This week saw the launch of Arabic A List Apart, an official version of the standard-setting A List Apart Magazine, which has been exploring “the design, development, and meaning of web content” for more than a decade. The Arabic version was spearheaded by the team of Mohammad Saleh Kayali (editor), Beshr Kayali (web development and design), and Maya Zankoul (illustration), who received permission from the founders to adapt the brand and will manage the community that they hope eventually surrounds it. Delighted by the announcement of the launch of the Arabic version—and intrigued by what it could mean for the future of Arabic web design and development—I asked if the creators could give us a little background on how the project came about and what to expect going forward.

Post from Arabic A List Apart
A post from Arabic A List Apart with an illustration by Maya Zankoul

Why does the world need Arabic A List Apart?

What is really special about the Arabic web is that it’s growing exponentially. A lot of people from the Arab World are using internet now and are active members in blogs and social networks. However, the question of content always comes in mind since statistics show that Arabic content is only 0.5 percent of content worldwide. Arabic A List Apart is just an attempt to support the Arabic content with high quality articles, in addition to supporting web education in a region that is promising a great future in the web industry.

How did the project come about?

The original idea came while working on other projects. Mohammad, whose main interest is technical and scientific journalism and translation, had translated a lot of A List Apart articles on his blog and gotten a lot of positive feedback. It was like a crazy idea to ask the original publisher for an Arabic edition. However, their answer was positive and encouraging, and after seeing their response, we were on fire. All that was around three months ago.

Are the articles translations, or originally produced in Arabic?

All articles are translated from the original A List Apart for now. Our growing team of translators will translate each issue 15 days after the original one is published.

What unique usability and accessibility issues did you face?

Well, we wanted to give Arabic readers the same experience English readers get in the original A List Apart. We thought that replicating the original site, created by Jason Santa Maria, would be the best solution, and that’s what we did (after getting approval).
Of course we edited some minor details to make it more convenient to Arabic readers. We wanted to make sure that it’s as easy to read in Arabic as in the English original. For example, the font size on A List Apart is kind of small; a lot of Arabic sites—mistakenly—try to do the same thing by using small fonts for Arabic, which of course doesn’t work for long Arabic articles. Another problem is finding fonts that look both nice and readable and are also available on all systems.
As for Django, the framework used in the system, it was developed in a fast-paced newsroom environment, so it’s perfect for a magazine like A List Apart‬.
The other issue we faced was the illustrations. All A List Apart articles come with great illustrations from Kevin Cornell. Due to some copyright issues, we weren’t allowed to use them. It was a bit scary for us at the beginning, but since everything is destined to be good for us, we were already in contact with our great friend and illustrator Maya Zankoul.
Maya kept the black and white theme from the original site, to fit the same style for her drawings, which are unique to Arabic A List Apart and are drawn directly into Adobe Illustrator in the same way she illustrates on her blog, Maya’s Amalgam.

What other Arabic resources exist for people wanting to learn web design and development?

A lot of Arabic web designers are actually active on their blogs and write about web design and development, like Al Mashrou3, Interface Fix, and Swalif. However, what we’re trying to do is to bring the culture of high quality articles to the region.

You are a distributed team (Lebanon and Syria), how did you coordinate your work?

Well… This world knows no boundaries anymore. All we needed was goodwill, Skype, GTalk, a couple of emails and a tweetup in the café-pub t-marbouta in Hamra, Beirut.

I know you just got started, but what does the future hold?

We have our own business model, which is mainly based on advertising for now. And we have some other projects in mind for Arabic A List Apart, but we prefer to keep them undisclosed for the moment ;).

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for this interview; you’re the first to contact us. We’re just too excited and happy about this project and now asking all Arab readers to interact with us and share in the articles discussions. Also, we would like to thank A List Apart original publisher Jeffrey Zeldman for making this possible.