Arabic Calligraphy and the Origins of Logo Design

Monis Bukhari
10 min readJul 3, 2023

Today, many Arabs work in the field of design, specializing in the craft of creating logos, commonly known internationally as a “logo.” Numerous art schools in the Arab world teach design subjects and their various techniques. However, they rarely mention the connection between the art of logo design and traditional Arabic calligraphy in their curricula. This leaves Arab designers unaware of the role their culture and the heritage of their ancestors play in this contemporary art form, which holds significant importance in modern civilization.

Ancient Iraqi cylindrical seal

Heritage from the Arab Environment

The term “logo,” which means emblem or symbol, is essentially an abbreviation of the English term “logotype.” This term was formed by combining two words from ancient Greek: “lógos” (λόγος), meaning word, and “týpos” (τύπος), meaning mark or sign.

Perhaps one of the earliest known examples of a logo concept is the Sumerian symbol 𒀭, which was repeatedly inscribed on buildings, structures, and documents associated with the deity around five thousand years ago, serving as a religious symbol. The symbol was once read as “ān” meaning sky, and “dig̃ir” (divine), meaning the god or divine judge. This symbol resembles the Assyrian emblem formed by merging the symbols “ash” (𒀸) and “mash” (𒈦), which in Akkadian were read as “god” and “goddess,” and it is believed that this reading led to the formation of the word “Allah.”

In addition to the Sumerian symbol 𒀭, there is the emblem of the Levant Cotton Flower (Arabian Gossypium herbaceum var. arabicum), which resembles the Sumerian symbol and is seen repeated in many sacred cuneiform texts or those related to a religious purpose. This symbol was adopted by the DASI (Digital Archive for the Study of pre-Islamic Arabian Inscriptions) as their logo, representing Yemen and its rich history, particularly in relation to ancient South Arabian inscriptions. It is possibly one of the most globally connected symbols to ancient royalty.

Symbol of Levant Cotton Flower (Arabian Kress)

This means that the concept of a logo and its use is not alien to Arab thought, nor is it unfamiliar to the details of Arab civilization and its countries. This is in addition to the ancient art of cylindrical seals, which represent the earliest forms of printing and its various types. Its development over thousands of years culminated in the art of Tughra, a precursor to contemporary logo design, blending the Diwani and Ijaza calligraphic styles. There was even a special official working in the state department called the Tughrai. The Tughra is also an evolution of the intertwined signature or monogram art, although this art form is different from the royal emblem or royal cypher art. Nevertheless, the connection between the two schools is evident, leading some historians to classify one as a type of the other.

Tughra of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent from the 16th century

All of these arts evolved within the framework of the Hadar art, known today as “Islamic calligraphy and ornamentation” or “Islamic ornamentation.” Hadar art is the art of shaping and arranging Arabic writing on various surfaces such as walls, stones, wood, and metals. This art dates back to the early Islamic era and has developed over time to encompass different styles of calligraphy and ornamentation. The influence of Hadar art can be seen in the use of principles of coordination, shaping, and decoration to transform texts and letters into beautiful and expressive designs.

Arabic calligraphy, or Hadar, with roots extending over a thousand years, is an integral part of Islamic art and heritage. It is a practice that is still alive today and has inspired the evolution of logo design. Let us embark on a journey to explore the beauty and complexity of Arabic calligraphy and its relationship with the origins of logo design.

From early examples of Hadar art

Arabic Calligraphy: A Blend of Beauty and Meaning

Arabic calligraphy is a visual representation of the Arabic language, combining harmony, coherence, and balance to create stunning works of art. This art form has evolved over time, giving rise to many distinctive styles, all of which have been utilized by Hadar art masters. Each of these styles has its own rules and characteristics:

Kufic composition from the Bu’inaniyya School in the Moroccan city of Meknes
  • The Kufic: An early angular style characterized by its straight lines and geometric shapes. It was commonly used for inscriptions on buildings and coins.
  • The Naskh: A more natural and fluid style, often used for copying the Quran due to its readability, and becoming the default script for scribes and copyists.
  • The Thuluth: An elegant and decorative style, used for ornamental purposes and large text inscriptions. Its early masters established contemporary logo design principles.
  • The Diwani: A complex and innovative script, originally developed for official documents and correspondence in the Ottoman Empire.

