Font Designer – Mamoun Sakkal

Interview with Mamoun Sakkal

What inspired you to design this typeface?
The original design started in 1976 as an attempt to create an Arabic typeface that’s compatible with Latin for bilingual publications.

Are you influenced by other typefaces in the design of your typeface?
I was not influenced by specific typefaces because I was not aware of any designs during the 1970s that had the streamlined and geometric look I wanted to achieve with Shilia. However, I admired the work of the Iraqi designer Nazem Ramzi who designed a uniform typeface with square details for Afaq Arabiyya magazine as well as the work of the Lebanese designer Nasri Khattar, although I did not agree with his concept of dis-joined letters.

First I drew the letters with pen and ink using the drafting tools and skills I acquired in architecture school ...

What techniques did you use in creating your font?
Because of the long time span between the original design and the commercial release of Shilia I used a number of techniques in its design and production. First I drew the letters with pen and ink using the drafting tools and skills I acquired in architecture school. Later, in 1985, I cut the letters in Rubylith film so they were ready for digitization, but since that did not happen I redrew the letters in digital format using Fontographer; later I converted to OpenType using FontLab, and then Aida Sakkal programmed the OpenType features. Finally, I had to draw the typeface one last time in order to coordinate the weights and styles with Linotype Univers, the companion Latin shipped with Shilia.


Shilia composite negative of ink drawings (1984)
The greatest challenge was to produce Arabic letter-forms that are familiar and natural while at the same time extremely simplified and uniform in proportions and shapes to conform to a geometric grid ...

What was the greatest challenge you faced while creating your typeface?
The greatest challenge was to produce Arabic letter-forms that are familiar and natural while at the same time extremely simplified and uniform in proportions and shapes to conform to a geometric grid. When Shilia was first designed this range of letter-forms was not yet familiar in Arabic publications and other graphic pieces. However over time, several fonts with similar qualities were released and this type of design became more acceptable and familiar. In order to achieve my design goals I researched in-depth the history of Kufic calligraphy to identify a range of shapes that is in harmony with the traditions of Arabic calligraphy, while at the same time appealing to modern sensibilities and compatible with Latin script typography.

Shilia has a simple and modern feel because it was designed to work with Sans Serif Latin typefaces ...

Please describe the look and feel of your typeface.
Shilia has a simple and modern feel because it was designed to work with Sans Serif Latin typefaces.

Shilia is ideal for display applications such as posters‚ signs‚ logotypes‚ and advertisements because of its legible shapes and contemporary look ...

For what applications would you recommend your typeface (posters, text, newspapers, advertisements, etc.)?
Shilia is ideal for display applications such as posters, signs, logotypes, and advertisements because of its legible shapes and contemporary look. It will also work well where bilingual text is needed or where a wide variety of weights and width is required. A custom version of Shilia is already in use as the corporate font for the highest skyscraper in the world, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, where it is applied in information and way-finding signs inside and outside the tower, and in print advertising, stationary, and other collateral material. Another custom version of Shilia was also designed for Armani Hotel in the same project.


What are the unique details which you think distinguish your typeface?
Some of the unique details that distinguish Shilia include:
a. Vertical strokes are made thinner than horizontal strokes in accordance with traditional Arabic calligraphy.
b. Ink traps are used for sharp angles such as in letters Jeem, Fa, and Ayn.
c. The connections of the letters on the baseline are balanced between curved and squared in order to keep the traditions of Kufic calligraphy.
 
d. The letter Ayn has a novel shape in the middle and final positions that has never been used in Arabic typography before. It reinforces the soft and round feel of the typeface.
e. Several letters have the same shape in all positions (initial, medial, final, and isolated) without appearing contrived. Examples include Jeem, Fa, Sad, and Meem.
f. Shilia includes the “end of text” mark which is absent from other Arabic fonts, as well as the largest number of traditional ligature words and phrases in any modern style font on the market. These are all original designs compatible with the style of the typeface and fine tuned to match each weight and width. Such feature is usually limited to high end traditional Naskh fonts.
 
g. Shilia has a unique set of ornaments that are carefully designed to allow the user to create an endless number of bands and decorative compositions to enhance and define page layouts.

What was the reason for you to give the typeface its name and what is the meaning?
In the summer of 1979 I was asked to design a logotype and stationary for a Saudi company and took this opportunity to refine and complete the font design which I started a few years earlier. At this time I called it Shilia after the name of the company, which is derived from the name of a mountain range.


Shilia used for logotype and stationary of Shilia Corporation, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Shilia has a comprehensive set of OpenType features that are rarely used in contemporary typefaces and never used all at once in any modern Arabic font on the market ...

Anything else you would like to share?
Shilia has a comprehensive set of OpenType features that are rarely used in contemporary typefaces and never used all at once in any modern Arabic font on the market. In addition to sophisticated and contextual mark positioning and kerning, Shilia includes 19 Stylistic Sets with variations that give the user many options to control the appearance of the composed text. It also includes a large number of ligatures and a unique set of swash and overlap swash glyphs to help in line justification as well as in achieving a more artistic and unique word compositions, a clear advantage in any identity project.

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