Designer: Gabriela Namie and Junki Hong from &Walsh, with Cairo-based calligrapher Mohamed Mohamed
Foundry: Not a foundry as such, but design studio &Walsh, helmed by creative director Jessica Walsh
Release Date: October 2019, with the launch of restaurant Zooba in Nolita, New York
Back Story: Jessica Walsh’s recently formed studio &Walsh was commissioned to create the branding for Zooba, an Egyptian street food restaurant based in Cairo that recently opened its first store in New York. According to the studio, Zooba’s food is “a modern twist on traditional classics”—and so too is the branding. When &Walsh was commissioned to create a new brand identity for the restaurant, it was briefed to create “modernized branding that held the integrity of their Cairo roots while connecting with the New York City audience,” says Walsh. The typeface was developed as part of that overall branding work.
To begin work on the project, Walsh and her team traveled to Cairo, where they drew inspiration from the “beauty of the layered visuals we saw on the streets,” she says, as well as “the hand-painted typography on foul carts, geometric patterned tapes, mix and matched colored tiles,” posters, and the painted illustrations they saw on the city’s walls.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? “The Zooba face was designed to be funky and eclectic, like the restaurant itself,” says Walsh. It’s a mixed-case font that deliberately ignores many standard typographic rules: Unusual takes on more traditional typography approaches can be seen in characters such as A, G, Y, and Z, aiming to give the typeface a “playful” look and differentiate it from other fonts, says the studio.
Why’s it called Zooba? Well, as stated above, Zooba is a custom typeface developed from &Walsh’s Zooba logo created for the brand’s first store in NYC. “Often our favorite typefaces from our favorite type foundries become quickly overused in branding projects,” says Walsh. “When a typeface becomes trendy, it can make the work less ownable for our clients. For that reason, we often develop custom typefaces for branding projects we work on at our studio. It’s a great way to differentiate our work and adds to the distinct visual language we create for the brands.”
What should I use it for? Sadly, the typeface is not available for sale since it was created specifically for the Zooba branding, so you can’t use it for anything. But if you could, it’s wholeheartedly a display typeface, perfect for anything a bit unusual, bold, and fairly short. Zooba was designed to stand out.
What other typefaces should you pair it with? The Zooba typeface was designed to be paired with Favorit from Dinamo, and with the commissioned custom Arabic calligraphy painted by Cairo-based calligrapher Mohamed Mohamed for the project. However we reckon it would also work well with something like Beatrice from Sharp Type, which combines the contrast behavior of standard sans-serif grotesks with the foundations of a traditional American Gothic, but with tight-as-can-be spacing. Since Zooba is such an impactful display font, it would work alongside pretty much any other pared-back body copy font—there are few rules here, so very few to break when it comes to combining fonts.