Lebanese designer Nadine Chahine is no stranger to the world of typography. Holding a doctorate in design, Chahine has devoted both her academic and professional career to both create Arabic versions of Latin typefaces, as well as designing completely original fonts.
In addition to designing custom typefaces for clients such as H&M, Sony and MBC, she was also featured on Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business list in 2012. Some of her past custom-font projects include Frutiger Arabic, Neue Helvetica Arabic, Univers Next Arabic, Palatino Arabic and Palatino Sans Arabic, Koufiya, Hamra Str. and Big Vesta Arabic.
In short: Not only is no Comic Sans on her emails, but she is an innovator in the world of Arabic typography.
Yet still, according to Chahine, the recently released Arabic version of Zapfino has been one of her most challenging and fulfilling projects.
Zapfino is a font that was developed by Hermann Zapf, a prominent designer, and is based on a sample of his own handwriting from 1944. Having worked with Zapf previously, the project was on Chahine's mind for awhile when some colleagues encouraged her to pursue it. However, she felt cautious to take on such a difficult challenge until in the summer of 2012 she decided that she was ready.
Previously referring to the new typeface as her " Everest," Chahine was kind enough to chat with StepFeed over email to discuss her groundbreaking Zapfino Arabic, as well as her other personal accomplishments.
Why were you personally drawn to this project? Did you have this in mind since designing Afendam typeface during your PhD studies?
I had enjoyed working with Hermann Zapf and was always thinking of what other projects we could collaborate on. Zapfino Arabic was always there as an impossible project but one that had a lot of appeal. I had not thought I would be able to do this, except after designing Afandem. That typeface showed me that I could draw calligraphic designs and that I actually liked that aesthetic.
You have referred to developing Zapfino Arabic as "climbing Everest." Can you explain more about how this project was so significant and difficult?
The difficulty lay in practically every aspect of the design. I had to design a hybrid of two calligraphic styles as neither was a fitting source on its own. Figuring out the right structure and proportion was a nightmare. The drawing of the elegant sweeping curves and maintaining that flow of pen movement across pre-fabricated and disconnected forms were both challenging. The technical implementation was very complex. I had to maintain several Excel sheets with the character set and feature definitions just so I could keep my head around it. The contextual kerning was an exercise in probability that I had to ask a mathematician for help with. Every step of this project was hard. I loved the design, of course, but it took everything I had in me, and more, to finish it. All the while I would think: once the design is done, the tagline for the typeface should be “designed with blood.” It really felt that hard.
As you developed the typeface, I understand you consulted a great deal with Hermann Zapf himself. Did he respond to the mixing of traditional and new? How engaged was he with the process?
He was very supportive during the whole process. We met every few months as I was rarely working full time on the design. I would show him the sketches and explain where the design was going. He might ask a few questions and would give his approval on the design. Over the years he has come to trust my design decisions and that is something that I value very dearly. The smiles of approval that I would get were precious to me.
When it comes to Arabic design and specifically typography, in what ways do you think further development is needed? Or what areas do you see the Arab design world developing?
We need more of everything, but especially informal display typefaces as well as text faces. We also need more educational programs to teach typography and type design. The number of professional type designers is steadily increasing and that is great. The important thing now is to pass on that knowledge and help it to evolve.
Do you have any other big future projects that you can tell us about?
I’ve been working on a text face for reading on screen so hopefully that will be of good use to Arab readers. I usually have several projects running at the same time and the pipeline for this year is quite interesting! I’ll try to share as many details along the way as I can.