Summer 2004 Vol. II, Nos 3 and 4
 From the Editors
 To the Editors
 AUB News
 Campaign Update
 Behold Beirut Architecture’s
 New Frontier
 The Post-AUB Architectural Life
 An Exact Type
 Architecture and Graphic Design
 Students “JAM”
 Shaping the Landscape of Lebanon
 Blueprint in Action
 Commencement 2004
 Honorary Degrees 2004
 Young Lebanese Musicians Learn
 Lessons from the Master
 More than a Stamp of Approval: AUB
 Receives Accreditation
 Alumni Profile
 Alumni Activities
 AUB Reflections
 Class Notes
 In Memoriam
 Previous Issues

An Exact Type

Alumnus Nadine Chahine is rapidly becoming known as a leading Arabic type designer in the Middle East region and beyond. Jaime-Faye Bean writes about the precision and grace that are essential to Chahine’s designs.

Stepping off the summer-sweltering streets of Hamra into the cool office that Nadine Chahine shares with her father, you immediately realize you have stepped into a space where art and science embrace. Against one wall stands her father’s architectural desk with its spread of elegant sketches and around it, inhabiting every corner, her sister’s paintings and sculptures catch the eye. Buzzing computers rise from each desk, like a line-up of buildings in a miniature cityscape. It needs only a brief conversation with Chahine to discover that this merger of technology and grace—with all the painstaking detail, specialized training, dynamism, and delicacy that relationship suggests—is equally manifest in her work in Arabic typeface design.

Even at this early stage in her career, Nadine’s talent is commanding attention. AUB recently commissioned her to develop an original Arabic font to use in the Arabic signage throughout the newly renovated West Hall. The Facilities Planning and Design Unit (FPDU), having noticed her previous work as a student on AUB’s Campus Master Plan website, lost no time in approaching her to develop an Arabic font that could “sit beside” the Frutiger Latin font being used in West Hall’s English signage.

Creating an Arabic typeface that can successfully harmonize with a Latin font requires particular attention to two specific areas. First, the Arabic typeface must have the same visual presence as the Latin counterpart. Both fonts have to be equally accessible to the eye in terms of their optical size and the weight of their strokes, and they must both evoke the same feeling: formal or informal, industrial, funky, or friendly. In considering the visual presence of type, the designer must also take care to preserve the meaning of the actual writing; a signage font may enhance, but never compete with the actual message of the wordage.

The second key consideration when developing an Arabic font is that the designer must honor the authenticity of the script through an understanding of the historical development of Arabic characters. Chahine explains that designing an Arabic font requires much more than the simple “chopping up” of a Latin font and re-piecing it back together. As an example of the failure to follow this second rule, she points to the logo of the Spinney’s supermarket chain in Lebanon: in the Arabic logo used by the company, the three vertical strokes of the “seen” character are topped by serifs, a design detail that has a long history in Latin script and type fonts but which played no role in the historical development of Arabic script. Such “blind imitation”, Chahine says, ignores the unique beauty of Arabic and disrupts its characteristic flow by adding superfluous elements that contradict the structure and motion of the script. During her time teaching in Dubai, Chahine noticed the abundance of such flawed typography in the Arabic-language signage and billboards peppering the city, and she is dismayed to see similar flaws becoming more and more common in Beirut.

Chahine’s interest in typeface design was sparked when she took a typography course with Samir Sayegh, part-time instructor in AUB’s Graphic Design Department. The course introduced her to the specialized field of typeface design, or the creation of new fonts. Developing her own font for the first time excited her so much that she decided to specialize in typeface design, and for her final project in 2000 she designed two fonts. The first, a modular font she named “Sukoun” (silence), has a gentle, unobtrusive feel and a geometric style. The second, “Rimah” (spears), uses long slashing strokes and freestanding disconnected characters. It took her three months to develop the fonts, and the project earned her a Dean’s Award for Creative Achievement. Chahine adds, with a chuckle, that among those to whom she has privately distributed these fonts, most are instantly drawn to Rimah, but ultimately find Sukoun more conducive to daily use. (Rimah has made its way into a few projects calling for a more bold and distinctive style, most notably in the masthead of the Beirut arts journal, Zawaya.)



After completing her undergraduate work in graphic design at AUB in 2000, Chahine enrolled at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, which boasts the only international master’s program in typeface design. She thrived in the demanding, specialized atmosphere of the program, working a full year to develop her final project: a font in both Arabic and Latin script that she named “Kufiya.” The font is now in the process of being registered by Linotype, one of the world’s leading developers and distributors of fonts, based in Germany. After finishing her graduate studies at the University of Reading in 2003, Chahine taught at the Lebanese American University as well as at the American University of Dubai, where she gave a class in Arabic type design during the spring of 2004. She has also become a fixture on the international conference scene, participating in panels and giving presentations on bilingual and Arabic typography and font design.

In talking about her professional evolution, Chahine’s gratitude for the support and opportunities that AUB provided is obvious. She refers to Samir Sayegh as a “constant guide” who continues to advise and support her. “Even when I was a graduate student and would return to Lebanon during my vacation periods, I would make it a priority to see him.” She also considers Professor Leila Musfi, formerly head of the Graphic Design Department, an important mentor. Musfi, together with Sayegh, advised Chahine’s final project, and it was Musfi who urged her to continue her education at Reading.

Most of all, Chahine hails the West Hall signage project as an important initiative at AUB and in the region. “It is extremely rare to commission Arabic typefaces,” she notes. “That this is being done at AUB shows that the University is really interested in encouraging designers and in supporting its alumni, as well as staying in touch with the latest technologies. It also contributes significantly to setting high standards of professional excellence.”