From Royal Emblem to Commercial Necessity

Arab and non-Arab Islamic royal family emblems played a significant role in the development of Arabic calligraphy in logo design. Historically, Arabic calligraphy was used in designing logos for ruling dynasties and royal families to express identity, nobility, and authority. Sometimes, religious texts and divine names were incorporated into these logos to obtain religious legitimacy and strengthen the ruling power.

Dirham of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan

Throughout various Islamic eras, many states and ruling dynasties succeeded each other, each having its influence on Arabic calligraphy and logo design. Some royal families were keen to sponsor the development of new scripts, distinguished by their unique decorative styles. For instance, under the Abbasid Caliphs, Arabic calligraphy experienced significant growth, and styles like Kufic and Thuluth evolved. This art form was used in designing architecture, coins, manuscripts, and of course, logos. During the Fatimid and Egyptian Abbasid periods, other Arabic calligraphy styles like Naskh, Muhaqqaq, and Ruq’ah flourished.

Furthermore, diplomatic relations between Islamic and non-Islamic countries also had an impact on the development of Arabic calligraphy and its use in logos. Artistic gifts and manuscripts were exchanged among rulers, contributing to the spread of Arabic calligraphy and royal emblems among different cultures.

Over time, royal logos began to influence commercial logos and other organizations, with some aesthetic styles and patterns being incorporated into the use of Arabic calligraphy.

The Evolution and Distinction of Logos

The use of Arabic calligraphy in logos has evolved over time in terms of aesthetics, application, and integration with other design elements. The transformation of Arabic calligraphy applications in logos can be described as follows:

Contemporary Logo with Arabic Calligraphy

1. Artistic Styles and Techniques: In the past, logos primarily relied on traditional Arabic calligraphy styles such as Kufic, Thuluth, and Naskh. With the emergence of new calligraphic styles and advancements in graphic design techniques, contemporary logos began to incorporate modern Arabic calligraphy with experimental shapes and unique letter arrangements, creating memorable and distinctive visual imagery.

2. Simplicity and Minimalist Design: Traditional Arabic calligraphy can be complex and intricate, making it challenging to replicate. Over time, designers began to simplify the calligraphic elements in logos to improve readability and align with the minimalist design trend. This resulted in logos that achieve a balance between the art of Arabic calligraphy and functional simplicity.

3. Integration with Latin Script and Other Languages: As globalization increased and the need to communicate with diverse audiences grew, designers began incorporating Arabic calligraphy alongside Latin script and other languages in logos. This multilingual approach allows companies to maintain a consistent brand identity across different regions while respecting the aesthetics and cultural significance of each language. Personally, however, I am against this doctrine and believe that the logo of an Arab company should remain in Arabic script, representing the company’s identity and its owners.

4. Adaptation to Digital Media: With the emergence of digital media, designers had to adapt Arabic calligraphy in logos for use on the web. This led to the development of new Arabic fonts, improved screen-optimized styles, and better integration with web and mobile design elements. However, this endeavor has been slow and has passed through some phases that weakened the role of Arabic calligraphy and the beauty of the art.

5. Influence of Western Design Principles: As designers from diverse cultural backgrounds collaborated, there was an exchange of design ideas and principles. The incorporation of Arabic calligraphy in logos was influenced by Western design concepts such as the use of negative space, geometric shapes, and abstract forms, leading to innovative and diverse designs.

In conclusion, the unification of traditional Arabic calligraphy with modern design principles has resulted in a rich and diverse range of logos that celebrate both the heritage of Arabic calligraphy and contemporary design creativity.

