Egypt's missed opportunity

axian's picture

After the revolution the government has taken down the official site of the President and put up a "coming soon" page.

Unfortunately, they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to legitimately use "Papyrus" and they blew it. Instead it's "Algerian." Could have at the very least been Adrian Frutiger's "Egyptienne" too as a non-comedy option.

http://www.presidency.gov.eg/

Wesley.Bancroft's picture

This is amazing. I had a good laugh.

JamesM's picture

They could have one hell of a "what's new" page!

quadibloc's picture

Well, Algeria is an Islamic country where the colonial rulers were driven out after a revolution that was very bloody on both sides.

I am not sure why such an ornate typeface is considered aesthetic over there, but I thought I saw Algerian, or something similar, on a site associated with the Coptic church, although I can't find it now. In any case, people whose native language (and script) is Arabic can hardly be expected to be good judges of Latin alphabet typographical aesthetics.

At least they can be thankful they didn't choose something similarly decorative but more modern - like Davida.

david h's picture

> In any case, people whose native language (and script) is Arabic can hardly be expected to be good judges of Latin alphabet typographical aesthetics.

???

> Egypt's missed opportunity

???

Nick Cooke's picture

In any case, people whose native language (and script) is Arabic can hardly be expected to be good judges of Latin alphabet typographical aesthetics.

You're right there, I've just come back from Egypt, and as you'd expect all Latin typography - shop signage especially, is dreadful. They seem to have a real affinity with Benguiat and Arrus caps squeezed to about 50% - that's before the applied Photoshop effects.

dezcom's picture

I would have liked them just to use a photo of the people celebrating in the streets and a hand-painted sign from one of them saying something like:
"Government Under Construction" in both Arabic and common Latin script languages

Té Rowan's picture

Sounds like they're about as savvy on Latin typography as I am on Arabic ditto: Sheer sod all.

quadibloc's picture

@david hamuel:
???

Yes, I should be more specific. Many people, whose native language is Arabic, also understand English or French - and even without that, but an interest in typography as a subject, there's no inherent reason why they couldn't have the judgment to choose popular and tasteful typefaces.

The widespread use of Comic Sans and Papyrus over here shows, however, that being a native speaker of English is no guarantee of typographic taste when it comes to one's own script. Given that, I think someone from another script tradition has... farther to fall... if he stumbles around unaided.

I mean, really. Why would someone use Algerian for such a heading? Given that he wasn't deliberately trying to be silly, like someone over here would almost have to be, but really, genuinely, and sincerely, didn't know any better?

My guess is that he wanted to achieve the kind of effect that one would get from, say, Albertus or Trajanus.

But he was unaware of Western fashions, and used an aesthetic informed by Arabic artwork in Egypt. So he probably sincerely thought that Algerian would have impressed people favorably as a dignified typestyle suitable for the web site of an important personage or department.

We can laugh, because the result is so jarring to our eyes - but in an absolute sense, the choice wasn't inherently wrong, any more than, say, the typography on the front of 19th century sheet music is wrong. They did what looked good in the eyes of people then, given the fashions of the time.

So, a man from Mars, with only 19th-century examples of English display text to guide him, might do as badly.

Also, my own participation in the forum on Hebrew typography might make it seem odd that I would make such a statement.

But I don't see myself as an expert; instead, I have questions and want to learn.

To my eyes, using an aesthetic informed by fashions in the Latin alphabet world, there are things that seem strange in the Hebrew script world.

Frank-Ruhl seems to me to be horribly dated, while Siddur-type typefaces look like the timeless canonical forms of the letters. But it's Frank-Ruhl that is the "Times Roman" of Israel.

Calligraphic faces are just about never used for body copy in the Latin script. Particularly - but not exclusively - for religious texts, they're commonly used for Hebrew.

These differences in fashions between script communities are fascinating to me... but they're also evidence that typeface aesthetics can differ widely between script communities. I can't assume that in China, Korea, and Japan... or in Israel... or in Egypt, the visual language of typography will be the same - presumably set down for all the world for a given year (as opposed to it being something significantly different as much as ten years ago) by the typographical equivalent of a few Paris coutouriers.

hrant's picture

I have a friend who's wife (now ex), when she found out that I make type, showed me her daughter's homework set in Algerian, and rhetorically asked: "Look, isn't Algerian the most easy to read font?" All I could muster was something about some people thinking maybe all-caps wasn't really incredibly legible... Oh, and guess what: she's Algerian! :-/

> people whose native language (and script) is Arabic can hardly be
> expected to be good judges of Latin alphabet typographical aesthetics.

I'm pretty sure you didn't mean that jingoistically, but it's still misleading: lack of nativity in one script does not preclude a basic understanding of another. Where lack of nativity (which btw cannot be blindly assumed*) is limiting is in innovation, not basics.

* I for one have nativity in three scripts.

hhp

AzizMostafa's picture

@ People whose native language (and script) is Arabic can hardly be expected to be good judges of Latin alphabet typographical aesthetics.
-
People whose native language (and script) is not Arabic can hardly be expected to be good judges of Arabic alphabet typographical aesthetics. Nevertheless, they forced their LANGUAGE (and script in some countries) democratically?!

quadibloc's picture

Indeed, I didn't mean it jingoistically. What I should have somehow clarified is this:

Of course people whose native script is the Arabic script could still be excellent judges of typographical taste for Latin-script typography. But they wouldn't have been born that way. They would have to get the information on which such an ability is based from the outside.

Thus, I wasn't trying to accuse Egyptians of an inherent incapacity.

