Peter Bilak of Typotheque just announced the launch of TPTQ Arabic, a new type foundry dedicated to developing original high-quality Arabic typefaces and systems for bilingual typography. TPTQ Arabic is a new company, a partnership between Lebanese designer Kristyan Sarkis and Typotheque. The first font release is Greta Arabic (below), an unprecedented typeface family available in 39 styles, exploring new territories in Arabic type. I spoke to Bilak about the increasingly broad interest in the history and creation of Arabic typefaces.
It has only been a little over a decade since a design focus on Arabic typefaces emerged. What accounts for this surge in interest, research and development?An important aspect was technology. OpenType font format, although it has existed since the late 1990s, has been used widely only since 2005. Unicode encoding allowed using more languages at the same time, encoding every grapheme of every living or dead language. A decade ago existed only a single tool to create Arabic fonts, and it worked on Windows only. When I started working with Arabic, we spent nearly two years developing our own software and workflows to allow us to develop Arabic fonts. Today there are three commercial programs that allow fairly easily to create Arabic (or any other) fonts. SO it is much easier to do it these days. Only recently can you use Arabic in a standard version of InDesign or Illustrator.
Secondly there is lot more demand for multilingual communication, because of the rise and prosperity of the Gulf region. More Arab designers studying in the West, and returning back to the region played a role too. Arabic fonts became daily tools of branding, and everyday communication, addressing the needs of local design studios or international agencies.
How did YOU, specifically, become involved in Arabic type?Ten years ago, I was asked to design an Arabic version of Fedra Sans, as part of the Typographic Matchmaking project initiated by KHATT foundation. I spent a year researching possibilities, and eventually designed and published the fonts at Typotheque. Tarek Atrissi has helped along the way. It was an eye-opening experience—developing a methodology for how to work with something unfamiliar. I wrote about the process in this short article as Fedra has been redesigned for the launch of TPTQ Arabic.
Tarek Atrisi’s MFA thesis 15 years ago was about creating an Arabic type community. What would you say comprises this community today?The design community is still scattered. There are several efforts across the Arab world, especially in Lebanon, Cairo, UAE, Qatar, KSA, Kuwait. But there are no real conversations between the community on how to make things better. Designers are working mainly individually, and it is rare to find collective efforts in design. In terms of type design education, and Arabic type design specifically, it is not only poor, but almost completely absent. Some very basic things happen on the bachelor level but there is no advanced type design specific course.
Can you describe your partnership with Kristyan Sarkis?Kristyan was my student at the KABK (Royal Academy of Arts) in The Hague, at the postgrad course Type & Media. Shortly after he has graduated (2010), we worked on a project together for an Arabic newspaper typeface. We then decided to publish one of Kris’ projects at Typotheque, and worked closely ever since. This year, we formalised the partnership, and started a new company, TPTQ Arabic, which we jointly manage.
What about your new line of typefaces defines this partnership?The important project is Greta Arabic, an unprecedented Arabic type system. While most Arabic typeface have just two to three weights, Greta comes in 10 weights, going from Hairline to Extra Bold. Additionally it explores the effect of extreme width, which to my knowledge is the first typeface of its kind.
Most of modern Arabic (monolinear) typefaces are based on the square Kufi model; Greta is inspired by Naskh, which makes it supremely legible. This type system is a powerful tool giving new possibilities for expression of the Arabic script.
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