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The Malee Scholarship 2023 Finalists

Meet Shaqa Bovand, Hyeyun Min, and María Laura Olcina. Despite their varied backgrounds and distinct, challenging paths into the world of type, the 2023 Finalists share a devotion to type design as an art form and educational tool. While they are at different stages in their career, these three women seek to push boundaries and educate the next generation of lettering artists and type designers.

The Malee Scholarship is honored to announce Shaqa Bovand, Hyeyun Min, and María Laura Olcina as our 2023 Finalists. We were especially impressed with their talent in type design and their commitments to social progress. Shaqa is a type designer and lettering artist notable for her calligraphic deftness and outspoken support of the anti-regime protests in her home country, Iran. Hyeyun is a self taught multidisciplinary designer who works at the vanguard of AI design, participates in the vibrant MIT design community, and created a typeface in homage to cultural adaptation and a personal passion, running. María is a graphic designer and educator whose work preserves underrepresented languages and supports the indigenous communities that use them in her native Argentina. We are honored to recognize the three of them as Scholarship Finalists, and are excited to see how they will contribute to progressing the art and impact of type design in our community and the greater world.

Shaqa Bovand

Shaqa Bovand is a type designer and lettering artist, born and raised in Iran. Her love of letters began at a young age when her dad bought a book titled “Secrets of Nastaliq”. After achieving both a bachelors and masters degree in Graphic Design in Iran, she began work as a brand and packaging designer. The continued love of letters apparent in her design work led her to apply for the MA Type Design course at the University of Reading. Following this she was employed by F37 and is currently working as a type designer for them on numerous scripts. Shaqa is also a lettering artist active on social media, with her artworks being used across the globe. She was also selected to talk at AtypI Paris 2023 and Type Lab 2023.

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Your story is so inspiring. To the extent that you are comfortable sharing, please tell us about what it was like to grow up and develop your craft in Iran. 

 Born in southern Iran, I faced a male-dominated industrial town where art held little value. Moving to another city made me feel even more alienated; I dreamt of the cultural opportunities in Tehran. Despite obstacles, I excelled in graphic design, worked in the field, and pursued both a bachelor's and master's degree with distinction. During Covid, I had time to pursue my interests. I chose a New Year's resolution each year and one year opted to learn English. Despite objections from my parents, I wrote an application for the University of Reading to study the type design course and was accepted. My parents eventually supported me in this decision. Selling my belongings, I embarked on a formative journey to the UK, working as a bartender to support myself while studying type design. Today, I continue to fight for equality and freedom through my self-initiated lettering work whilst continuing my development at F37, driven by a deep sense of purpose.

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Tell us about your experience at Reading University, and your thesis project, Homa Multilingual. 

My experience at Reading University was life-changing, being in a completely different environment with a diverse group of classmates, immersing myself in a new culture, and being far away from my family and friends for the first time presented significant challenges. Dealing with numerous sources and understanding what teachers expected proved difficult in a second language, I was fortunate to have generous classmates who helped me adjust to life in the UK.

My typeface Homa, designed while at Reading, is especially suited for visual identities and packaging design, at home in text or on a billboard. Before attending my masters, I worked in a brand design studio where finding a suitable typeface for our projects was often a challenge. This sparked my interest in designing a typeface specifically for brand identity. Homa supports three scripts, Latin, Arabic, and Cyrillic. These were created under the guidance of Fred Smeijers, Gerry Leonidas, Fiona Ross, Borna Izadpanah and Victor Gaultney.

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During my time at Reading University, I undertook a thesis project focusing on "Structural changes of Persian Naskh text with the introduction of lithography in nineteenth-century Iran." The study delved into the Persian Naskh style from the perspective of type designers and explored how its structure evolved with the advent of lithography as a printing method during the nineteenth century.

Metal type had limitations in representing all the aesthetic intricacies of Arabic letter forms, prompting the preference for lithography as the primary printing technique in Iran. While lithographic editions remained faithful to manuscripts, they still underwent changes during the printing process. The research sought to identify the characteristic features of letter forms in manuscripts and examine how they transformed with the introduction of lithography in the nineteenth century. This was achieved by analysing specific text paragraphs in manuscripts and comparing them with the same paragraphs printed using lithography. I am immensely grateful to Fiona Ross and Borna Izadpanah for their generosity and expertise in providing invaluable guidance during the initial stages of my research. Their support was instrumental in shaping the direction and scope of my thesis project.


Can you describe your involvement in the Women, Life, Freedom protests?

Protest art has always resonated with me, and I felt compelled to channel my anger into fighting for freedom by using my chosen medium of type. Through my social media feed, I propagated the message of «woman, life, freedom,» a phrase that had gained significant traction within the movement. The response to my work was overwhelming; people from around the world adopted my design, even printing it onto T-shirts without any knowledge of the artist behind it. It was amazing to see the impact that my simple messages could have.


“And now, I continue to share my creative expressions with the world, hoping to inspire and connect with others through the power of protest.”

