Experimental type foundry Hey Porter! plays with typefaces like they’re made of “Lego bricks”
The road to success for the one-man indie type foundry based in Amman was paved with hard work, discipline and a broad imagination.
- Elfie Thomas
- 9 February 2022
Tawfiq Dawi, AKA Hey Porter!, is the one-man powerhouse whose “big, fat and totally experimental” typefaces have tickled the fancy of a range of major global clients, including Apple Music, TEDx and Criterion Collection over the past few years. He recently released his new typeface Zaatar, which he created in collaboration with Abdo Mohamed, the founder of the Cairo-based design studio Boharat, who we spoke to earlier this year. Their versatile typeface combines juicy thick strokes with thinner elegant details, and the “seriousness” of Arabic calligraphy with a lively “retro-futuristic” feel. The typeface’s name is a clever historical gesture towards the two collaborators’ backgrounds. Zaatar means “thyme” in Arabic, a herb which was originally cultivated in Tawfiq’s area of the world, the Mediterranean Levant. Over time the herb travelled down to Abdo’s home of Egypt where it was used for ancient embalming rituals.
While the impressive quality and quantity of work produced by Hey Porter! in the past few years suggests effortlessness, Tawfiq’s route to success was by no means based on talent alone. His approach to creative work is disciplined and focused. “Life is a gym and everything needs time and commitment,” he tells It’s Nice That. This was a value instilled at a young age. In order to provide for his family, he began working at a printing press from the age of 13. By 18, he “had the basic knowledge of many programs and had smelled all kinds of inks,” he says. From here, he quickly found work in graphic design at an NGO. But he found the work dull and restrictive, producing infographics and reports “that no one really looked at or read”. So he committed himself to designing a poster a day for 1,000 days. For three years the extra work meant that he went to bed at 5am every morning. In this way, a “multi-functional-visual-individual” was born and he named it Hey Porter! after a song by Johnny Cash.
The one-man indie type foundry now produces a range of experimental contemporary fonts, marks, logos, posters and identities. Pointing us to some of his favourite projects, Tawfiq looks back to the first typeface he developed: Watad. This down-to-earth display font incorporates clean ink traps giving the familiar Arabic font a “punk stencil feel”. By contrast, Honaleka is fat and juicy – the product of applying high contrast aesthetics to the traditional naskh-calligraphy style.
Throughout his work Tawfiq seamlessly combines old and new references. When it comes to finding inspiration, he cites a range of classic graphic design go-tos – music, pop culture, magazines, vintage film posters. But he also likes to meditate on more contemplative themes. He often finds himself “sitting alone thinking about life and how to create art that embraces reality, non-existence, humanity and death and other deep shitty thoughts”. When he falls on an idea, he begins putting visuals together like “Lego bricks”. He “plays and plays and plays” with sketches and mock-ups before finally settling on a small selection of visuals. With this intuitive discipline and a mind that reaches to the themes of humanity and non-existence for typeface inspiration, Hey Porter! is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Arabic and multilingual type scene.
Hey Porter!: Sindeed typeface (Copyright © Hey Porter!, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.