Abu Dhabi Typography workshop

 By Tarek Atrissi


As I prepare the new workshop that I will be giving in Abu Dhabi at the Higher Colleges of Technology for the third time, I had the chance to review once again the work developed by the students the last academic year in the workshop series we had for three different classes. The workshop last May included a one workshop for the 1st year student at the Women’s college; a workshop for the second year design students at the women’s college; and a workshop for the design students at the men’s college.


The assignment given in the men’s college was focused on observing and documenting the typographic landscape in the city, and developing typographic pieces which result from the visual research. An exercise that I have given to students in many location in the Arab world, but never yet in Abu Dhabi. It was interesting to see the typographic details captured by the cameras of the students, and notice the unique aspect the city has, typographically speaking. One of the main things that one can conclude is the abundance of traditional Arabic calligraphy- but also the presence of “well hidden” colorful typographic gratifies across the city.


The students used the photographic and visual material collected to design simple pieces which were to be used as typographic signatures from the city. Most of the end results, were very much based on the initial strong photography, because of their visual impact, and the relative short period of the workshop.


The workshop for the first year students at the women’s college was a basic typographic exercises, often given in introduction to typography courses- with a strong Arabic flavor because most of the work I have seen from the students was focused on Latin typography. Students were asked to develop compositions that are purely typographic, in black and white, that express specific “moods”- and using only typographic elements found around them (cut outs, newspaper, prints, sample fonts, images…). Each student had to deliver 3 end pieces, two for themes we specified (calm and tensed) as well as a third theme of their own choice.


The results were very varied and inteersting and for the students, the goal was achieved by having them realize that they can still have a lot of experimentation and various typographic voices even when working purely with Arabic- and even when working with very basic material as a starting point.


The workshop for the second year students was more specific, and the main focus was on introducing the students to working with Arabic Calligraphy, and the process of commissioning a calligrapher, Art directing him, and incorporating / working on his contribution in their own design work. The assignment consisted of having every student choose two words that are opposite in meaning, and commission a calligrapher to write these in a style they specify, and then work with these on designing 3 postcards: One using simply the calligraphy; one using the calligraphy and Latin Type; and the last using the both type and calligraphy, as well as adding to it an image, illustration, or a photograph. While i feel that the most of the learning progress happened while working on the calligraphy (most students realized that their limited instruction to the calligraphers did not result in what they wanted to have)- some of the designed postcards were excellent pieces (such as the two cards below, designed by Fatima Al Mehairbi).