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Nadine Chahine

The Making of Zapfino Arabic

by Ajda Zupančič (Text) and Norman Posselt (Photos)

On Friday, April 17 2015, CreativeMornings Berlin presented Nadine Chahine, a Lebanese type designer who works at Monotype as the Arabic type design specialist. Among others she designed arabic versions of Frutiger, Neue Helvetica, and Palatino. She talked about her latest and most challenging project – the Arabic version of the well established Latin script typeface Zapfino.

Chahine has always been interested in the relationship between Arabic and Latin and how they can coexist in harmony. The idea of working on Zapfino Arabic started as a joke amongst her colleagues at Monotype – it seemed way too complicated to be meant seriously. But in 2012 she did a PhD in legibility studies, focusing on Arabic script, for which she designed three typefaces, including Afandem typeface, which is based on manuscript Naskh. It was her first attempt at a calligraphic design and she enjoyed the drawing of it, the elegance, the fact that it is not utilitarian, and the nice movement that comes with it. And after designing something so complex, the idea became really interesting.

In summer 2012 she was almost finished with her PhD, and — as she described it — slightly masochistically, she decided to start working on Zapfino. Chahine drew a few characters, printed them out and went to visit professor Hermann Zapf. He liked the idea, and for the next two years she would be visiting him. Nadine Chahine would draw characters directly on the computer and Zapf would give her feedback. They would always have pear cake his wife had prepared.

Chahine’s approach to designing an Arabic version of a Latin type is very pragmatic: She always starts with looking at the intended function of the original typeface and the function of the Arabic has to stay the same. I​t’s impossible to just copy the Latin style and implement it. Z​apfino is based on professor Zapf’s handwriting, so it had to look like he would be writing in Arabic.

The first challenge was which way to tilt. Latin is written from left to right and Zapfino is slanted forward. But Arabic is written in the opposite direction, so here is the first problem. If Arabic was tilted forward they would clash together. If you tilt them in the same direction one is forward and one is backwards and the logic doesn’t work. There is a calligraphic style in Arabic where the writing is back­slanted, but it didn’t fit the other criteria, so it had to be a hybrid. Chahine wasn’t just designing a calligraphic typeface, she was inventing a calligraphic style.

Another issue were the proportions of the ascenders and descenders — t​hey had to be a little exaggerated to give it the “Zapfino flair”. How big could she make them to still be acceptable? At the end of the day it shouldn’t look like a joke, it should just look like someone was really excited.

With thicks and thins it had to follow the Zapfino, but not 100%. “There are thins that we can accept in latin but not in Arabic”, Chahine explains. One of the most difficult aspects of the design was to draw the characters separately and make them look like it was one stroke. In Arabic there are many different context sensitive forms, different versions of every character because of the connecting logic with the one that comes before and after. There are around 20 to 30 possibilities for each character and they all just have to work. In the end it resulted in around 600­–700 characters. “It’s not a lot, when I scroll down, it finishes quickly”, she says.

Her design tool was Glyphs, because it enabled her to design in string. The changing connecting logic made it impossible to design only in individual letters, so she had to design in words. “The open type features are very complex, kerning is a nightmare but with this tool it was manageable.”

The project was one of the most difficult she had worked on so far. Maybe that’s why she respectfully calls it her Mount Everest. “The unofficial name of Zapfino Arabic is ‘Designed With Love’, this is how difficult it was. The only easy thing about the project was the name, everything else was just suicidal“, Chahine sums up.

Interestingly enough, she finds designing Latin harder and more frustrating: “It’s like you guys are sitting so close to each other and you’re trying to find a space to sit in the middle. There are so many typefaces that exist and there is nothing you can draw that wouldn’t look like something else.”

At the end of her talk at Creative Mornings Nadine Chahine added that respect for the other should be the basis for anything, and not just in type: “Specifically with Latin and Arabic we need to respect the other and understand that they’re different and that it’s OK to be different. And then you can try to make them work together, live together. And I’m speaking culturally, politically and design wise — it’s all the same.”

This blog entry was written by Ajda Zupančič (middle) from EdenSpiekermann; Ajda is also member of the TYPO Berlin Editorial Team 2015

 Sec Pitch, April 17, 2015: Summary & Links

1. Harry Keller, acolorbright.com: Scenery

“Scenery is a new Mac-App that creates product mockups. Users choose from dozens of authentic scenes and all the latest devices to instantly create mockups for a presentations or marketing. Scenery saves hours of retouching: Just drop a screenshot and see your designs on iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and the Apple Watch. The App gives access to a premium collection of device photography, incl. neutral shots of actual devices.“

2. Verena Gerlach, fraugerlach.de: Studio Space

“I’m subletting a work desk in my beautiful little office. It is part of a studio space, I’m sharing together with four lovely, young architects. Located in the very heart of Kreuzberg, between U-Görlitzer Bahnhof and Paul-Linke-Ufer. It also provides a large meeting room, tea kitchen and a sunny balcony. Costs: €130/month, all inclusive. If you are interested, please just contact me via fraugerlach.de“.

