Type foundry Boharat Cairo on the vast possibilities of Arabic type design
In conversation with Abdo Mohamad of Boharat Cairo, we find out how the Egyptian capital is full of typographic inspiration.
- Olivia Hingley
- 26 January 2022
Abdo Mohamad, founder of the type studio Boharat Cairo, rediscovered his love for lettering after taking an Arabic calligraphy course. A “turning point” after doing type design simply for branding projects, since the course his focus has become more centred around “art and therapy”, a focus which he sees as improving his type skills immensely. Telling us that there are “a lot of places for exploration” Abdo observes there to be a “big gap in the Arabic type market” and he hopes the work of Boharat Cairo will inspire designers to focus on the rich “Arabic calligraphy heritage”. With the foundry already displaying a number of slick, stylish and skillful typefaces, we’re sure this goal is set to be achieved.
The studio’s biggest influences come directly from the streets of its namesake, Cairo. “Every street has great lettering in shop signs, walls, car stickers, houses’ doors,” Abdo tells us, a collection of which he now has curated on his Egyptian Type Archive Instagram page. Not seeing himself as a “typical type designer”, Abdo didn't study design at university, a decision he sees as having allowed him to “love” his work and “express his feelings” outside of the rigid structure of academia. Beginning his design career at an Arabic letter branding studio in Cairo, Abdo then worked at one of the biggest branding agencies in Egypt for three years. As opposed to satisfying his creativity, the role left him with many questions, such as why client relationships often proved so difficult and why concepts often ended up looking completely different to the original idea. Having now founded Boharat Cairo, Mohamad has moved to Dubai where he has lived for the past few months.
Seeing a typeface as a “beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters”, the studio’s approach is cohesive and considered. Believing experimentation to produce the most interesting results, its process begins with exploration and deeply informed research. Its typeface Felfel, for instance, is inspired by 1920s Egyptian metal printing press publications and vintage Egyptian film posters. This classic font, which is still as “remarkable” today as it was then, is still visible all over the streets of Cairo, Abdo tells us. Following the team’s research, the sketching stage ensures “a clear vision of the typeface” and to “try to find solutions for the expected challenges” which is then followed by the physical building of the type.
The two most important stages for the studio, however, are the final two – the most “complicated” being the testing stage. Ensuring the “symphony” of letters works well, the studio will complete numerous modifications, testing posters and printing to ensure the typeface fits the purpose and the context. Finally, the type is left for a while, viewed with fresh eyes and then posted online to allow for feedback: “I get amazed by how people use the typeface, how people react with it on social media, and this motivates me to get back sooner or start a new project.”
Publishing a new typeface every quarter, Boharat Cairo is currently working on a new typeface inspired by Nastaliq calligraphy with a “different flavour”. Moreover – as part of a new venture – they’re in the early phases of creating typography-focused merchandise “designed and made in Cairo from beginning to end”.
Abdo Mohamed: Harrfian, The present is the future of the past t-Shirt (Copyright © AbdoMohamed, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.