluptuous curves. A true individual, Blenny is launching with support for two script systems, Latin and Thai.

Inspiration came from everywhere. Spike’s early sketches took ideas from her visits to the beach at St Leonards, on the South Coast of England, and encouraged her to play with a vintage, seafaring theme. Other influences included the retro typefaces used on old electronics equipment and gin bottles.

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As international type designers, we decided to include a non-Latin script in the initial launch of Blenny. It was Spike’s previous experience of working with Thai, and a trip to Bangkok, which prompted her to connect the diversity of shapes in the Thai script with the design of Blenny. Spike relished the challenge of creating the Thai glyphs whilst maintaining the key features of Blenny’s design. Creative decisions on the Thai in turn led back to refinements to the original Latin.

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The font includes a large number of ligatures to ensure that the tight spacing works for every letter combination. Individual glyphs such as the “a” seem to wrap around themselves in a hug, creating something that’s visually very pleasing. With its soft curves and retro feel it is perfect for branding, bold headlines, or product labels.

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Our Chairman, Bruno Maag, loved the design from the minute he laid eyes on it, and says he’s considering having a tattoo done in the font to mark its release. We’ve also been celebrating our new addition by creating the Blenny gin cocktail – just like the font it’s named after, a Blenny is bold, punchy, and has a touch of class.

35ml gin
15ml green chartreuse
1 piece of cucumber
Whole lime
10ml sugar
Shake and double strain into a highball with ice. Top with soda.
Garnish with a dash of Angostura bitters.
Created by – Byron Knight, Off Broadway

Licences for Blenny can be bought from the Dalton Maag website.


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Dalton Maag introduces single editions and simplified pricing

We have consolidated the Editions within our font library; each font is now distributed as a Single Edition, with all of the language coverage and typographic support available for that design delivered in a single file.

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We have also introduced a new pricing structure, with all fonts at the same price of £48 per font style for a 5-user licence.

If you have previously purchased font licences you will now also have download access to the equivalent Single Edition file. There is no charge for this update, and there will be no charge for any future additions, features, or technical updates within the Single Edition model.

Why are we doing this?

Our customer base operates in international markets and often has need for different writing systems within one project, for instance the languages of Western Europe plus Arabic. Although they are keen to use matching fonts, customers cannot always justify the additional cost and so are forced to resort to an approximate match for which they already hold a licence.

Our Single Editions will help more of our users to use the right font every time, and at no extra cost.

“It has long been bugging me that someone who wants to use a writing system other than Latin should have to pay more for the privilege. So, it is for this reason that we have introduced this new practise. Anyone can now enjoy the fonts designed by Dalton Maag for one single price, irrespective of the number of languages supported. This will see us fulfilling an ambition as a design business, simplifying both the process for licensing fonts as well as the logistics of font distribution. We do this in the strong belief that font licensing should be as simple as possible, and inclusive, acknowledging the global nature of our customer base and creating equality between the different global regions.”   Bruno Maag, Chairman.

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What should I do if I already own a license to a Standard, Corp, Arabic, Typographic edition?

If you have previously licensed one of our fonts you will find the new Single Edition already in your downloads area. This edition may have different naming when installed, so documents and templates created previously may need to be updated.

You can see our new editions at www.daltonmaag.com

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Oscine – New font from Dalton Maag

Today sees the launch of Dalton Maag’s Oscine, a new sans serif display font family with a geometrical design expression and a condensed feel. It combines quirky lowercase characters with more conventional capitals, and has exactly the right amount of character.Oscine web (1)

Oscine can have a very different feel depending on whether only the lower or uppercase is used, or the two are used together. If designers choose to only use the uppercase then the font is serious and hard hitting, behaving like a traditional grotesque. If they opt for including the lowercase then its personality becomes more playful and distinctive. This makes Oscine a very flexible display font that can be used in a wide variety of situations.

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The condensed proportions and high x-height make it a great choice for wayfinding, while refined draughtsmanship, shortened descenders and a strong personality ensure its suitability for headlines and titles. An unconventional lowercase gives Oscine its instant recognition factor. The characters are bold in their execution and the missing tails and spurs on selected letters (a, b, d, p, and q) render them delightfully idiosyncratic.

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Originally designed for low resolution TV screens by Bruno Maag and Ron Carpenter, Oscine has been tweaked and optimised for today’s print and high resolution digital environments. It is level one hinted, covers an extended Latin character set, and is available in two weights, a regular and bold. The weight differentiations are subtle, and carefully set for maximum impact at large sizes.

Oscine is available to purchase at www.daltonmaag.com

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The Pioneering Days of Multiple Master Fonts

Conrad Taylor (http://www.conradiator.com/) recently came to our office to share his experience of publishing tools used before the desktop computer was commonly available. In his presentation he described some old typesetting machines, among them the Berthold Diatype. At this point, I recoiled in terror as dark memories surfaced of a time when I operated this machine, created by what I still regard as some of the most evil minds on the planet. This got me thinking about some of the important advances that have been made in type design technology.

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Today, our font developers use Multiple Master (MM) technology to create multi-weight font families. This process allows the designer to draw the extreme weights of a typeface, say Thin and ExtraBold. The designer can then interpolate any point in between, and relatively quickly achieve a large range of weights. The interpolated weights have to be manually optimised to ensure they perform exactly as intended, and the larger the difference between the extreme weights, the more manual work is required.

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Interpolation helped our designers expand Aktiv Grotesk to a super family with 8 weights and 2 styles.

MM fonts were first pioneered by Adobe around 1992. It was a great idea that ultimately failed as a font format. Users barely understood how to use normal fonts on their Macintoshes at that point, and support by programs and printer drivers was erratic. However, it also provided opportunities for those of us who were tenacious.

In 1994, I was commissioned by Paul Luna at Oxford University Press to design a titling font for the Oxford Dictionaries, the Thesaurus and other publications in the same series. The aim was to have a typeface that could always be set at the same type size, irrespective of the length of title. MM fonts were the answer to the problem, and fortunately, Fontographer 4 had just been released allowing the creation of MM fonts.

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Multiple Master fonts allowed the designers to optically match weights across different font sizes.

As I was working on the project, it became clear very quickly how buggy the implementation was. Over a period of about two weeks, I was in daily contact with Altsys, the developers of Fontographer, to provide test reports. The engineers would release a bug fix overnight, and in the morning I would dial up with my modem to download the latest update, a process that took several hours. Eventually, however, I had a reasonably stable version that allowed me to finish the font successfully.

The resulting typeface was a two-axis MM font, weight and width. It consisted of caps only, sufficient for the setting of the titles. When working with MM, it is important that a glyph in the various extremes – in this case four – has a design and digital compatibility. The number of nodes, their numbering and direction of digitisation must all match. Not doing so will result in some unexpected interpolations. Font developers now have automated tools to help them achieve this compatibility, but I had to manually ensure that all the glyphs across the four designs resulted in the same structure. This manual compatibility check had to be done not only across the glyph design, but also across kerning and other font related data. To say that it was a painful exercise is an understatement.

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The Oxford Dictionary font, Bruno’s first ever Multiple Master, in development.

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The Oxford Dictionary font, Bruno’s first ever Multiple Master, in development.

I think that this was the first custom MM font ever produced in Europe, and I’m proud of the result. It’s a nice typeface that fulfilled the brief. It was used for a number of years by OUP, but I guess once the MM format was no longer supported, the font disappeared back into the drawer. Creating it was a great learning experience and it felt like pioneer work.

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