In April this year the Lebanese award-winning type designer, Dr. Nadine Chahine, gave a lecture at agIdeas in Melbourne as part of the Design Matters initiative. Her presentation took a look at the way politics and culture affect Arabic type design. She presented her work including the typographic re-design of the largest Lebanese daily newspapers and argued how a country’s political background can strongly influence design.
Nadine studied at the American University of Beirut, the University of Reading in the UK, and Leiden University in The Netherlands. In the course of her career she has specialised in Arabic type design and among other achievements she designed the best selling Frutiger Arabic and Palatino Sans Arabic and was named by Fast Company as one of its Most Creative People in Business in 2012.
She works at Monotype’s Bad Homburg office (formerly Linotype) and is responsible for Arabic related projects. The subject of her doctoral thesis, and one that she has been concerned with since she began her career as a designer, is the legibility of Arabic typefaces.
So, to return to her lecture at agIdeas – Nadine poses the question as to what modern Arabic typography is today and how should it develop given the new technological freedom. Should typefaces go back to the traditional and complex calligraphic styles or stay with the contemporary simpler designs?
Nadine’s legibility studies showed that the complexity of design decreases the legibility of Arabic typefaces. However, there is great beauty inherent in the calligraphic forms and there is still a place for that level of complexity. There is also beauty in the simplicity of form and an example of that are the typefaces developed for the An-Nahar newspaper: simple, bold, and sculptural in approach.
That typeface was meant to symbolise strength and to give a strong and powerful impact. The design was a statement supporting the freedom of speech and of opinion, which must exist, despite or perhaps because of the political situation in the Lebanon.
For Nadine is of the opinion that type design cannot be divorced from the reality it lives in and to be able to design for a certain culture one needs to understand and analyse the larger context in which typefaces come to life.