Aisha update brings swashes and more alternates, packed into a variable font

Since Aisha was conceived some fourteen years ago, Arabic type design has advanced and broadened. Now there are more and more diverse contributions to the field, yet the Maghrebi style remains a minority interest. Only a few new typefaces that follow one or the other variant of this style have been published since, and whilst it is rewarding to see that today the relevance of this genre is appreciated more widely than in 2010, there is still plenty of room to continue the exploration of the Maghrebi style in type. The current update of Aisha contributes again to this ongoing project and is, amongst other things, now taking advantage of variable font technology.

Largely independently of its Arabic starting point, Aisha’s Latin design has found increasing use in recent years. From small productions of children’s literature and art, to large scale packaging, and a record artwork for Taylor Swift’s single You Need to Calm Down and matching merchandise, no less, Aisha has been catching the imagination of designers and art directors from various quarters.

Samples of Aisha in use, showing a record cover, a t-shirt, a crisps package, and a DVD sleeve

So in this update of Aisha we looked at how progress in type standards could be employed to improve typography, we looked at how Aisha was used, and we tried to imagine how it could be made more versatile, and ultimately more usable. The resulting modifications and additions loosely fall into two categories: swash forms of letters and stylistic variants. But since they apply to both supported scripts, Arabic and Latin, it may help to clarify them along the following lines.


The impetus to add further stylistic variants to the Arabic design came from a scholar working on a critical text edition of historical Algerian manuscripts. They featured a few particular letterforms and I was asked whether these forms could be made available in Aisha. The variants included a specific form of initial and medial ه Heh, undotted forms of ن Nun, and a miniature version of ي Yeh. We had some exchanges, I was provided with documentary material, and I set out to implement these additions in Aisha.

Table showing new alternate Arabic glyphs in Aisha

Whereas swashes were not on the agenda of the scholar, they are a prominent feature of Maghrebi manuscripts. It therefore suggested itself that if I was going to provide variants of letterforms that enabled a user to approximate manuscripts more closely, swash variants could contribute decisively to that goal. Thus, a range of swash variants typically found in Maghrebi hands were added too. And as I was in the process, I also drew some alternate forms of Mim م that are common in some manuscript styles.



Moreover, I introduced variant forms of ص Sad and ط Tah that lend themselves better to elongation and thus justification. This adds an important functionality, because swashes such as those of ن Nun or س Sin are not spacing in the Maghrebi style. This means that they extend below the following letters and words without any influence on the distribution of white spaces, and cannot be used for the justification of the line. In Aisha therefore only swash variants that change the proportions of the entire letter – the dedicated forms of ك Kaf, ص Sad, and ط Tah – are spacing and can be used to justify a line.

Arabic type specimen showing new alternate and swash variants of Aisha


For Aisha’s Latin complement a different use case applied. Over the last few years, Aisha could increasingly be found in use for various kinds of packaging, children’s products, and even for the artwork of Taylor Swift’s hit single ‘You Need to Calm Down’. But whereas it works well for these applications, lending them an unmistakable character, the genres of product design and children’s literature in particular may benefit from some more conventional letterforms. With these particular uses in mind, I have designed alternate forms of the capital letters A, M, N (ss05), E, F, H, L (ss06), and B, P, R (ss07), giving users the option to tone down Aisha’s voice.

Table showing new alternate Latin capital glyphs in Aisha

By the same token, it is clear that Aisha is never going to be a quiet type, and I felt that users who want to underline its character should also be given adequate means. Aisha Latin therefore received its share of swashes too, allowing for some emphasis, where needed. In the variable font, the width of the swashes can be adjusted by the user, allowing the fine-tuning for every context and application.

Latin text specimen showing new alternate and swash variants of Aisha

Because of these additions, it no longer made sense to have some letters in their swash forms by default. Instead all swashes are now optional. The new version of Aisha therefore is not fully compatible with artwork created in one of the older versions, so you have to take care if you update your fonts. As before, Aisha can be licensed through Rosetta or one of its third party partners.