Nadine Chahine on how Monotype designed the Dubai Font


Digital Arts | 02 May 17

You may have already heard about Dubai becoming the first city to have its own Microsoft typeface, designed by Monotype’s Nadine Chahine and a team of five. It's available free for anyone to use, as a web font or as desktop font in TTF format for use in office apps like Word or as in CFF format for Adobe apps such as Illustrator and InDesign.

The Dubai Font was commissioned by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, launched by The Executive Council of Dubai and created in partnership with Microsoft to "carry the vision of the city". The new font family (with four different weights) was designed to "create harmony between Latin and Arabic" and to reflect the city’s modernity and desire for self-expression.

According to Nadine, the project had three main objectives - to be legible, carry the vision of Dubai and be a worthy addition to the font offering in Microsoft Office 365.

The dedicated website to the Dubai Font describes the typeface as full of passion and energy, of which to be used for reading on screen, but can all be used for free in design, office communication and embedded into apps and software. It says the font is a new global medium for self-expression, transcending all barriers. The Dubai Font is now available in Office 365, or you can download it here. The font is designed for 23 languages, with the Latin typeface acting as a bouquet of fonts which includes multiple languages.

Nadine Chahine was commissioned a year and a half ago by the Dubai Government to design the typeface from scratch. She works as the UK type director and legibility expert at Monotype.

"I remember sitting in meetings and all the time thinking to myself: you have to do a good job, you have to do a good job, you have to do a good job! It was an honour to be trusted with this, but the weight of responsibility is also very heavy,” she wrote on Facebook.

With a digital focus, and a vision to embody concepts of harmony and respect, the typeface has taken a soft and simplified form that is practical for everyday use. The letters, although inspired by traditional Arabic calligraphy (which is often made with heavily angular shapes and edges), is made for reading and to promote literacy, therefore it flows and invites readers to “consume words with ease”.

Nadine worked alongside Microsoft’s typography expert Si Daniels at meetings in Dubai to distinguish what styles would add value to Office users. It was the first time that Microsoft had worked with a government body on such a project, and the first time an Arabic typeface shipping with Office would be simultaneously designed with its Latin companion.

"We have so little typefaces in Arabic, and almost always there is a significant cost attached. Not everyone can afford license fees, and the idea of making high quality typography accessible was a brilliant one,” says Nadine.

She says how valuable it is to have government support for the value of design and typography. His Highness Sheikh Hamdan says the launch of the Dubai Font is part of Dubai’s efforts to be ranked first in the digital world. It will also be used in the Dubai government’s official correspondence, to guarantee the project’s success.

"We are confident that this new font and its unique specifications will prove popular among other fonts used online and in smart technologies across the world," says Sheikh Hamdan

He oversaw all development stages for the typeface, from first design sketches to the execution phase.

Nadine worked alongside Monotype’s Malou Verlomme, and Ralph du Carrois, Pilar Cano and Ferran Milan as external contractors for Monotype. Toshi Omagati reviewed the outlines. In previous interviews, we've talked to Nadine on how to best use typography for digital display, and her Arabic version of Zapfino

Social media users are encouraged to promote the typeface with the hashtag #expressyou, but the United Arab Emirates has received criticism for its lack of freedom of speech among news organisations and citizens. 

The Executive Council of Dubai’s Secretary General His Excellency Abdullah Abdul Rahman Al Shaibani says: "The Dubai Font reflects many of the values that characterise the personality of the Emirate of Dubai, whose vision revolves around giving, happiness, smartness, boldness, living in harmony, respecting one another and combining the authenticity of the past, the modernity of the present and the aspirations of the future."

But contradicting this, the United Arab Emirates of which Dubai is part of, has been internationally criticised by human rights organisations such as the Human Rights Watch in its 2017 report and Amnesty International, for its restrictions on freedom of speech, human rights and free expression.

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