Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to The Emirates on business. Whilst there something struck me which I hadn’t really considered before, Arabic typography and lettering. Now, this post is not especially groundbreaking, just (what I find) an interesting take and view on the world of graphic design.
Arabic Helvetica? Arabic Comic Sans, even? Not a chance.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are two of the United Arab Emirates that I visited. Being Arabic means a different language, but more significantly a different alphabet to what I (and most of the rest of the world) are used to. Fortunately because of the volume of European and American business out there, most facilities are quite accommodating.
It was fascinating to observe brand behaviour and advertising in the UAE too. One of the greatest examples of this came one lunchtime. Coca-Cola, one of the most widely recognised and familiar global brands, even has a different logo. Yes I can understand incorporating a new font to cater for arabic lettering into your advertising, but with such brands as Coca-Cola their lettering is the brand. It is what we know and what we understand, it is what the product we love represents. Instead, however, they offer this on their products.
What is great though, and what shows tremendous strength to the brand, is that those colours placed in that context still say Coca-Cola to a global audience.
Another large global brand to sacrifice what I considered their logo, more than just their typeface, was Burger King (it was a very healthy business trip as you can see). Similarly though, the strength of colours and shape to the logo in context still make it familiar to most.
Most lettering (product, signage, text) is produced in both English, or certainly Western, and Arabic. It was really interesting to see how colours and shapes were translated and used across both consistently. Consistency is core to ensuring the likes of Coca-Cola and BK have succeeded, interchanging as they do in different countries, whereas brands like Babyshop do it side by side.
Notice how the same style of font has been selected, with corresponding colours highlighting the equivalent letters and sounds in the brand name.
Then there are those brands that keep true to their logo, only amending their typeface to suit local countries.
Another point to note is to be careful if you’re driving. With an Arabic alphabet comes Arabic numbers too. Speed limits are well enforced by cameras and at a glance you may be forgiven for mis-reading the speed limit. At a glance, and when driving that’s actually all you are doing (with your brain doing a lot of interpreting), you could be mistaken for reading 60kph as 70, with similar exchanges between 30 and 40.
A nice design touch, aside from the graphics, was the user interface I saw on the satellite navigation in taxis. If it detects that the car is speeding then it removes the map from the screen and will only display a polite message “you are speeding, please slow down”. This leaves you unable to navigate or follow directions until you reduce your speed and adhere to the road limits (sadly no photos allowed in the taxi). Nice.