29LT Ada is an Arabic-Latin typeface by Pascal Zoghbi of 29 Letters and myself. The Arabic portion is in the Ruqah style which Pascal designed with Wissam Shawkat’s supervision. First part of my contribution to the project was OpenType engineering for Ruqah, and the accompanying Latin type design.
To learn more about the the project, I highly recommend the 29LT blog article. In fact, you may not have to read this post if you have to read the following, admittedly shorter and less informative version.
Ruqah is a ubiquitous Arabic writing style that is taught at school and written everyday. Despite that, Ruqah digital fonts are hard to come by due to its slanted baseline that was quite difficult to render correctly, let alone in multiple environments consistently. It has become manageable enough only in recent years to make such fonts that work in multiple environments.
After years of experience designing Kufi and simplified Naskh variants of Arabic typefaces, Pascal decided to take the challenge of designing Ruqah. With the help of calligraphy advice from Wissam, he has made a Ruqah that respects its traditional structure and looks slick and modern in the details. It comes in three stroke styles, each of which comes in six weights.
Despite Ruqah has become easy enough to make digital fonts, it still requires a fair amount of OpenType attention. This is partly why I was brought in on account of my previous Ruqah typeface, Klaket. This part of the work was largely the same deal, but more stuff is implemented thanks to the knowledge gained as well as new features in Glyphs, such as contextual anchors (multiple options to attach diacritical marks depending on the shapes of neighbouring characters). This aspect of the project is documented much better in the aforementioned 29LT blog.
The second part of my contribution was the Latin type design. While the challenge of designing a Latin for Ruqah is also a familiar one for me (i.e. Klaket), Ada is more text-oriented and supposed to look more authentic. So, how would one translate the Ruqah features to Latin?
I started by observing the basic parameters, that is the left-leaning angles of the horizontal and vertical stems. It is not conventional in Latin calligraphy to lean the stems leftwards, but at least a little bit of slant felt necessary in this design. After a lot of initial testing, we settled on the sweet spot that looked natural enough in Latin and harmonious enough with the Ruqah.
The second major decisions were the detailing. Due to the relatively basic and clear calligraphic structure of Ruqah, I wanted the Latin to be based on a style that is similar in visual and reputation, that is the likes of Humanistic Hand and Edward Johnsotn’s Foundational Hand (and Adrian Frutiger’s Ondine). My initial design was a sans serif with diagonally cut stems which turned out to be rather too simple. In the end, we ended up with a structure that has no in-strokes and has out-stokes like in the Arabic letters; I find that this exit-only calligraphic style mimics the general characteristics of Ruqah and possibly more styles.
Lastly, the capital and lowercase heights are not constant, and higher in heavier weights. We found it necessary since the Ruqah changes in height a lot as it gets thicker.
The OpenType feature set is modest, but does come with a nice stylistic set of lowercase an and e that mimics the enclosed counters in thicker weights of the Arabic.