First published on Typographica on May 9, 2016.
In Arabic type design, novelty rules. This is understandable given that for too long, little was happening in terms of stylistic and conceptual exploration. Recently this has changed; now you get the extensions, the superfamilies and the like, and they attract. It might appear as if in Arabic type design there is only space for development in breadth, not depth — but in fact the opposite is the case.
This is where Bustani comes in. Superficially, it doesn’t try to be new. It aspires to do better than existing type in a genre that is hopelessly underappreciated because it’s harder to come to informed opinions about it: type for continuous reading. In this sense, Bustani is situated on a level similar to the informed revivals of Garamond-like types. If Arabic type design discourse were as mature as Latin type design discourse, Bustani would be seen as an interpretation of a classic in line with current ideas and technology; as a design that does for Arabic what Smeijer’s Renard, Slimbach’s Garamonds, and Blokland’s Van den Keere do for Latin type. But we are not there yet, and so it’s generally perceived as a “calligraphic” typeface — which is utter nonsense.
Bustani exemplifies Arabic type design craft in combining an appreciation of classical type forms with excellence in drawing, historical research, and a technical tour-de-force under the hood. Because even though you don’t see it at first, Bustani is utterly novel in the way it uses OpenType to render Arabic text.
Indeed, all of these characteristics also express qualities of the designers Patrick Giasson (concept and drawing) and Kamal Mansour (concept and shaping logic). Skilled, diligent, and endowed with expertise, they are craftsmen whose products are of the highest quality, but who don’t seek the limelight. Bustani demonstrates all of the above; you just have to learn about Arabic type and look closely to appreciate it. It’s worth the effort.