The Art of Contemporary Logo Design

The art of logo design involves the process of creating a unique and distinctive visual representation for a brand, organization, or product. Logos are a fundamental element of a brand, helping to establish an identity that sets the brand apart from its competitors. A well-designed logo can evoke emotions and convey a meaningful message that builds trust among consumers.

Essential elements considered necessary for successful logo design include simplicity, scalability, versatility, uniqueness, relevance, and timelessness:

1. A simple logo is typically easy to remember and recognize. It should be easily understood and interpreted without any unnecessary complexities or intricate details.

2. A logo must be scalable, meaning its size can be changed without losing its effectiveness or visual clarity. Logos should be legible and visually appealing at various sizes, ranging from large billboards to smaller digital applications.

3. A logo should be adaptable to different media and contexts, such as print, digital applications, and physical products. It should also work well in both color and black and white, as well as on different backgrounds.

4. A logo must be unique, original, and distinct from competitors’ designs to establish a distinctive brand identity. This can be achieved through the innovative use of shapes, colors, lines, and other design elements.

5. A logo should be relevant to the brand, product, or organization it represents. It must convey the essence of the company and align with its target audience. This can be achieved through the use of symbols, images, or typography that reflects the brand’s values and mission.

6. A timeless logo is one that remains effective and relevant over time, even as trends and styles evolve. This can be achieved by focusing on classic design principles and avoiding elements that are likely to become dated or clichéd.

By incorporating these key principles, contemporary logo design can deliver a powerful visual communication tool that serves as an essential component of a brand’s identity and marketing strategy.

The Beauty of Calligraphy and Contemporary Logo Design

The origins of contemporary logo design can be easily traced back to the artistic traditions of Arabic calligraphy and urban art. Logos, like Arabic calligraphy, serve as a visual representation of a brand or concept, combining aesthetics and meaning. Early examples resembling contemporary logo designs can be found in Islamic art during the Middle Ages, where craftsmen often used intricate signature seals, now known as Tughra, to represent a ruler’s name and title. These complex designs set the precedent for modern logo design by encapsulating the essence of a person or entity in a memorable and unique way.

As global communication expanded, logo design evolved and drew inspiration from various art forms, including Arabic calligraphy. Today, many contemporary logos incorporate elements of calligraphy as an homage to this rich artistic tradition. A clear example of this is the Al Jazeera Arab news network logo, which features an innovative and visually appealing calligraphic representation of the word ‘Al Jazeera’.

In general, Arabic calligraphy, or urban art, is an ancient and intricate art form based on the artistic and aesthetic writing of Arabic texts and characters. Arabic calligraphy is used in logo design to add a unique and appealing touch. There are several schools and styles of Arabic calligraphy that can be employed in logo design:

1. Kufic script: Among the oldest styles of Arabic calligraphy, Kufic is characterized by its strict geometric and linear shapes. This style can be used for designing logos with a strong, structural character.

2. Thuluth script: Thuluth is one of the most famous and beautiful styles of Arabic calligraphy. Its elegant, curved, and interlocking shapes make it ideal for designing luxurious and captivating logos.

3. Diwani script: Diwani is distinguished by its intricate, intertwined vegetal forms and was used for writing official correspondence and important documents. This style can be used to design classic logos reflecting authenticity and historical richness.

4. Naskh script: Naskh is the most widespread and commonly used style of Arabic calligraphy, characterized by its rounded and balanced shapes. This style can be used for designing simple and modern logos.

5. Persian script (Nasta’liq): The Persian or Nasta’liq script is characterized by its flowing and elegant shapes and was widely used in Eastern Islamic art. This style can be used to design logos that reflect romance and beauty.

In conclusion, Arabic calligraphy has played a significant role not only in Islamic art and culture but also in the evolution of logo design. By appreciating the beauty and history of Arabic calligraphy, we can understand the artistic roots of modern branding and the ways visual communication transcends language and cultural barriers.

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Monis Bukhari

Arab researcher, passionate about culinary history, geography, and social history. Uzbek, raised in Syria, resides in Germany. With Arab-Turk roots.