Arabic type design: now what?
maajoun was commissioned a short opinion piece on the possibilities of Arabic type design, to be featured in The Outpost‘s pilot issue, published in September. Below is the unedited version of this piece.

Type design is the practice of creating typefaces. This practice is rather complex; it requires a deep knowledge in the history of type, a solid understanding of type anatomy, a capacity to draw beautiful letter shapes and a strong technical know-how that allows the designer to turn their letters into a functional font that could be used on multiple platforms depending on the intended usage of their font.

The possibilities of type design are numerous, and vary between traditional and contemporary. Traditionally, type design allows us to conserve our typographic culture through a digital recreation of calligraphic and lettering writing styles that are in the process of disappearing, as well as metal type forms that are no longer in use due to the shift from metal to photographic then digital printing.

The past decade has witnessed the rise of what is commonly referred to as open type fonts, which are smart fonts that allow the user to maximize on the esthetic qualities of their text through various letter combinations and variations.

Due to globalization and the evolution of cross-cultural communication, designers have also been exploring multiscript typography; many fonts nowadays support different languages and allow us to use more than one language within the same text.

Furthermore, digital technologies have paved the way to a whole new set of possibilities. Type designers are now developing ways to maximize on the esthetic qualities of their text on the web, on smart phones and tablets. Designers are also exploring the usage of type in 3D gaming environments and augmented reality, and are experimenting with 3D printing, be it in small scale such as in the case of jewelry, or in big scale such as outdoor sculptures in public spaces.

The truth is: type design today is more open to possibilities and explorations than ever before. All explorations however rest primarily on two pillars, a historical knowledge of letterforms, and the ability to develop technologies that can support the explorations that we desire to undertake. Unfortunately, both pillars are rather underdeveloped in the Arab world.

In this perspective, if we intend to fully explore the possibilities of Arabic type design today, we need to put an effort into understanding and archiving our calligraphic and typographic heritage, and an even bigger effort in developing the technologies that are needed to explore our script within the current digital era.