Journey of Alef

This is one of our dearest projects. During Ramadan in 2019, we worked on Journey of Alef with an incredible team that produced one of the most generous bodies of work. We put together illustrations, a story, an interactive, do-it-yourself workbook, calligraphy, and digital typography—all showing the historical evolution of Arabic script. This is also a children’s book. It’s the kind of project that just keeps giving.

Client

Nagwa

Year

2019

Project + Creative Lead

Beattie + Dane

Writer

Deema Al Ghunaim

Collaborators

Shaaban Ibrahim, Oqba Al Khairat, Abdulaziz Al Awadhi

Beattie + Dane approached us to work on this project as a part of their larger branding strategy for Nagwa. We met up one afternoon, brainstorming ideas with their team. We arrived at two directions—we were either going to work on a project about expressing emotions in Arabic, or about calligraphic Arabic script. Beattie + Dane decided on going with the latter, in the form of a story. Things really fell into place when we asked Deema Al Ghunaim to join the project. Storytelling superstar that she is, Deema focused on writing and some creative direction while we worked on design.


In the process of making the book, we experimented with writing out the same phrase in all of the typographic styles. We wanted to find ways to bookend each section of the book—each journey through a history of type—in the same way. That way, we'd create a pattern, a sort of rhythm for the narrative.


The letterforms in the book were built on what we found in the archives.

We delved into the history of Arabic typography. Hijazi script, Kufic, Thuluth, Naskh, Ruq’ah, Nastaliq, and the invention of printed type.


We incorporated a lot of our research into the visual landscape of the book.


Manuscripts from the world of Islam were ripe with the craft of calligraphy.

The illustrations all came from elements of typography. Al Khatat’s head is in the shape of the nib of a pen. The tailor’s measuring tape is drawn from pen strokes—also used as calligraphic measuring units. The birds and the clouds are made up of typographic accents. The waves were made of letters. Houses of ink jars. It was the land of script.

But we wanted to do something more with the story. We thought of a calligraphy workbook. Some easy-to-follow pages where you can trace the letters, learn the different kinds of script by doing it yourself. We also designed some perforated little cards to be written on, torn out, and given to friends and family. We cared about the book itself being a journey. Something that the reader can actually interact with.


This photo, by Beattie + Dane, was taken at a live reading of the book. In the event, the books were handed out to the crowd, while Deema Al Ghunaim walked the kids through the story.