Nadine Chahine: Lost in Black and White

London-based ADC Member raises the bar on Arabic fonts

It’s a new week here on the ADC Blog, and ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month marches on! The weather has finally turned the corner here in New York, and t’s time to let the sun shine on all of the ADC Members who make their mark with letterforms. Whether they’re designing brand new digital fonts for the world to use, or they’re creating free-flowing calligraphy to adorn a wall, these artists know that there is more to written words than just their meaning.

When you spend so much of your time literally minding your Ps and Qs, you sometimes forget that the Latin alphabet, so prominent in the Western world, isn’t the only one out there, and more importantly, isn’t the only one that needs thoughtful design. Thankfully, today’s featured ADC Member plies her considerable craft in Arabic typefaces.

Nadine-portrait_medium-sizeNADINE CHAHINE
Type Designer, Monotype’s UK Type Director and Legibility Expert
London, UK



Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?

It all started with the Arabic typography class with Samir Sayegh at the American University of Beirut. I wanted to redesign the letter nūn (ن). and very quickly got hooked.

What made you realize that you wanted to make a career out of this, and what convinced you it was even possible?

I was fascinated by the tension between the black and the white and I couldn’t let it go. I was also very frustrated by the quality of Arabic typefaces available at the time and I wanted better choices for us.

How would you best describe your style in a sentence? Do you fight against having a telltale style, or do you embrace it as your brand?

It’s not a style as much as an approach: Exploring hybrid styles in order to find new modes of expression and designs that are a natural extension of our heritage yet are very rooted in the present.

Walk us through your usual creative process. How do you know when you’re “finished”?

If it’s a custom project, then the client is the one initiating the conversation. If it’s a library project, I’m usually looking for a certain flavor of design that I would like to bring to life. I usually draw straight on computer and go through many tests and rounds of corrections until it all feels like it fits together, and the letters are making happy looking words. The rhythm will tell you when all is right.

“Wait, what is that you do again?” How do you explain what you do for a living to people who aren’t in creative fields? What’s the thing they can’t quite grasp about it?

People usually ask me why we need new typefaces and I always answer that we will always have new things to say and typefaces help express that. Would we ever stop making music and writing new songs?

“People usually ask me why we need new typefaces… would we ever stop making music and writing new songs?”

Tell us about your favorite project to date. What set it apart from everything else?

I designed a headline typeface for the largest newspaper in Lebanon, An-nahar for its redesign. It was meant as a statement in support of the freedom of the press and dedicated to its chief editor who was assassinated in 2005. It is special to me as it was the first time that I could engage in the national dialogue in Lebanon through my capacity as a designer. I will always be a citizen first and designer second, and this project gave me voice, and was in itself the voice of the newspaper in its stand against oppression.

What would be your dream project/assignment/client? What’s something you’ve never had the opportunity to do thus far, but would kill for that chance?

I would like to design more Arabic display typefaces. Always on my mind but never enough time!

What is the most difficult thing about making a career out of what you do? How do you get around that, and what advice would give to others facing similar challenges?

Too many ideas for typefaces, too little time to draw. Still haven’t found a solution but always looking for one.

What other creative outlets do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I play the piano and I used to dance for many years. I like to switch off from type design when I travel and being in new settings always fuels my wish to draw. It’s like I learn new words and then I need to look for the typefaces to express them.

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why? Have you had any creative mentors?

My mentor has always been Prof. Samir Sayegh. I’ve also had the privilege of working with Prof. Hermann Zapf very closely and that was a very educational collaboration and one that I will always cherish. I’m also a big fan of Adrian Frutiger, Gerard Unger and Jean-François Porchez. Of Arabic type designers, I like the work of Mamoun Sakkal and Tim Holloway.

“I like to get lost in the world of black and white.”

When all is said and done, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

I like to get lost in the world of black and white. It is like meditation to me and I so love the rush of feeling when the words start to take the shape that I am looking for. It is almost like magic, though it is not.

Typography & Lettering Month takes place throughout April, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!