Lyon Arabic is the new counterpart of a Commercial Type favourite, informed by Naskh and Nastaliq scripts

When Wael Morcos and Khajag Apelian met while studying graphic design, they quickly realised the importance of developing Arabic fonts.

30 July 2020

As a type design duo, Wael Morcos and Khajag Apelian are dedicated to the development of modern Arabic typefaces driven by the hope of making them more accessible and available to the public. Since 2017, the pair have worked with a number of type foundries to adapt Latin typefaces to Arabic, most recently adapting Commercial Type’s Lyon, which Wael talks us through today. Previously, they’ve worked on an Arabic edition of Brando by Bold Monday, IBM’s Plex Sans Arabic, not to mention another Commercial Type release, Graphik.

Going back to the designers’ beginnings in the discipline, Wael and Khajag met during their undergraduate degree studying graphic design at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University. The curriculum, explains Wael, “is roughly built around the Bauhaus model with little emphasis on Arabic typography or Arabic Type design.” Good Arabic fonts “were hard to access”, often limited in weights and proportions. It was a profound gap in the typographic art form, which led Wael and Khajag to quickly realise a passion and energy for. By combining their efforts, they knew the development of Arabic fonts would not only benefit their individual practices, but also many others too.

After two respective master’s degrees in type design – Wael’s from RISD and Khajag’s from the Royal Academy in The Netherlands – the pair started developing Arabic fonts for open source release which led to several collaborations with the aforementioned established type foundries. Wael met Commercial Type back in 2012 and, when it expanded its library to include Arabic companions five years later, Wael was the first port of call to help create Graphic Arabic – a meaningful departure from calligraphic detailing, presenting a utilitarian workhouse in nine weights to accompany the geometric sans serif.


Wael Morcos, Khajag Apelian, Commercial Type: Lyon Arabic

Following its success, the New York and London-based type foundry decided to expand another of its best seller’s, Lyon. Designed specifically for longer passages of texts, “the typeface is a crisp and modern redraw of serious classics inspired by punch-cutter Robert Granjon’s 16th century masterworks.” Lyon Arabic presented Wael and Khajag with an opportunity to design something purely from an Arabic perspective. It could perform similarly to its Latin counterpart but with its own cultural nuances in mind.

Arab typography is historically and culturally rich, with many layers of meaning imbued throughout its iterations. In spite of this, the transition from writer script to typography is still maturing, an aspect of type design that Wael and Khajag are committed to strengthening. Two years in the making, Lyon Arabic is an entirely redrawn companion informed by two Perso-Arabic scripts; Naskh and Nastaliq. Entirely redrawn from Kai Bernau’s original 2009 Lyon design, the Arabic version is similarly straight-forward in its detailing with a pared-back construction which makes it wholly comfortable for reading at smaller point sizes.

In the process of creating this wide-ranging family of fonts, for Wael and Khajag, one question in particular remained front of mind throughout the design process: “How can we develop a companion for the Latin Italic without forcing a Western concept onto Arabic?” It took the designers back to the history books. Delving into different forms of Arabic script, they discovered how varying styles were often mixed in written and printed layouts to create hierarchy. “If italics in Latin were used to create different emphasis,” explains Wael, “mixing different scripts in Arabic introduced different extras and a change in rhythm.”

In turn, they decided to create a variation of Lyon Arabic titled Lyon Arabic Slanted with a distinct digital touch. Looking to the Nastaliq script to inform this model, Lyon Arabic Slanted offers its users a more fluid, angled alternative to the standard version. Adding hierarchy and versatility to the Lyon Arabic family, the Slanted alternative is a standalone powerhouse of style and flavour while simultaneously being a complimentary side to the Naskh-inspired original. “Nastaliq is amongst the most fluid calligraphy styles and has a natural slant to its proportions,” adds the type designer. “The result is a reinvention of a calligraphic tradition to be used in modern typographic contexts.” Undeniably a significant feat in the contemporary design of Arabic scripts, for Wael and Khajag, one fundamental question remains despite all the work: Will the general public embrace Lyon Arabic? Well, let’s find out.

GalleryWael Morcos, Khajag Apelian, Commercial Type: Lyon Arabic

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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