3. Mihalis Eleftheriou, languagetransfer.org: Course Creation Centre Berlin

“Language Transfer is a project which offers free downloadable language courses with a methodology that explores the pluralism in our languages and teaches practical speaking in record time! Apart from the free downloadable courses, we also give fascinating language workshops all around the world. To see if there is one near you, or to arrange one, get in touch with us via languagetransfer.org. Language Transfer is an independent, unaffiliated and unfunded project.“

April’s theme is Humility

Now in 112 cities and counting, we’re thrilled to kick off a month around the theme Humility. The theme was chosen by our Orlando chapter and illustrated by the Sean Tulgetske. He’s specialized in working with his hands, crafting typography, illustrations, and other things around that nature. Sean’s work is heavily influenced by vintage americana, the 1950’s, and of course the great outdoors. 

Set your alarms to register for Berlin’s next Creative Mornings on Monday, 13 April, 10 am! Our speaker on April 17 will be Nadine Chahine … and we’re pretty sure it will be sold out within minutes.

 Sec Pitch, March 20, 2015: Summary & Links

1. Rachel Uwa, http://schoolofma.org

“School of Machines is a uniquely curated school born in Berlin in 2014, keen on inventing one-of-a-kind hands-on learning experiences in the field of Art, Technology and Design. Its founders embrace art, creativity and explore the latest technology with humility and curiosity. The School of Machines is a playground, bootcamp, community center, and lucid dream in equal parts. Learning with a bunch of creative and skilled misfits couldn’t have been more fun.”

2. Eike Dingler, http://www.mauvetype.com

“The Pattern Project is an ornamental type family with patterns. It reintroduces the mesmerizing rhichness of detail from medieval manuscipts in contemporary typography. The Pattern fonts are display typefaces and not intended for small print, but designed to have a distinct graphic impact in large sizes. The Basic Collection is composed of 9 geometric patterns. Due to its generic approach, an iOS Application allows you to design your own patterns and generate fonts with it according to your individual needs.”

March’s theme is Ink

Now in 106 cities and counting, CreativeMornings are thrilled to kick off a month around the theme Ink, presented by Squarespace. The theme was chosen by our Melbourne chapter and illustrated by the wonderful Gemma O’Brien.

This month promises to make an impression. From illustrators to tattoo artists, calligraphers to screen printers, we’re exploring the colorful fingerprints we leave on our work and the lingering traces ink leaves on our lives.

A few speakers include:
• Anibal Pantoja, one of Mexico’s most talented tattoo designers (Mexico City)
• Elle Luna, artist and designer (San Francisco) and
• Toshiya Izumo, graphic designer and calligrapher (Berlin)

Set your alarms to register on Monday morning, 16 March, 10 am! Our event will be sold out within minutes.

We’re honored to have Squarespace as our official partner this month. Squarespace gives everyone a platform to showcase their ink, ideas and more by making it easy to build a beautiful website. With their support, CreativeMornings can continue to host free events in cities around the world.

 Sec Pitch, Feb 20, 2015: Summary & Links

1. Adam Bolcsfoldi, @spineplayer, spineapp.net

Spine is a music player for iPhone, designed for people who listen to music as full albums. Your music is displayed in a way that is reminiscent of a stack of CD cases — emphasising the album artworks and giving you an overview of your music as a collection of artist discographies. Playing a full album, as well as putting together a playlist of albums, is quickly and easily done in just a few steps.

2. Alfonso Garzón, @AlfonsoGarzonB, atylaship.com

Atyla is a 31 m long wooden tall ship. Handmade in Spain in 1984, now sails around Europe dedicated to international sail training. The educational project was inspired by a non-profit organization called STI (Sail Training International). Their mission: The development and education of people, regardless of nationality, religion, gender or social background, through the sail training experience so that they may grow to full maturity as individuals and members of society and their conditions of life may be improved.

3. Patrick Juchli, @patrickjuchli, maybeitsthelighting.com

Patrick Juchli is a software developer living in Berlin … visual and interactive applications are his main focus. His iPhone photo app Stilla is a gyroscopic camera. Of any given moment, you take two, three or more pictures. For every image, Stilla will then remember the direction you were looking at. The result resembles a crystal, a 3D object made of facets blending into each other as you turn it in your hand. You can share these fully interactive 3D objects with everyone online, in the browser, full screen.

