Project: Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares

Fedra Arabic: balancing legibility with simplicity.

New Arabic companion to the Fedra font family

This project is a collaboration between the renown type designer, Peter Bilak, and the Arab type designer Tarek Atrissi.

The design concept.

The idea was to create an original Arabic typeface that is not directly based on the calligraphic traditions, but one that takes into consideration the contemporary uses of Arabic type and that offers a pragmatic solution for dual- script typesetting. The simplified forms are stripped of all decoration while keeping the intrinsic structure of the Arabic writing system. Fedra Arabic is not strictly based on handwriting but combines the simplicity of written letterforms with the more traditionally used forms of printed book type. The idea was to create a new Arabic member of the Fedra font family that can accompany both the serif and the sans serif styles of the Fedra type family. Firstly, the serif and sans serif styles.

The design characteristics.

The characteristics that were carried over to the design of the Arabic version are mainly the proportions of the Latin: the baseline, ascender and descender, which were kept identical. On the other hand, two middle heights were defined, which are different than the x-height of the Latin font. Rather than directly bringing shapes from Latin, it was mainly the character of the curves that has been adopted for the Arabic counterpart. In Fedra, the curves start fairly fl at and begin to turn relatively late, which creates a particular tension of shapes. The contrast between the thick and thin is maintained. This has allowed for keeping the same color in both the Latin and the Arabic text. Of course many things are not possible to translate from Latin to Arabic directly, so one
Fedra Arabic text - Fedra Arabic with vocalisation marks.

Designers’ final remarks on the project.

Peter Bilak: Even though I cannot speak Arabic, it feels like I have learned a new language. Speaking more languages is always bene fi cial for an individual. This project was personally interesting for me for two reasons: first, it is about how to structure a research into a completely unfamiliar area, and how to get some concrete results in a relatively short period of time that are informed by history and typographic tradition on one hand and contemporary requirements on the other. Second, I am interested in the possibilities of non- Latin typography and how it can inspire my other work. When I tried using my previous experience with Latin type, it simply didn’ t work. For example, I had a lot of trouble with spacing letters. There are di ff erent optical rules in Arabic; I would say the rhythm of Arabic is almost musical, compared to the logic of the Latin spacing. I now work with choreography and modern dance, and to exaggerate slightly, I found the movements of dance to be more relevant to the rhythms of Arabic than to Western typographic sources. Coincidentally, I was just asked to create some animations inspired by Arabic calligraphy for an exhibition of Ottoman art in Amsterdam. Of course, it is a lot easier to do it now that I know more about the structure of the Arabic script, to be inspired by it instead of literally borrowing its shapes.

Tarek Atrissi: The project seemed very interesting from the start: it targets some of the main issues and problems of Arabic type today on many levels. First, it promised concrete results (a set of new Arabic typefaces) , which due to the collaborative nature of the project can yield designs that are different from what is available, and can add a variety of new Arabic fonts. With the limited Arabic fonts available in the market today, this prospect was very inviting. Second, the project addressed the critical issue of Latin/ Arabic script adaptation for the bilingual Arab world, specifically for legible Arabic textfaces. As a graphic and type designer developing contemporary Arabic typographic design, I was personally interested in the experimental yet practical aspects of this project. Third, collaborating with a renowned Dutch designer and seeing and experiencing a different approach to typeface design is probably going to influence my approach to designing Arabic fonts. I learned the most from collaborating with Peter, and following closely how he approached this project on all levels ( conceptual, design and technical aspects). Seeing how the same design brief was handled by other teams and following their design process and experiences was also a real good learning experience.

PB & TA: We both felt that having a 'native' Arabic speaker on the team was crucial to setting the right proportions, skeletal forms, and the overall 'look' of the font — particularly when designing non- traditional and non- calligraphic Arabic typefaces. Tarek was also instrumental in testing the fonts as an end user. From our basic research in various Arabic styles, it seems that there are many possibilities of Arabic that are not yet explored. This is an open invitation for others to work in a largely unexplored area. The growing interest in type design (Latin and non- Latin) indicates that we can expect a lot more in the future.