Project, Font Family Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès 23 May 2007

Fresco Arabic: western Latin meets western Kufi.

New Arabic companion to the Fresco font family

This project is a collaboration between the renown Ducth type designer, Fred Smeijers, and the Arab type designer Lara Assouad-Khoury

Fresco Cover - Detail of the Fresco pages from the Typographic Matchmaking book. Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès

The design concept.

Fresco was initially selected for its sturdy and contemporary bookface qualities, and its calligraphic traits that embrace the tradition of Dutch roman typefaces. A close-up look at the Fresco (meaning fresh) typeface reveals some clean sharp corners that contribute to the overall ‘freshness’ of the design. The Fresco Arabic typeface had to balance a warm calligraphic roundness with clean straight verticals and horizontals, and generously open counterforms. In order to create a good Arabic version of Fresco it was necessary to design a hybrid Arabic bookface that combines the structure of a Geometric Kufi with the freedom and fluidity of the Maghrebi (western Kufi).

The starting principles and considerations behind the design concept of Fresco Arabic are as follows:
1. The Kufi styles in general have several similarities to Roman type. Kufi has a strong emphasis on the vertical strokes, with the verticals being bolder than the horizontals.
Kufi is more structured than Naskh (with less free-flowing strokes) and can be more
readily systemized. Kufi has very few levels in the middle heights, short ascenders and shorter descenders, which give the body-height a strong visual prominence. These qualities make Kufi visually compatible with Latin type in terms of overall color and rhythm.
2. The Maghrebi (western Kufi) styles are known for inventiveness and leniency in applying rules, whereby letterforms may vary according to context and aesthetic needs. Maghrebi combines straight horizontal strokes with rounded shapes. Its structured simplicity and calligraphic fluid curves match well the roman Fresco typeface’s visual rhythm. Maghrebi is written with a blunt broad-nib pen (just like Fresco), which breaks the sharp transitions from horizontal to vertical, and creates rounded serifs, stroke beginnings and endings, that are similar to those of the roman Fresco.
3. The Geometric Kufi style is highly structured, with a reduced number of levels for the body-height, descender and ascender heights. Geometric Kufi has very clear proportions that can be easily adapted to roman type and interpreted in any way (in this case with broad-nib pen strokes).
4. Most of the Kufi styles have roughly 30 degree angles similar to those of Fresco. Kufi in general has bold and sturdy serifs, which are also one of Fresco’s characteristics.
Taking all of the above into consideration, the design of Fresco Arabic strove to balance the forms and proportions of the original Arabic script with the design details and proportions of the Latin Fresco typeface. The final design concept was to create a new Kufi typeface by stripping the design of any superfluous decorative elements, and creating a clear and sturdy typeface that reads well at small sizes and that matches its Latin counterpart in feel and color.

The design characteristics.

The interesting design aspect of Fresco Arabic is that it seamlessly bridges historical calligraphic models and interprets them in a contemporary design style. Fresco Arabic is inspired by the Maghrebi scripts and is respectful of the Maghrebi conventions. It fluidly embraces some of the trademark details of the Latin Fresco without compromising the integrity of the original Arabic script.

Below is a detailed description of its design characteristics.
1. Hybrid styles: Fresco Arabic is a contemporary interpretation of Geometric and Maghrebi Kufis. It is a handwritten Kufi, structured but not rigid. It maintains a good balance between the calligraphic broad-nib quality and the steady typographic system.
2. Calligraphic feel: Fresco Arabic matches the original Fresco design with its calligraphic strokes that on one hand fit the calligraphic Maghrebi styles, and on the other hand give a healthy sturdiness to the design, making it highly desirable as bookface.
3. Strokes: Fresco Arabic has a reduced number of strokes that are used for creating various letterforms. The contrast and humanist modulation of the strokes follow those of the original Fresco, with the stress on the vertical being more pronounced (the vertical being thicker than the horizontal stokes). This gives the typeface a clear and crisp overall look and color.
4. Stress and angles: Fresco Arabic has a minimum number of angles, sticking as much as possible to one angle for all letters. It has the same angles for diagonals and its diacritic dots are set on a similar angle as that of the crossbar in the lowercase ‘e’ of Fresco. This creates a similarity in rhythm between the Latin and Arabic versions of the typeface.
5. Serifs and terminals: Fresco’s characteristic asymmetrical serifs and rounded terminals are used (inverted) where appropriate in the Arabic version.
6. Proportions: The Arabic Fresco has the same proportions as the Latin Fesco: the large body-height matches the x-height of the Latin Fresco, and the extremely short descenders have the same size as those of the Latin typeface. It has generous round counterforms that ensure good legibility at small sizes.
7. Connections: Fresco Arabic has straight horizontal connections between the letters that define a clear baseline without resulting in a rigid overall look.