All images: Norman Posselt

February’s theme is Climate

We’re taking the temperature of our surroundings this month as we dive into Climate in 100+ chapters around the world, presented by MailChimp. The theme was chosen by our Ottawa chapter and illustrated by the talented Dave Arnold. February is all about our environment’s impact on how, what and why we create. From the nuances of workplace culture to the future state of the planet, speakers of all stripes will share their adventures in creativity, chaos and teamwork. A few speakers include:
  • Nicholas Nuttall, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the UN Climate Change Secretariat (Cologne) 
  • Filipe Lopes, musician, composer and academic investigating ambiance, the relationship between sound and space (Porto)
  • David Harris, Manager at the Technology Access Foundation on the climate of race relations in tech (Seattle) 
  • Frederik Kraft, a research assistant and a PhD candidate at the University of Potsdam, who will talk about how to build a creative climate in organizations.
Set your alarms! Registration starts here, from next Monday 10:00 in the morning.

 Sec Pitch, Jan 23, 2015: Summary & Links

1. Hanneke Riedijk, @hannekerdjk, gestunary.com

Hanneke is a Dutch Japanologist passionate with cultural anthropology. She’s fascinated by misunderstandings that arise in communication. The generally unconscious body language of hand signs and gestures is her passion. There are many local variables that make cross-cultural communication extremely tricky. To be on the safe side Hanneke developed MyGestunary that helps us to become a cross-cultural expert, even when talking with our hands.

2. Swen Rudolph, @swenrudolph, www.swenrudolph.de

Swen is a photojournalist and a commercial photographer. He can throw slides against the wall until they broke.

3. Manuela Faveri, Linked-in account

Manuela is a 33 years-old marketing communications professional who sold everything in her home country Brazil to start again somewhere else. The status and stress of São Paulo didn’t please her anymore, and she was feeling that the world is too big to settle down so early. She came to Berlin in September to study German and decided to stay for good. At the moment Manuela is looking for a job that excites her. She’s passionate about strategic planning, even more when she can deal with content and offline activities in any communication plan.

4. Betti Bobikepunk, @bettibobikepunk, bettibobikepunk.de

CreativeMornings Berlin was proud to present – as the second guest of today’s event – the best DJane in town, Bettibobikepunk. In case you’re familiar with the local club scene you might know Betti from on of her activity areas: White Trash, Mammut Bar, 8MM Bar, Konrad Tönz, CCCP, Klub der Republik, Austerclub, Kingkongklub, Astrobar, Zumiroderzudir, Soupanova, or Schokoladen. Her motto is “Vinyl works”, and she will prove this with an exquisite selection of Garage, Soulbeat, Punk, R’n’B, and Psychedelic records. Maybe next time in your office, at your after work party or any other event.

(Photographs: Norman Posselt)

January’s theme is Ugly

It may not be pretty, but you’ve got to start somewhere. We’re excited to kick off the New Year with a month around the theme “Ugly,” embracing the messy part of bringing any idea to life. The theme was chosen by our Geneva team and we were thrilled to have U.S.-based Matt Chase craft our witty illustration.

From designer and programmer Joshua Davis (San Francisco) on how he works through ugliness to arrive at something beautiful, to music journalist Henry Steinhau here in Berlin on the fine art of less-than-gorgeous album covers, speakers will dig into the power of diving into the Ugly.Let’s get to it! We’ll see you bright and early.

 Sec Pitch, Dec 11, 2014: Summary & Links

1. Dario Ferrando, @dario_ferrando, www.dario.io

Linea is Dario’s personal project that he started in May 2014. It’s basically an iconset based on a 64px grid (Stroke 2px thick), currently featuring 750 icons. You can see and download all the icons on the website Dario made for this project. 

2. Annegret Richter, @ghettogether, ghettogether.net

The concept for Ghettogethers (= ghetto + together) uprose in spring 2013, when Anna’s Studio Blinkblink in Berlins Gerichstraße became a steady meeting point. One day Annegret turned up with the idea of a local creative network. Shortly after the first Ghettogether was organized and became a regular event for self-employed creatives in Wedding.

3. Jonathan Teh, www.setting.io, @WorkSetting

Three nomad entrepreneurs (currently based in Berlin), interested in technology, hacking and traveling together, founded Setting, the private co-working network. Setting is enabling remote professionals, freelancers, web developers and designers to find reliable places to get work done. Starting from private homes, join other professionals to work with them in their living room.