The Grammar of Arabic

An interview with Typeface Designer Kourish Beigpour

Jul 30, 2018 · 7 min read

How do you adapt a latin type design into Arabic? TypeThursday spoke with Arabic typeface designer Kourish Beigpour to find out how he interpreted the font Faction from Lost Type Co-op.

Kara in discussion with Michelle about her lettering project at GoogleNYC

Make new friends who love type just as much as you do.

Monthly meet-ups around the world where you discuss projects that focus on letterforms.
Los Angeles
New York City
San Francisco

Thomas Jockin: Kourosh, thanks so much for joining me today. You’re currently working on the Arabic edition of Faction from Lost Type, from the latin edition made by Shiva Nallaperumal. I’m excited to speak with you today about this project!

Kourosh Beigpour. Photo by Mohtadi Mirak

Kourosh Beigpour: Hi Thomas, I’m glad to be here with you. Thank you for your time. I’d be happy to speak with you in this regards.

TJ: I know you’re currently living in Los Angeles and have attended many TypeThursday LA events. But I’d like to learn more about your background. Could you share how you got into Arabic typeface design?

Kourosh’s Background

KB: Sure, Well, I was born in the Kurdish region of Iran, Kermanshah, and I went to the Tehran University of Arts, later I continued my studies in Malaysia, mastering in contemporary arts and graphics. My love for typography grew back in Tehran as I attended the University.

Nastaʿlīq by Mirza Gholamreza Esfahani

During one of the reformist movements amongst the youth in the universities, many such as myself were inspired to focus their art and medium of art towards their ancient Iranian heritage, towards a time that was before their own. Typography was one medium in which many could express themselves, because there is a rich history in Persian calligraphic styles in writing. I personally was interested in the styles of calligraphy and font that came from the Qajar dynastic period. Later in my studies, my peers and I took a course in type design in Tehran that also helped mold and shape my interests further in wanting to design my own font and type of calligraphy, which is what I primarily do today. This all lead me to graduate with a bachelors and masters in font design as well.

TJ: Outstanding. Thank you for sharing all of that. How did you get involved in making Faction Arabic?

KB: There was a sleepy and redundant feel behind the type designs of Persian and Arabic script. I was compelled to jump into the game with my own vision of the language. This all started with the “Kanun” font which has been specially mentioned in Granashan type design competition 2017. After that, I saw faction by Shiva. I immediately reached out to him to create the arabic version of the font. It’s a really challenging project, and at the same time I believe we can add a bit more to the world of Persian/Arabic font design.

TJ: How was the design of Arabic Faction challenging?

I was distancing myself from my first true form of love in font design, which is the ancient forms of calligraphy in Iran.

Development sketches for Faction Arabic

Challenges adapting Faction for Arabic

KB: The design of Arabic Faction was challenging because as you know, the counter form of Faction is always rectangles of the same thickness, while the outer forms adjust and morph. Just imagine applying this to Arabic, a script that has so many wild and unexpected anomalies, which has ascending and descending movements with all those counter forms, especially the negative spaces, which are naturally apart of the script. The latin letter form in Faction has overlapping because of the spacing and the nature of it’s very own design. However, when you apply this to Arabic or Persian, all of the anomalies that come in the form of slashes and dots, that appear either above or below the main line design, makes this hugely challenging. Another challenging point to note is that I was distancing myself from my first true form of love in font design, which is the ancient forms of calligraphy in Iran. Moving away from that was also difficult for me.

TJ: That is a lot of challenges! I want to explore more what you described as “distancing from the ancient forms of Iranian calligraphy.” Along with the regularization of the counters and overlapping components, I am getting the impression there were other deviations from classical calligraphy in Faction Arabic. Is that true? If so, in what manner?

I didn’t want to break the rules and proportion [of Arabic calligraphy], but I wanted to apply the same rules in a different way.

KB: Yes you are correct to assume that there are more points of deviation from classical calligraphy in Faction Arabic, for example when eliminating the white or black spaces in Faction, we have to add something else to the font that will balance it out. I didn’t want to break the rules and proportion, but I wanted to apply the same rules in a different way. For example, I have to close the counter parts, which means I will have more white space as well as losing proportion. So, by adding a line and playing with the character’s form, I should be able to get rid of the extra and needless spaces.

TJ: I understand the need to compensate for the counter parts. Was the low-contrast nature of Faction a challenge to interrupt into Faction Arabic? Traditional arabic calligraphy appears to have a variation in contrast in its strokes, correct?

KB: Yes your absolutely correct in regards to the variation in contrast in the strokes applied to traditional calligraphy. However, when it comes to Faction Arabic, the challenge from low-contrast nature was indeed there, and I do believe that this is where we distanced ourselves from the reality of calligraphy. Nevertheless, I have kept the thickness which creates more white space, which lead me to play with the design in such a way that keeps the original characters in tact and correct. Is this clear or do I need to elaborate?

TJ: Perhaps a specific character example would help clarify when you maintained the correct arabic form in Faction Arabic.

I had to close the bowl [of “noon”] with a line that cuts the negative space, and the hovering dot now must sit right upon this newly added feature to the letter.

“noon” glyph in Faction Arabic

KB: When applying Faction to the original form of the letter “noon,” I had to become creative in still keeping it intact but not breaking the rules of Faction. For example, the letter “noon” is traditionally in the space of a open bowl that has one dot in the middle hovering above. But when it comes into the font design of Faction, I have to close the bowel with a line that cuts the negative space, and the hovering dot now must sit right upon this newly added feature to the letter. So essentially, I am changing the nature of the letter, slightly, to be able to apply this new font design. But the most important message for me to give with this font design, was to be able to apply the new features and yet still have it remain readable and legible. Furthermore, the same shape that became noted for “noon” I had to apply to numerous other letters that became ever so more challenging.

A modular approach is applied to other glyphs using the base form of “noon”. Left to Right: the letter “sad”, the letter “shin”, the letters “meem-noon”, the letter “noon”

TJ: That’s a great example, thank you! When can we expect to see Facton Arabic out in the world?

Status of Faction Arabic

KB: At this moment I have finished close to 90% of the alphabet line, and I hope to have faction arabic out there by the end of this year for sure. The remaining 10% I’m working on are the alternative designs that are required for the font in order to make it legible.

TJ: Kourosh, thanks so much for being here for TypeThursday.

KB: Thank You Thomas for all that you do for the Type community with Type Thursday. Cheers to you!

Once you’ve gone bold, it never gets old

We get it — presenting isn’t everyone’s bag, yet so many of our presenters keep returning to TypeThursday with new letterforms. Could be the free beer…or maybe there’s just a magic to watching an entire room of type geeks rooting for you and your work. Be bold! Submit your work to TypeThursday today.

Love this series? Sign up for TypeThursday’s mailing list to be the first to know when the next installment goes live.

Was this article interesting to you? Give us a clap.

Type Thursday

A meeting place for people who love letterforms.


Written by

A meeting place for people who love letterforms

Type Thursday

A meeting place for people who love letterforms.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade