Monotype’s Charles Nix on How Typography is the Underdog of the 2022 World Cup

Posted inType Tuesday

The FIFA World Cup games are coming to a close soon, and its finals will take place on December 18. And while soccer, or football, is obviously the star of the show, the unsung hero of this year’s games is the innovative typography designed by the team of Dino Santos, Rui Abreu, and Hussein Alazaat. 

We had the opportunity to chat with Monotype Creative Type Director Charles Nix about the innovation and creativity behind the 2022 games’ typography and identity. He reveals there’s plenty more to it than meets the eye, from the visual’s homages to Arabic calligraphy to how it balances a sport with its surrounding culture. 

Can you explain how typography has affected the 2022 World Cup identity?  

Typography is a key player in the 2022 World Cup identity. As a typographer, I think it’s the captain. The color scheme and the symbol are fantastic players, but there’s only one captain. 

The World Cup is a global event in a local setting. We collectively look forward to it, we enjoy it, and we remember it. Typography identifies it. It’s the dress of the words that we see repeatedly in the lead up to and during the games. And when we look back to Qatar in 2022, we’ll think of the World Cup and that type treatment.

How do culture and sports influence the typography within the World Cup identity? 

The sport is global; the culture is local. The effect on typography is precisely what you’d expect: it strives to reflect the local; to balance the international sport with the pride of the host’s culture. Typography is particularly good at that. On a functional level, typography represents language, but on an aesthetic level, it layers in additional meaning. You can say “Qatar” in nearly any font, but careful typography allows you say something about Qatar.

The font design takes inspiration from traditional Arabic calligraphy, but can you explain how this process works? Also, how difficult is it to take inspiration from other type styles?

The Latin and Arabic typefaces for the 2022 World Cup were designed simultaneously by the talented team of Dino Santos, Rui Abreu, and Hussein Alazaat. Their collaboration is what makes it work. 

The most noticeable “crossover moment is the extension of the t in “Qatar”. At first I had my doubts about it as a treatment. The extension has a precedent in Arabic. The kasheeda is a means of justifying text— of making words longer to fit a line. In Latin-script typesetting, we’d increase the word spaces to achieve the same effect. Adding the kasheeda makes the word look more Arabic. 

That could be seen as a pastiche or typographic stereotype, and initially that came to mind. But then I listened to players and commentators from all over the world struggling to pronounce “Qatar”— groping for emphasis— and I developed a fondness for it as a sort of typographic pronunciation lesson. 

The “2022” is a different story. Latin numbers are actually Arabic figures, adapted into Latin script in the 13th century. They’ve always looked Arabic because of their horizontal emphasis. The multiple twos show this handsomely. 

The standout number in the Qatar lockup is the “0” with a diacritical dot inside and an inverted pendant shape. At first, this appears to be a purely decorative element— and it is decorative— but it also has typographic precedence. Typographers sometimes design zeroes with slashes or dots inside (0) to differentiate them from capital O’s. There’s no chance of that kind of confusion here, but the typographic wink is charming.

Can you explain the symbolism of the decorative elements throughout the World Cup’s identity system? 

The symbolism of the decorative elements in the Qatar World Cup identity are best described by the Portuguese consultancy Unlock who did the work:

  • Diacritic dots”: Marks placed above and below letters in Arabic
  • Football: Presented in a geometric style, referencing Arab culture.
  • FIFA World Cup™ trophy shape: The most renowned silhouette in the football world
  • Infinity symbol and figure 8: This symbol is multifaceted, representing the 8 stadiums where the FIFA World Cup™ will be played and the human connection that will endure long past the tournament.
  • The flow of the shawl: The top of the emblem represents the elegant movement of the shawl, which is worn around the world—and in the Arab and Gulf region in particular—by a variety of people and in various styles.
  • An intriguing 3D object: Designed to surprise and delight, the emblem can rotate to reveal a perfect circle, reflecting both our planet and football. 
  • Decorative elements: Floral patterns, like those embroidered on Qatari shawls, are important elements of Qatar’s heritage. Based on traditional Arab art, these decorations reflect the richness of Middle Eastern culture. 
  • A typeface with a human touch: The elegance of hand-written Arabic calligraphy inspired the typeface, witnessed here is the extended line between letters, called kasheeds, and the unique letter Q.” 

What do you wish more people knew about the 2022 World Cup typography? 

That the type family was designed by the amazing team of Dino Santos, Rui Abreu, and Hussein Alazaat. 

That Latin and Arabic letters were designed simultaneously for maximum harmony between the scripts.

That the identity was created by the stalwart Portuguese consultancy Unlock.

That football— and typography— is life!