Monday, February 18, 2008

Arabic in Graphic Design: Al Jazeera's Cartouche

Over the last several years, Al Jazeera has become one of the world's most widely recognized brands, its calligraphic logo decorating not only its own news broadcasts but also those of every Western network that replays their much coveted footage. But the logo itself remains a bit of a mystery to many Western viewers unfamiliar with the Arabic script and the language's calligraphic tradition.

Reading Arabic calligraphy can be a challenge even to those familiar with the language. Whether a stylish abstract or a purposeful Calligram – words shaped like animals or objects – Arabic's unique calligraphy has long been among the main methods of artistic expression in Islamic cultures. And as the technique is more frequently employed to illustrate Arabic brands that operate in the international marketplace, a basic understanding of its graphic qualities becomes more valuable.

Here the Al Jazeera logo, given its near ubiquity, becomes a great tool for instruction. Mouse over the English or Arabic letters shapes below to see reveal the corresponding calligraphic design element – or vis-versa.



Al Jazeera's distinctive gold logo resembles a droplet of water, a symbolism reinforced by the networks current logo animation which features the globe dropping into the ocean and emerging as the Al Jazeera trademark. The elaborate calligraphic design spells "al-Jazeera" in Arabic, a word meaning "the island" or "the peninsula – terms used to refer to both the Arabian peninsula and the network's peninsular home state, Qatar.

The logo was selected by Hamad bin Khalifa, the emir of Qatar, as the winning entry in a design competition. Thus, like many other brands notable for their "inexpensive" logos, such as Nike and Apple, the Al Jazeera logo was not designed by a marketing firm or professional graphic designer. It was reputedly designed in just 20 minutes by a Qatari man who heard about the competition on his car radio.

Al Jazeera, the largest and most controversial Arabic news channel in the Middle East, is the fastest growing network among Arab communities and Arabic speaking people around the world. It focuses primarily on news coverage and analysis, and the station has earned the loyalty of a large audience. But it has also earned the enmity of various critics who argue that Al Jazeera is overly sensational, with a bent on showing bloody footage from war zones as well as giving coverage to violent groups. By holding to the network's motto, "the opinion and the other opinion," Al Jazeera also frequently shocks its native audience. The network presented Israelis speaking Hebrew on Arab TV for the first time and runs lively and far-ranging talk shows that address controversial moral and religious issues. Criticism from the conservative voices in the region have led to official complaints and censures from neighboring governments. The network's broadcast have been blocked, its correspondents deported. In 1999, the Algerian government even cut power to several major cities to censor an Al Jazeera broadcast. But these criticisms have only helped the channel garner credibility from an audience that is used to government imposed censorship and biased coverage.

Al Jazeera was the only international news network to have correspondents in Iraq during the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign in 1998. The network only achieved international notoriety only after September 11 when it ran several Al Qaeda videotapes. But despite its unique access to the region, when the network expanded its English service to the United States, activists succeeded in keeping it off nearly every American cable and satellite provider's menu. Thus the U.S. audience rarely encounters Al Jazeera reporting outside of U.S. newscasts or special interest programming, such as Link TV's Mosaic. FB

19 comments:

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GCL said...

Very cool! I added information from and a link to this article in the Wikipedia entry for Al Jazeera. Did you create the interactive graphic yourself?

The Cloudjammer Creative Network said...

Thanks for the link. I did create the flash graphic above, showing the relationship of the english and arabic letters. But if any reader sees any transliteration or translation errors in the cartouche itself, definitely let me know. It can sometimes be difficult to spot the end of one letter and the beginning of another in Arabic calligraphy, especially for those of us who are foreign speakers/writers.

Hytar said...

I spotted a little mistake in your Flash graphic, but never mind, I think I can fix it. I created the vector logo of Al-Jazeera in Wikipedia and thus can create my version of that Flash file rather easily.

It just takes some time. I'll inform you when I'm done.
(P/S: I'm not that knowledgeable in Arabic either, probably as good as you... XD)

gcl said...

Hytar, Are you going to post the your own interactive version on Wikipedia? Also, do you need help finding someone well versed in Arabic to clarify the issue you posted there?

Thanks!
Greg

Hytar said...

Not on Wikipedia, Greg (never gonna be there in fact), but on this site. My work is intended to replace the author's one for a more accurate version.

The thing is I need some clarification on the "hook", which is the only missing piece of the puzzle. Anyway, I believe it's another diacritic when I look back at it, so maybe I can proceed to create the Flash file.

I wonder how I can notify the author...

jd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Afghan Clothes said...

I wanted to a logo for my website. Similiar to this Aljazeera logo. If anybody knows how to make such a thing in arabic please email me at Mostafa@afgclassics.com

marco said...

I tried making the vector Aljazeera logo image using Corel or Flash five years ago (I was 15 then). I had knowledge in Arabic script and I had decrypted the message hidden in that logo then. Thought that the calligraphy was stylized to fire or something.

I'm in the Philippines, and back then we were given a project in our Home Economics class to create a restaurant menu. For novelty reasons, I made up an Arabian dishes menu and the restaurant is named "Aljazeera." I used the logo--well, just for fun (no profit earned from me).

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Anonymous said...

"a drop of water"? I think most people see it as a flame, providing light, say from a candle. The color of the logo corroborates this interpretation. Do people in the middle-east see it as a flame or water droplet?
Great Article.

COCO said...

Thank you so much!

Joel Mielke said...

Now, going on four years after this post, Al Jazeera English is gaining a respectable foothold in the Anglophone world. Theirs is the only news site that I look at daily.

Thanks for the illustration of how the calligraphy works in their glyph.

Shopping Cart Software said...

It was the first time am hearing about Al Jazeera and even ur blog made to know that its the most famous brand.Its really interesting to know about this arabic calligraphy.

Anonymous said...

I agree, it resembles more a flame of fire than drop of water! hmmmm

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