What, instead, I was noting was this: people living in Egypt are not necessarily surrounded by contemporary examples of Western languages typeset according to Western norms, fashions, and aesthetics.

Thus, I can't assume that a random man in the street in Egypt is going to know that Algerian looks funny and out-of-date to most Americans and most Frenchmen and so on.

Now, one might say, though, that I ought to expect that people would realize that typography is an important part of web design, and thus, unless I thought Egyptians were stupid or something, an Egyptian called upon to make an English-language web page would make it his business to find out about Latin-script typography.

There are two answers to this.

One is to simply point to the many typographic horrors perpetrated on web sites by people who can plead no language barrier in their defense. I can expect someone who sets up a web site to know HTML, or how to use Dreamweaver or a similar tool. Beyond that, nothing can be taken for granted.

The other is to note that Egypt is a non-Western country. Not only isn't it the United States, it isn't Israel or Japan either. While you can definitely find fonts of Arabic display typefaces on the Web, it is also true that the aesthetic of Arabic typography is largely based on manuscript hands that have remained static for hundreds of years.

So many people in Egypt, for cultural reasons, simply would not have the in-built assumption that fashions in typography change every 50 years or so, and the availability of a font for a typeface does not automatically mean that it is generally usable without inviting ridicule.

I figure that whoever picked Algerian did so because it looked nice to him.

Different culture, different aesthetics - and a lack of a cosmopolitan mentality to lead to automatically thinking, "Gee, I better check, to see what these people currently think is fashionable".

So, while it's all right to have a chuckle at the quaint and inappropriate choice of a typeface - I suspect that there's a lot in the way of extenuating circumstances that reduce blame. Not to nonexistence. Just enough to say - one shouldn't be surprised if this sort of thing occasionally happens when people in sufficiently remote parts are trying to communicate to a culture they may not understand well in places.

Nick Shinn's picture

I've just come back from Egypt, and as you'd expect all Latin typography - shop signage especially, is dreadful.

Sounds like North America.

Ed_Aranda's picture

I don't have much experience with signage companies, but I would imagine that many are run by manufacturing-types who wouldn't be able to tell the difference between squished Arial and Helvetica, hence Mr. Smoke & Variety. As a designer, it gets tiresome having to answer the question of why should I spend more money to say the same thing. After all, letters are letters, and the bigger/bolder they are, the more people will listen, right?

I can't imagine things would be a whole lot different over there. Unfortunately, the work of the artisan is becoming devalued in every life/economy.

riccard0's picture

People whose native language (and script) is [...]

There is no such thing as "native script" (or language), but merely "first learned".

Khaled Hosny's picture

@ quadibloc

You are reading too much in this, it is just an incompetent clerk who don't know the heck about web design or typography in general, I bet his Arabic typographic sense is as horrible or even worse (you have to see official documents typeset in Aria or Tahoma, yuck).

aarhaus's picture

This is amazing. I had a good laugh.

I’m tempted to call that decadent.

quadibloc's picture

@Khaled Hosny:
You are reading too much in this, it is just an incompetent clerk who don't know the heck about web design or typography in general, I bet his Arabic typographic sense is as horrible or even worse (you have to see official documents typeset in Aria or Tahoma, yuck).

For the most part, you may be completely right. But it's also true that even incompetent people with horrible typographic sense still don't wind up using typefaces like Algerian very often at all over here.

So I'm trying to explain not the fact of a typographical fail, which is nothing new, but its... unusual profundity.

Why don't you ever see even the most incompetent people with horrible typographic sense using Algerian over here? Basically because, even if they have virtually no artistic chops, people in the Western world of late have been drilled since birth in an aesthetic that says "ornate bad", "kitsch bad", and so on and so forth.

Egypt, as yet, is out of the clutches of the Bauhaus tyranny.

Queneau's picture

"Don't judge a revolution by it's Typeface"

I'm sure someone important said this but I don't know where ;-)

Joking aside though, it's a bit silly to be talking about all this as Egypt's missed opportunity, as if there weren't more important things to worry about... I don't like the look of it but is that the point. would a flashy, perfectly styled and typod website have made this any better? In this case the message should be more imporatant than the medium, me thinks...

dezcom's picture

Much ado about nothing. They will have plenty of time to make a typographic look later.

russellm's picture

read the source code.

All they have done is select everything (and I mean everything) under the the words "The Egyptian Presidency" and the flag, (both of which are images) and hit the delete key.

quadibloc's picture

This seems right. So the typographic atrocity is due to the Mubarak regime, not the demonstrators.

Birdseeding's picture

I think the idea of one group's appropriation and modification of another's symbols and expressions is extremely interesting, but then I am an ethnomusicology student by day. In my field there are countless examples of this kind of "transculturation" - one geographically distinct group trying to emulate another and constructing something new in the process. For example, a lot of African popular music from the 60s-90s bears a strong connection to a "bad" version of Cuban rumba made in Zaire in the 50s - except of course it's not bad at all, in fact highly creative and interesting, because of the complete reinterpretation of the music and the injection of lots of new elements. It's only "bad" by Cuban rumba standards!

So I'm wondering whether there's not a value (at the very least an anthropological interest!) in a lot of colloquial reinterpretations of latin writing by users of other writing systems. The fact that many of those who've learned Arabic script as their first writing system have a certain relation to handwriting in Latin script (just look at Arabic and Persian-language protest signs and their relatively uniform "mistakes") I find extremely interesting. I wonder if there's not something of aesthetic value to be taken from there as well?

Syndicate content Syndicate content