KeepUpWithHER Nadine Chahine


Award-winning type designer, Dr. Nadine Chahine, shares her Eureka moments, unrelenting pull to type design, and creative process.

Dr. Nadine Chahine is the UK Type Director and Legibility Expert at Monotype, where she plays a key role in the design and development of new typefaces, in addition to research focused on various relationships between typefaces and legibility.


What is the first thing you designed that you were proud of?

Every project brings with it a sense of completion, and if done well, satisfaction. But there is a very special feeling reserved for the first time you are able to make the blurry images in your head crystalize into a working typeface. A typeface is a series of symbols that need to come together to make words. You can draw all the letters you want, but if they don’t click together, then the design is just not there yet. And in that instance of Eureka, there would still be a lot of refinement to do, but you know that the DNA is now complete. I remember the first time I had that feeling was when I was doing my MA at Reading, and that feeling hit me like a truck. The rush was so high that I remember afterwards laying on my bed staring into space, unable to go to sleep or to contain my happiness. It’s so potent, when you are able to get the images out of your head and into real life. Like meeting a long lost friend that you had never met. It was the first time I had ever felt that, and it’s the kind of high that keeps you addicted to design and the joys of losing yourself in the world of black and white.

Why is type design important for you, and when was the first time you realized this?

Type design is my compass. It’s what I love to do and it’s guided me to a life that I love to live. By now I can’t imagine not designing. I sometimes go through months where I am kept busy by other projects but it calls me back. Every time. I’m not sure when it became clear to me, but by my third year at the American University of Beirut (AUB) I was already set on having this as a career path.

Have you ever considered calling it quits? If so, what kept you going?

I would never stop designing typefaces. In those months when I don’t design, I start to change, to become restless, to fidget. And then I get back to design and I am alive again. It’s like giving water to a withering plant. I promise myself to remember that when I start losing my energy, that it means it’s time to design again but I always forget and I have rediscover it every time. Maybe I should tattoo it?

Who are your favorite designers, and where do you go for inspiration?

There is a special place in my heart for Hermann Zapf, Adrian Frutiger, Gerard Unger, and Jean-François Porchez. I’ve learned a lot from each. But the top spot is for my mentor Samir Sayegh. Outside my parents, he’s probably the most influential person in the whole of my life. He was my teacher at AUB and he’s the one who introduced me to Arabic typography. He’s a visionary and a guiding light for so many of us. As to inspiration, it’s always Beirut and how I wish it to be.

What is, in your opinion, the ultimate blunder in type design?

Probably not testing the typeface to make sure the design works in its intended function. The design is in the details, and a typeface needs to fulfill its purpose. It’s not about how good the letterforms look like on their own, but how they come together to make words.

When in the day are you most productive, and in what environment do you work best?

At night! I love designing when everyone is asleep and the best time is between 11pm and 3am. Unfortunately, one can’t really do that in an office environment so I don’t get to indulge in that often. But I do love to listen to loud music when I work. The ideal place is to design at home, and in pj’s!