The designers’ final remarks on the project.

Fred Smeijers: Doing design work with a partner who is located on the other side of the globe is possible but far from ideal. At the same time, the gap we are trying to bridge with this project is very big. Bridging this gap within conditions that are not optimal is the project’s strongest but also weakest point. In the end it is the initiative to bridge this gap that counts here and I am glad that a type design of mine could be a part of this project. What was important for me in this project is to be confronted with scripts that function very differently from the Latin alphabet. Latin typography has clearly defined borders in general, the dos and the don’ts seem much more obvious than in Arabic typography. Working on Latin alphabets is like working in a botanical garden, taking care of all the plants which are already there and trying to make the rose look even more like a rose this year compared with the rose of last year. Arabic for me is hardly a garden. I do not know where it starts or where it ends, nor do I know the plants growing in this place or how to take care of them. This is unsettling and in a way refreshing. You have to discover how you can apply your knowledge and sometimes you have to put aside certain parts of your experience because they have no value here, they might even be counterproductive. This switching and challenging of your own skills is a funny experience. I tended to rely very much upon the opinion of my design partner, Lara Assouad. Over the last ten years or so, I was frequently involved in producing non-Latin scripts for a number of manufacturers. From this I learned that as a non-native speaker you’d better be careful and keep your mind open to any remarks. Type design knowledge and shape sensitivity alone is not enough by far. Lara and I encountered hardly any trouble in collaborating on design matters. It was a process of making starts, suggestions and trials on both sides and weighing each other’s pros and cons. We hardly ever had any disagreement in this. Usually we had doubts about the same shapes or details. Often Lara made a remark and I needed to look twice to see what she meant but then I could follow her objections very well and take away her doubts easily; then decisions could be taken. I personally have no problem seeing that our Fresco Arabic matches Fresco Latin very well. However, I do not know if Fresco Latin is the best match for the Fresco Arabic. I leave that for Arabic users to decide.

Lara Assouad Khoury: Initiatives like this project—researching and coming up with fresh new ideas to tackle the question of typographic adaptations—are very rare in this part of the world. So I was very happy to be asked to take part in it. On one hand, I was always convinced of the parallels that could be drawn between the Dutch lettering/calligraphic approach to designing type and the designing of Arabic type, the transition from lettering to type being more visible. Most typefaces have their roots anchored in broad-nib pen shapes as opposed to more constructed letterforms. This project was an opportunity to apply the methodology and approach in designing roman/Dutch typefaces to that of Arabic type in order to develop a typeface that draws its inspiration from traditional calligraphic Arabic letterforms without being traditional in the final outcome. On the other hand it was an opportunity to work with Fred Smeijers, whose work and approach to type design I greatly admired and appreciated. The first digital sketches of Fresco Arabic brought the whole meaning of this project home to me. Fred took my hand-drawn sketches and interpreted them in his own manner, in the same spirit as Fresco Roman. The result exhibited details that were unique to Fresco Arabic, which I hadn’t put in, yet I could see their parallels in the roman Fresco. Somehow Fred managed (even though he says that he can’t judge or see well what he is doing with Arabic letters) to put his own imprint onto this script that seemed so foreign to his eyes. Even though working at a distance and discussing sketches and visual material over the phone and by email was quite complicated at times, it allowed each of us more time to interpret the other’s sketches and give them more consideration. It made both of us go the extra mile in our sketches and explanations to make our way of thinking and working clear. For me, that meant a little insight into how Fred works or approaches type design, something I can apply from this point onwards to my own Arabic type design work.