Putting type harmony into two creative cultures - Creative Typography Conference

, by David Wadmore

The first creative Typography Conference held at the Art Workers Guild, Queen Square, London on the 17th September 2007 proved to be an enthralling exposition of the latest trends in Latin-Arabic type design.

Delegates from advertising agencies, newspapers, magazines and design groups were given fascinating presentations from a variety of international experts.

Allan Haley, who described himself as the principal "type guy" at Monotype Imaging, introduced the speakers. But, as his official title of "Director of Words & Letters" would suggest, he set the tone for the whole conference with his witty and succinct introductions.

Mourad Boutros of Boutros International "the conference organiser" outlined the day’s theme with a brief introduction to the history of Arabic lettering and type design, ably whetting the appetite of the audience of over 50. In an all-too-brief history of the calligraphic tradition in Arabic type design, he outlined the need for designers to find synergies in the treatment and challenges of Latin-Arabic typographic usages.

He was followed to the podium by Martin Gibbs, MD of Letraset, who showed examples of the way in which a limited range of Arabic fonts was first introduced to the Letraset catalogue. He was able to point out the limitations and restrictions in the design applications of the traditional Arabic type styles, before going on to show the development of the Letraset brand into design materials and Japanese Manga art products. Appropriately the information on the Letraset Tria marker system was elegantly highlighted.

It was Dave Farey of HouseStyle Graphics, the next presenter, who eloquently defined the problems of balancing type in Arabic and Latin. He showed samples of highly ornamental 8th Century Latin characters and contrasted this with a recent – and amazingly unsuccessful – attempt to emulate Arabic lettering in a western television title sequence. He pointed out the unbalanced feel when a traditional font such as Times is interwoven into Arabic typesetting. Mr Farey went on to introduce a new font ­– with Western and Arabic characters – that his company Panache Typography has developed in conjunction with Boutros International Called "Tanseek". This new font has managed to strike a perfect balance in character shape, stroke width and text colour when Western and Arabic languages are used together. The range of fonts is available in eight weights with serif and sans versions that have been designed to give maximum legibility. The Arabic ’serif’, or more calligraphic face has an appropriate lateral emphasis, echoed in Farey’s neatly defined Latin serif, and once one has got over the initial shock of the verticality of the Arabic sans, the combinations of character forms and structures make perfect sense. I particularly liked the application of this font in a text environment, as the texture and balance of the resultant copy ’colour’ gave the page great harmony. Which, appropriately enough is the correct translation of "Tanseek". I can see that this font will become the sine qua non for type users that need to communicate in both Latin and Arabic environments.

There was then a brief presentation (followed by a longer demonstration after the main conference) of the Winsoft "Tasmeen" design application. Introduced by Kamel Gaddas, the Vice President of Winsoft, this set of plug-ins for Adobe InDesign CS3 Middle Eastern version features the Emiri and Naskh fonts. Tasmeem also allows designers to set and colour arabic characters individually. It is available in three editions (Limited, Creative and Publisher) and offers a set of tools to help designers get maximum creativity from any Arabic design product. I particularly liked the Aridi art samples included in the packages. These borders, cartouches and various design elements greatly enhance any traditional Arabic design project, and in conjunction with the font applications, they give the user great inspiration to develop creative design solutions. I am looking forward to experimenting with this application soon.

Peter Rosenfeld, the managing director of URW, was the next speaker to be introduced by the urbane Mr Haley. URW are font suppliers who mainly specialise in non-Latin based languages. He displayed a map of the world, annotated with the various language families (and thus type styles) that are in use. They included Cyrillic, Hebrew, Greek, Georgian, Khmer, Thai, Burmese, Katanka, Korean, Chinese, Yi, Indian and Singhalese along with Tibetan and a good few more. Mr Rosenfeld went on to talk about the harmonisation and development of non-Latin fonts, especially for the Far East, and the problems of typefaces that can include over 45,000 glyphs.

Following Mr Rosenfeld was Halim Choueiry, Vice President of Icograda and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the School of Arts in Qatar. Established by the Virginia Commonwealth University (USA) and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Mr Choueiry teaches graphics and typography in a bilingual environment. Encouraging creativity in his students’ approach to type design, his energetic presentation showed many examples of student work. Encouraged to seek inspiration in letterforms from objects as diverse as leaves or animals – the results were both fascinating and encouraging, giving the impression that there will be further innovation in the Arabic lettering traditions.

The conference concluded with a second presentation from Mourad Boutros. Drawing largely from his excellent and instructive book, ’Arabic for Designers’, he was able to pinpoint a huge number of glaring errors that can come about when Western designers attempt to produce work for an Arabic market. Ranging from the humorous to the downright offensive, via the entirely incomprehensible, Mr Boutros displayed many examples such as a directional sign where the arrows pointed the opposite way in each language. But of equal importance, his presentation emphasised how a good understanding of the Arabic cultural tradition, combined with an appreciation of calligraphic and typographic skills, can provide wonderfully creative designs that move both cultures towards harmony – or should I say "Tanseek"?

As geopolitics and the global economy demands harmonisation not only in product branding and the presentation of information between the Middle East (and the Arabic speaking world) and Western cultures, the necessity for understanding – and subsequent development of design solutions that respect the various cultural and visual demands is apparent. Understanding the demands on typography is a huge part of this, and the Creative Typography Conference is an essential step in achieving these goals.
Just as I left, I noticed a small sign on the wall of the Art Workers’ Guild wall. It read "The right aim is to do the necessary things beautifully’. This conference was a significant step towards that. I, and many others fortunate enough to be at the inaugural meeting look forward to the next one.


60 minutes of brief presentations, followed by open discussions and short meetings with the speakers, with food and refreshments.
The aim is to bring the best of Middle Eastern creative and typographic expertise to a wider audience about today’s multicultural issues and bilingual typographic needs.


Monday 17 September 2007
16:00 - 20:30

16:00 - 16:30 Arrivals
16:30 - 17:30 Speakers
17:30 - 20:30 Questions & Answers/Food and refreshments


The Art Workers Guild
6 Queen Square


Allan HALEY, Monotype Imaging, USA

Martin GIBBS, MD, Letraset, UK
The latest from Letraset worldwide and the Middle East

Kamel GADDAS, VP, WinSoft, France (Adobe ME partners)
Tasmeem Arabic software

John BOUTROS, GraphEast, Dubai
Adobe ME products; Arabic photo library

Dave FAREY, Panache, UK
Tanseek - the multilingual (Latin-Arabic) typeface range for the 21st century

Mourad BOUTROS, Boutros International, UK
Arabic typography; Arabic for designers

Peter ROSENFELD, Principal and General Manager, URW - Germany
Global fonts - harmonising Latin and non-Latin scripts

Halim CHOUEIRY, Vice President Icograda / Assistant Professor
of Communication Arts and Design
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUQ)
School of the Arts in Qatar
Arabic Typography (University students Standards)