Interning with Tarek Atrissi | The Art & Science of Arabic in Barcelona

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

It’s been exactly 3 months since I left Barcelona where I spent another 3 months interning for Tarek Atrissi, a Lebanese graphic designer who runs his own design studio out of the Catalonian city after relocating from the colder Hilversum, the Netherlands.

I’ve written a lot about what I did to prepare for this trip and what I learned on a personal level while there but I thought it would be helpful to see what I got out of this trip from a professional standpoint as a designer from and working in the Arab world. The environment of Barcelona seemed like an unconventional backdrop for learning about Arabic type & script but it made one thing more evident: capable designers with a background in Arabic design are needed, regardless of location.

Lesson 1: The Difference between Arabic Typography, Lettering, and Calligraphy

As an introduction, Tarek walked me through a breakdown of different uses of the Arabic language in design. Typography refers to creating typefaces or designing a print layout using Arabic text. Lettering is when Arabic letters or words are built by drawing them out piece by piece. The focus would be on one element as an artistic composition or unit instead of an entire alphabet or page of text. Calligraphy is an old artform that takes years to reach the pro level. If there’s no time to learn the trade, this is usually outsourced if you want it done right.

Lesson 2: Making Arabic Versions of Logos

A skill highly underrated and glossed over when it comes to designing Latin logos is the ability to adapt them to Arabic while retaining their aesthetic and iconic attributes. A visit to Dubai will tell you how poor adaptations of your non-Arabic logo can hurt your brand’s image. It is hard enough to do from the start of a project but even more challenging when it comes after the logo is already in use and plastered all over the world. Icons or graphic elements become gimmicks or are forced into the Arabic script. Creating an Arabic version of a non-Arabic logo takes practice and understanding of both languages; not only how they are similar but how their differences will affect the visual outcome. Arabic differs from a lot of commonly used languages in many ways; two main concerns being that 1) the letters are connected (at times) and don’t align with non-Arabic glyphs because they adhere to different guidelines and have fluctuating proportions and 2) it’s read from right to left.

 

Lesson 3: Looking at Arabic Glyphs like Shapes, not Letters

During my GD undergrad years, a calligrapher who was giving us a workshop had told me that people who don’t know Arabic tend to be less constricted when sketching forms because they look at the letters like shapes. They have no linguistic knowledge of what the aleph is; it’s just a long line. I was reminded of this when drawing up endless versions of Arabic glyphs. When lettering, you have to let go of what you know of the defined structure of each letter – to a certain extent – in order to let your hand freely take over.

Lesson 4: The Importance of Arabic as a Language in Design

Coming from an advertising background, I rarely had the chance to dabble in typographic design, much less anything in Arabic since I worked on international accounts. Working on fonts and logotypes in Arabic made me realize how neglected it is as a skill in our part of the world. Sure, most Arab designers can read and write in Arabic but can they design in it? Do we have the understanding of it as a language to tackle it the way an Arab national should? This should be our added bonus as designers from the region: we should know how to work with our own language with respect – in a way that does it justice as a beautiful form of communication.

Lesson 5: Give More, Keep Less

What was surprising about Tarek was that he was so willing to give and teach. It is rare to find a successful professional who is open to mentoring you as a designer, in skill but also in thought-process. Tarek was never condescending in his approach when it came to finding solutions and he gave me the confidence I lacked when it came to discovering my strengths as a designer. He was leading by example and a true team player. He taught me to be open with what I know and even with what I don’t. And by constantly sharing and exchanging, there was a flow of stories and experience that brought fresh energy to the office each day.

You can learn more, the more you give away.

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A big thanks to Tarek and everyone at TAD.
See you guys soon!

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Will Blog for Apples

Courtesy of Gratisography

Courtesy of Gratisography


Next week, I’ll be flying to Barcelona, Spain for a 3-month design internship. Although temporary, this will be the first time I’m living on my own away from home.

First World Problem
My 5S needs upgrading. The only issue I had was its disintegrating battery life that has only gotten worse over time. Now, having a power bank has rectified the battery woes but the 13GB capacity is not enough for a typical smartphone user, let alone one who depends so heavily on documentation. I mean, how else am I going to show people my tie-dye laundry, ramen noodle buffet, or create a video montage of the various Spanish sausage flavors of La Boqueria? I mean G-rated sausage, you 12-year old.

I’ll admit that the larger screens of the new generations were a turn-off at first. Why would I want to use a phone that was the same size as my Moleskine? Then, I used one to cover an event and saw the beauty of having a phablet when it came to capturing an experience. It was much like the preference of using a 22-in iMac versus a 15-in MacBook Pro; a larger interface to command while maintaining ease of usability. Don’t get me wrong, my MacBook is currently at the doctor’s and it feels like my child is in Afghanistan but, as a designer, having a larger workspace is always better, just less convenient and more expensive. But being the size of a Moleskine suddenly made sense if you look at your phone for what it actually is: more than a thing you use to call your parents (let’s be honest, they’re the only people who still use phones primarily for calling). Your iPhone is your diary, without the doodled hearts and ripped pages that ruin the binding. It’s what you use to absorb your surroundings and share it with the ones who can’t be with you. 

You see, I’m considering a lot of new content (intense blogging, continuous fitness tracking, photography, and a webisode series) during this trip but I want a device that has the memory and hardware to keep up. That, and it’s plain snazzy.

Since this is an internship abroad, I have a lot of expenses to cover and a new shiny gadget like the 6 Plus with decent memory has a hefty price tag. I’m not able to drop that kind of cash nor do I have the moxie to ask for a little parental gifting. They’re already helping me out as it is and this little trans-mediterranean move is supposed to be my training wheels for how to be an adult, not a pampered failure to launch. Stop thinking about SJP and horses.

I’ve read reviews about the Samsung’s competing device but, knowing that I switch out phones every 2-3 years, I don’t imagine making that kind of commitment to a brand I haven’t clicked with in the past. We’re like me and Daniel Craig; I can appreciate him as a Bond who’s handsome and got all the right stuff but Pierce Brosnan is my man. I test-drove their product before but I couldn’t convert; I guess I’m Apple to the core. I’ve heard about the rumored 6S/S Plus release but I’d be completely fine with a 6 Plus joining me on the journey, I’ll even share my bed with it.

So…like…what do you say manzana gods?
Can you hook me up por favor?
I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Love you, kthxbye.