Type Thursday
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Type Thursday

What You Need to Know About the Hebrew Script

An Interview with Graphic Designer Meir Sadan

Kara in discussion with Michelle about her lettering project at GoogleNYC

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Meir Sadan

Meir’s Background

MS: Sure. I’ll give a short background about myself — I’m a designer based in Tel Aviv, I work on many different projects involving different design disciplines: book design, type design, design for digital media, etc. I have also been a teacher for eight years now. It’s funny to think about when I first started practicing Hebrew writing, because it has been there all my life! As a native of the Hebrew language, and as a designer who loves type, I have always had an obsession with the Hebrew script, which grew and grew as I got older and figured out I should probably be doing it as a profession. There weren’t many resources available back then, the internet wasn’t as big and full of information as it is now, so I had to do a lot of investigation, finding people to talk to and books to read in order to educate myself. I have been working professionally with Hebrew type for almost 10 years now, and I still feel I have so much to learn!

[Hebrew] went through changes — changes in style, in construction and in the way it’s used and by whom.

Consideration of the Hebrew Script

MS: Hebrew is the language I grew up with — I speak, write and even think with it every day. But apart from that, I think it’s a very interesting script. It’s very ancient, and been around for thousands of years, through many different historical periods, and through those times it went through changes — changes in style, in construction and in the way it’s used and by whom. The first serious book I read on the subject was “The Book of the Hebrew Script” by Dr. Ada Yardeni, that demonstrates the many versatile forms the Hebrew script has taken on during the ages. Its latest incarnation, the modern one that began in the early 20th century, is particularly interesting because of its active use today, but also because of the modernist influences it absorbed, for instance from constructivism and from the international style. It’s also a fairly simple script — 22 letters (with 5 final forms), one ascender, one descender and one case (no capitals/miniscules), so while being quite a basic system of writing, it’s a kind of prototype to many scripts that came after it, such as greek, latin and cyrillic.

…Each style has links to its ancient heritage as a semitic, middle-eastern script, but also ties to local culture and craft.

The History of the Hebrew Script

TJ: You stated the Hebrew script moved from broad-nib to pointed-nib to, I take it, constructivist. Is than accurate history? If so, how has the script evolved over time?

The Rewards of Teaching

TJ: Quite the story! Thank you for sharing all this great information. You’ve shared before you have taught for eight years. Would it be fair to say you truly enjoy teaching?

Hebrew has some interesting cases in which little “spurs” are very essential in recognizing different letters.

The Need for an “Insider’s Eye” to a Script

MS: Well, I noticed in the past few years, that there is a growing interest in Hebrew, as well as other non-latin scripts, in the latin type design community. Some designers even attempt their own Hebrew designs, and I think it’s great. But I do think, that in order to really understand a script, you need a bit of an “insider’s eye”. I’m hoping to provide some insights, as well as practical tips, about how to look at Hebrew letters, in terms of construction and style, so that the students can gain a better understanding of how to eventually approach the design of a Hebrew typeface. It can also be a great general introduction, to those who have never had any experience with the script or the language, and are interested to know how it works. I will also be showing some examples of Hebrew type in current use, to give a better context to the work we will be doing through the day.

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Thomas Jockin

Lecturer at University of North Georgia. Interested in typography, cognition, and community.