The typographic matchmaking book is finally out! The project itself is a design research project investigating new approaches for bilingual lettering and poetic narrative for public space. The book not only documents the work of 5 teams of matched type designers from Europe and the Middle East but offers several essays discussing Design in the public space.
Kufam is the font that resulted from my collaboration with Dutch type designer Artur Schmal and architect Richard Wagner.
How do you get the clichéd dichotomy of east meets west interact at the level of their respective different writing systems? Where is Arabic typography today from the development of its Latin counterpart and to what extent should/can any of the scripts bend its rules to meet the other? How do you design when you cannot fully read/write the other script?
A potential lead into our project came from the notion of arriving in a city for the first time. An unknown territory so to say. In a situation like this, one is dependant on a visual supply of information like signage and way finding systems. Often this concerns information of a practical nature: the cityhall, the postoffice, the train station and so forth. This information lets one explore the environment in a superficial way: naturally every city has its postoffice or cityhall.
For one to get to know the city in a unique way other levels of information are required: cultural, historical, current, personal. This way not only the first timers will get an intimate impression of the city, but also it’s natural inhabitants.
When visiting Dubai for the first time you will yourself noticing in the presence of the Burj Dubai (ironically now called Burj khalifa) wherever you go in the city. It is the dominating landmark and like major urban landmarks it becomes a point of reference. This sparked the idea of using this landmark for to connect information to location within the urban environment. The tower, being itself built around a equilateral triangular base pointing to three different directions, lead to the idea of potentially using its view points to cover most of the areas of the city. The concept started taking shape around an attempt to create an interactive personalized kind of signage system where the medium is fixed but the message is constructed by the users themselves.
The aim was to position three large transparent screens at all three corners of the tower and connect these screens to a system that would display typographic messages on that screen. The intent however is to supply the screen with a system for sorting information that categorizes messages according to several parameters, be it content oriented (personal messages, formal information sharing) or spatiotemporal (date and location from which the message was sent). Accordingly, any message sent to that system from any device, such as computers or more practically phones, will be displayed on the transparent screen, pointing to the location it was sent from and displayed in a typeface that respects the nature of that message. The result is a continuously updated screen that offers real time information with constant interaction with the city view apparent from that location.
It is also interesting to consider the social repercussions of a popularization of such a system. Each screen is a potentially unifying platform where all kind of social discourses take place. It could be looked at like an auto-regenerating graffiti wall with an eye on the city. By highlighting what was there can be regarded as a tracker to the city’s evolution, expansion, and progression. It’s a tourist guide, and maybe even potentially a personal diary broadcasted live and online. In any way, the screen becomes representative of the streams of information transferred daily in an urban context. People from anywhere in the city could therefore send information to that screen, and observer in front of those landmark-positioned screens will enjoy the sight an interactive typographic signage system with the cityscape being its canvas.
The trip to the Islamic museum in Sharjah was an insightful visit. Old manuscripts were filled with beautifully crafted pages depicted diverse calligraphic works. I was particularly drawn to archaic kufi scripts.
The archaic kufi script reflects a peculiar aesthetic expression. It holds visual qualities that are viciously bold and surprisingly modern (in comparison to other scripts stylized in a very flowwy way). It roughly shares various similarities with the Roman type. Kufi has a strong emphasis on the vertical strokes, with the horizontal baseline thinner than the vertical stems. Its compact structure gives it an urban efficient feel that combines culture and heritage in modern visual traits.
For the Latin, Artur incorporated shapes of the of the lowercase Latin directly from this Kufi. A main characteristic being straight verticals bend in one movement into an arc or a bowl.
For the Latin capitals however, Artur found inspiration much closer to home: the streets of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has a richness in lettering and signage on walls, buildings and storefronts. One thing that draws attention is a certain kind of disbalance in vertical proportion. One can clearly see this in characters B, R, P; they either feel to small or to big on top.’ Making sure they matched the lowercase in width en weight and detail, the overall feel has a cultural richness in it that one cannot put it’s finger on directly.