Dubai font designer Nadine Chahine looks back at her creation’s first year

Arab News spoke to award-winning London-based Lebanese designer Nadine Chahine. (Supplied)
Updated 04 May 2018

Dubai font designer Nadine Chahine looks back at her creation’s first year

  • To mark the first anniversary of the launch of Dubai font, Arab News spoke to award-winning London-based Lebanese designer Nadine Chahine
  • Her Koufiya typeface was the first to include simultaneously designed matching Arabic and Latin parts

LONDON: To mark the first anniversary of the launch of Dubai font, Arab News spoke to award-winning London-based Lebanese designer Nadine Chahine, who led the team responsible for crafting the Dubai typeface — the first to be created for a city and freely distributed.

While studying for her MA in typeface design at the University of Reading in the UK, Chahine focused on the possibilities of creating a harmonious relationship between Arabic and Latin scripts. Her Koufiya typeface was the first to include simultaneously designed matching Arabic and Latin parts.

She recalled the excitement of the launch of Dubai font on April 30 last year and how companies and organisations vied with each other to be the first to use it.

“It was a race to see which agency, company or brand would use it first,” she said. “Kit Kat even made an ad telling other fonts to ‘take a break’ because the Dubai font had arrived!

“It created a national conversation about design on such a broad scale. The response to the initiative locally was phenomenal and we also saw a lot of discussion globally about what it means for a government to initiate a typeface,” she continued.

According to Chahine, the design manages to reflect the essence of Dubai.

“It’s about the balance between managing to be very modern and cutting-edge in terms of technology and innovation, but at the same time very rooted in Arab history, legacy and heritage. It’s that duality that they wanted to capture. It’s also about the openness and harmony of the city reflected in the typeface. So many different nationalities live in Dubai. There is a cosmopolitan feel to the city.”

Chahine said feedback on the font has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People love its simplicity. As a typeface it is not bombastic or too ornamental or overstated. It reflects the brief that the Executive Council of Dubai gave us: They wanted a typeface which was very legible and which would work well in an office environment, as this would be its main channel of distribution.

“People were happy to see something simple and easy to read. The challenge was striking a balance between usability, legibility and a sense of aesthetic that people can get behind,” she said.

She added that Dubai is a true trailblazer in the way it has made its font freely available.

“There are other cities around the world which have their own fonts but their use is normally associated with tourism,” Chahine explained. “You see ministries of tourism using specialised fonts for advertising — for example in Seattle, Abu Dhabi and Amman — but these are not centralized for all government usage and not available to the public.”  

Chahine is currently studying for a fourth degree, this time in international relations, at the University of Cambridge, and said she wants “to find links between politics and design to explore the role that design can have in political discourse and cultural discourse.”

She is also in the midst of setting up her own company — www.arabictype.com — after 13 years with digital-design firm Monotype, where she also worked on major projects for Sony, Google, and Sky News Arabia.

Reflecting on her years with Monotype, she didn’t hesitate to name the Dubai font project as her “number one.”

“It was scary for me, because I knew it would get a lot of attention. It took a lot of effort but it worked. I have done a lot of other inspiring things which meant a lot to me but this one is very particular,” she explained. “It will be difficult to top it.”


‘Black Beauty’: Mending broken spirits in yet another retelling of a classic

The film begins with the sorrowful story of how Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet) is taken away from her family. (Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2020

‘Black Beauty’: Mending broken spirits in yet another retelling of a classic

CHENNAI: English author Anna Sewell wrote her only novel “Black Beauty” between 1871 and 1877, at a time when she was quite ill and could hardly get out of bed.

Often considered a children’s classic, it has sold a whopping 50 million copies and was actually directed at adults — Ashley Avis’s reimagining of “Black Beauty” for Disney+ underscores this in an enormously poignant way, although this sixth incarnation (the last being Caroline Thomson’s rather disappointing 1994 version) may have lost some appeal. 

An autobiography of a wild horse captured in the American West and tamed, Avis’s film begins with the sorrowful story of how Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet) is taken away from her family and brought to Birtwick Stables, run by John Manly (Ian Glen). Despite his experience as a horse whisperer, he is unable to tame Beauty. It takes his teenage niece Jo Green (Mckenzie Foy) to calm the magnificent creature.

Green, who comes to live with her uncle after the death of her parents in a car accident, succeeds largely because of her ability to treat Beauty not as an animal but as another soul capable of feelings. She says early on in a teary moment that like herself, the horse has lost its family. This understanding and the bond that follows are beautifully captured by Avis, also the writer. 

What may serve as an important point of novelty is the gender switch. Beauty is now a female mustang, not a male as in the tome or adaptations. This may have been an intelligent ploy to establish a still warmer camaraderie between Green and Beauty. Only Green can soothe Beauty, who can help the girl get over her terrible loss.

But then the horse has to live through several masters after Manly finds he can no longer afford her. Beauty experiences as much care as cruelty, but as Winslet observes at the beginning: “A wise horse once told me that a mustang’s spirit can never be broken.”

While Winslet’s voiceover seems useful, there are moments when it is distracting. Also, Avis’s inclusion of a fair amount of modernism in her narrative — with swanky cars rubbing shoulders with horse-drawn carriages on the streets of New York, where Beauty is taken — may seem confusingly improbable. “Black Beauty” is charming, but what could have added a zing to it is greater drama. Most of the time, the storytelling is flat.