Klaket is a Arabic & Latin typeface for display purpose. It is inspired by the classic Egyptian film posters whose letters were often drawn in the Ruqah style, which features slanted baselines. It was also my first Arabic project to start, though maybe fourth or fifth to finish.
The story starts with Granshan Conference, which is an annual type conference focused on non-Latin typography and held in different places around the world (at least before the Covid pandemic). The Granshan 2016 was in Cairo, which was my first visit to an Arabic realm, and a city full of Ruqah letterings. The conference also coincided with the launch of a new book called The Art of Egyptian Film Posters (ISBN 9789779020037) which showed a lot of beautiful classic designs featuring Ruqah lettering. Inspired by the trip and especially the book, I decided to make a display Ruqah face for film posters. And I wanted it chunky and of low contrast for the reason which will be explained later.
For anyone who wants to learn to design a non-native script, my advice would be learn the basics before expressing yourself in the design. That means to do the most common text style, no monolinear (i.e. sans serif), no extreme weights, without preceding Latin design, and ideally without steep learning of technical aspects like OpenType. However, I ignored my own advices for this one and took the hard route because I like challenges.
First of all, Ruqah is not considered a complex writing in the Arabic world; in fact it’s the first style people learn at school and what they write in daily communication. Learning Ruqah in an English environment is also easy enough thanks to the excellent book called Writing Arabic: A Practical Introduction to Ruq'ah Script by T. F. Mitchell. It is written by a British author and the letters in the book is not as fluid as native, which I compensated for by looking at contemporary examples; thanks to the success of calligraphers like Seb Lester on social media, it was easy to find excellent works on Instagram in many scripts (a few of my recommendations aseel.koojan, belebda3, h3rtt, m3d.alazawwi, majd.calligraphy).
My intention wasn’t to just do a basic Ruqah though; I was inspired by the film posters, which includes the Iranian ones. Iran has its own prominent film industry and lettering styles for posters. It was often drawn in graphical adaptations of Naskh and Kufi, the degree of expression I wanted to apply to my Ruqah. The idea centred around film posters and questions like “what if an Iranian poster designer worked on an Egyptian one?” or vice versa. Thus I wanted to make a bold and sans-like Ruqah, a Triforce of hardships one shouldn't probably try for their first Arabic,. I spent the following three years finding the right baseline angle, stroke thickness, and letter proportions while lacking the experience in Arabic and not fully being able to predict how they should come together. Nadine Chahine and Kamal Mansour, my Monotype colleagues at the time, helped me with the design process quite a bit.
Ruqah isn’t particularly hard to understand or write, but its slanting baseline makes it hard to adapt to typography. Because of that, Ruqah is curiously underrepresented in digital realm despite its ubiquity. OpenType allows for diagonal connection of strokes/glyphs, but kerning is the dealbreaker because the letter spacing is not determined by the neighbouring two letters, but all the letters in the word following the pair. This type of kerning that involve more than a pair of letters is called contextual kerning, and the cases you need can easily grow astronomically. Thankfully, Kamal Mansour, my Ruqah and OpenType mentor for this project, offered me a brilliant solution. It has limits on precision, but is much better than nothing and simpler than brute force approach.
In multi-scriptural projects, the first script you make dictates the design and imposes restrictions on others. This was an Arabic-centric project and I added Latin later. Given the Arabic design, an intuitive stylistic choice for Latin would be sans serif. This didn't work for me since I wanted more opportunities for interesting details, also longer horizontal strokes to show off the same baseline slant (i.e. serifs). The final design is a slab serif that drops serifs when it wants to, and takes advantage of the heavy weight; a lot of details wouldn't be possible in hairline.
The name Klaket is an Arabic word for clapperboard used in filming, and originates from the French equivalent ‘claquet’.