Kasheeda: Yara Khoury shares her 3-D type design experience


Type designer Yara Khoury shares her experience on designing the first 3-D typeface ‘Kasheeda’ through an inspiring interview hosted by the maajouns. In addition to her independent practice, Yara is design director in Mohtaraf Beirut Graphics and faculty member in Notre Dame University (NDU) in Lebanon.

01. Can you start by telling us how you got interested in type design in general?

It all started during my undergraduate studies in NDU. The design program in NDU is quite focused on typography, which is probably an influence taken on from Professor Peter Rea who had re-structured the whole program at the university a few years back on the model of the Bauhaus school. My MA study in Middlesex was also type-focused. But mostly I would say I got deeply involved in type through the practical work I do at Mohtaraf Beirut Graphics–a very calligraphy and type-oriented graphic design studio. The studio’s work has a long history or tradition in calligraphic practices that started off with calendars and then gradually progressed into type design.

02. And how did you get involved in the Typographic Matchmaking (TMM) project?

I was recommended to Huda Abi Fares for the translation of the first Typographic Matchmaking book. Translating type design related terms was a tricky task that seemed to be more fit for an Arab speaking designer rather than an actual translator who had no notion of design or more particularly type design. And since I had a long history with Mohtaraf and the Arabic language graphics per se, I was able to do this kind of translation. Of course I had a hard time with it!

I did extensive readings on Arabic calligraphy and the terms it abided by and tried to match or find relevance in its vocabulary to that of type design, from counters, to baselines and tooth height etc… So that’s how I got involved! Then came the time for the second edition where I was invited on board as a type designer this time around.

03. In collaboration with Melle Hammer, you developed the first 3-D typeface. Can you tell us about the process? How was your idea born? And how did it evolve?

During the first meeting in Amsterdam, we showed each other our work to see if we can try to find any links in the way we think. Melle has a very pragmatic approach to problem solving and is highly experimental. While I work in a very corporate environment with impossible deadlines, experimentation is unfortunately rarely a part of my daily work process. This is why working with Melle was a very exciting opportunity. While explaining to Melle all the intricacies of the Arabic alphabet in our first meeting, he had asked me to draw the word “bridge”. This is when Melle crashed a bag full of tagliatelle that he spread on a table and within these pieces we could already identify some letter shapes. Then I showed him how we could simulate a calligraphic pen using two pens attached, and somehow he visually connected this to a ribbon. From there on our idea to create a typeface that exists only in 3-D, and that can be read from a specific angle was born! From this point on, we started working with bendable metal strips that we used to shape Arabic and Latin letters. It took us some time to decide on which material to use, the material kind of determines the way your letter shapes bend, how sharp they bend or how resistant they are etc. And we really wanted the metal to simulate a loose ribbon, steering away from the geometric. So, initial prototypes were bent from thin strips of metal, however for the final production, bending was too hard to calibrate. Casting was also considered but was too costly. In the final analysis, three-dimensional rapid printing/ prototyping was the best option. This process makes an object by layering thin strands of plastic material and allows for multiple compound shapes to be generated efficiently from computer files. It took us almost a year of drawing and back and forth dialogue that led to the final product.

04. We have seen quite a few 3-D renderings of fonts and some 3-D pieces like furniture made of letters and letter shapes. How is ‘Kasheeda’ different?

We have looked into 3-D typeface examples, most of what we found was letters that were constructed in 3-D like sculptures, or simply words that were designed in 2-D then extruded into 3-D existence. But none of these functioned as a typeface completely conceived in 3-D space that you can use to print a 3-D object. So I would say the main difference is accessibility, the fact that this is a commercial set of reproducible letterforms that you can physically print in any size you like, whether you want to use it to engulf a building, or print a small pendant that you can wear around your neck. As far as we know, this is the first of its kind. Kasheeda is born in 3-D and lives in 3-D only.

05. How far is your outcome from your initial idea?

Not far at all actually. The tagliatelle pieces that we started with look very similar to the letters that we ended up with. The hardest part of the work was about transferring this piece of bending metal into a digital format that can be easily printed in 3-D; modeling these letters in 3-D was an agony that went through several phases. For example, I had to visit Amsterdam to work with Freedom of Creation on the refinement of the drawings and then Melle had to visit Beirut to work with Ramzi Zahar on another round of modifications. It is a very difficult task to transform those abstract metal shapes into accurate 3-D renderings. What we needed is a reverse engineering sort of solution where we can scan the object and it directly translates into a ready 3-D drawing. That would have saved a lot of time and effort.

06. Printing your typeface depends on a complex 3-D printing technology. Can you tell us more about this technology and how it affected your work process?

Three-dimensional ‘kasheeda’ typeface was fabricated using a 3-D printing machine that outputs a digital file as a three-dimensional form by depositing thin layers of plastic in successive strands. That is the technology. The 3-D printer understands your 3-D drawing using a 3-D software, and it prints it starting from the base going up layer by layer. It is a very lengthy and time-consuming process. One can add any sort of minute detail to the letterforms using this technology, such as the clicking system. Kasheeda-Arabic and Kasheeda-Latin 3-D fonts can be clicked together into flowing bands to form words on a sloping baseline for the Latin and a straight one for the Arabic.

07. Printing type in 3-D is a new experiment. Do you feel that this experiment will die out eventually? Or will it evolve into a trend that other designers will attempt to follow?

I hope it evolves into more than a trend. It would be interesting to see how other type designers can experiment with this technology and with this way of visualizing letterforms.

08. Are there any future plans for Kasheeda?

To start with, we would love to refine these letterforms furthermore. So the most immediate plan is to find some funding for this task. We also hope that somebody decides to do something with it, this font is designed to be used in public areas and all the shapes are really interesting for all sorts of spaces such playgrounds, building facades, fences, living rooms and even around someone’s neck or finger as jewelry pieces. Our plans also depend on our partners Freedom of Creation (FOC), who are transferring our digital data into print, and are in charge of the website.

The kasheeda font can be ordered online in a variety of sizes at: www.kasheeda.com.

Photos and video courtesy of Yara Khoury and Melle Hammer.