During my spare moments, I loved working on lettering, but I was hesitant to share it on social media. Then, in the summer of 2022, I decided to take a chance and submit one of my pieces to Jess Goldsmith. She was searching for talented women lettering artists worldwide for a special book project she had in mind. My artwork, which revolved around visualizing poetry, was selected for her book "Women of Type.” This gave me the courage to finally showcase my protest lettering on my social media platforms. My work was met with acclaim, with people using it in ways I could never have imagined. My friends and family were sending me images of my lettering being used across the world. It had been put onto t-shirts, posters, stickers, and even stenciled onto walls. Being part of the book connected me with a community of fellow artists. It was an incredible feeling to realise that my art could have an impact beyond just myself. And now, I continue to share my creative expressions with the world, hoping to inspire and connect with others through the power of protest.


You can execute a very wide range of styles — how have you achieved this breadth of design work?

When I was in Iran, I studied many different Arabic calligraphy styles in my spare time. These included Nastaliq, Naskh, Ruq’ah, and Kufic, amongst others. My understanding of various writing systems and scripts increased as a result of having the opportunity to take the type design course at the University of Reading. I focused on Latin, Arabic, and Cyrillic for my MA project. Then, as part of the F37 team, I have been offered the chance to work on lots of exciting styles. My F37 playground types have allowed me to experiment with more extreme ideas. This, combined with my previous calligraphic experience, has given me a lot of insight into how far I could push my typefaces.

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What's next for you? 

I believe that my path as a type designer is only just beginning, and I have ambitious plans to expand my projects into various styles, striving to create typefaces that push boundaries. My aspirations extend beyond personal achievements though, I dream of becoming a lead in Arabic type for a foundry where I can collaborate with like-minded individuals. My aim is to fix the many problems still present in Arabic typefaces, ensuring that the resulting fonts are both aesthetically pleasing and technically proficient. I am also deeply passionate about sharing my knowledge and expertise with the next generation of type designers. I aspire to contribute to the development of Arabic typography by mentoring and guiding other designers, providing them with the necessary tools to excel in this specialized field.

At some point, I would like to achieve my PhD in the subject, though this currently feels a long way off!

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Hyeyun Min

Hyeyun is a self-taught designer currently based in Boston, who immigrated from South Korea. As a freelance multidisciplinary designer, she passionately engages in a wide range of design projects that ignite her curiosity and creativity. One of her exciting works includes collaborating with an AI-powered startup, where she applies her design skills to shape digital products. Additionally, she actively contributes to a vibrant community group at MIT, sharing her design and illustration skills while gaining valuable insights from fellow talented individuals. Driven by her continuous desire to expand her boundaries of design, Hyeyun has recently embarked on a captivating journey into the world of type design, exploring its intricacies and endless possibilities. Outside of her design pursuits, she finds joy in film photography, sketching, and running along the panoramic Charles River.


How do your background and community shape who you are as an individual and designer today?

Growing up in South Korea, I was immersed in a highly competitive academic environment that placed significant emphasis on conforming to social standards and prioritizing future success over present desires. Like many other young Korean students, I felt the weight of sacrificing personal interests to meet these expectations. However, deep inside, I couldn’t ignore the growing sense of suffocation that there had to be more to life than forcing myself into the predetermined mold. As this longing intensified, I found myself becoming increasingly disconnected from the world around me.

Fortunately, I discovered comfort and a means of connection through photography and drawing, which became my forms of expression. These creative outlets allowed me to break free from societal expectations and opened my eyes to new possibilities. Yet, carving out my unique pathway proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated. Without sufficient resources and a supportive environment, I often doubted myself and questioned the feasibility of pursuing my creative aspirations. My family, particularly my father, held reservations about a career in the creative field, expressing concerns about its impact on my well-being. These conflicting opinions added to my internal struggle, making the journey toward finding my way feel daunting at times


The turning point came when I had the opportunity to move to the United States, providing me with a fresh start and the chance to break free from my old environment. It was during this time, while working as a marketer at a startup, that I dedicated my free time to pro bono design projects. This allowed me to gain practical experience and gradually paved the way for a transition into a design career. Despite joining this field later than many other designers, I have discovered a sense of freedom and fulfillment in the work I do. As I reflect on my personal and professional growth, I am grateful for the experiences and obstacles I have encountered. They have provided valuable insights and helped me understand the kind of person I am.

Can you tell us about your Marathon Zen project?

Marathon Zen is the typeface design that I created during the condensed program at Type@Cooper. My goal was simple: to create a typeface that expressed my love for running. As I explored the running community, I came across a captivating short film called «1000 Days» by Ivan Olita, which showcased the endurance training of Japanese running monks. This film inspired me to name my typeface ‘Marathon Zen’. The name reflects not only my interests but also represents my journey as an Asian immigrant adapting to Western culture, blending Western concepts (Marathon) with Eastern philosophy (Zen). With this typeface, I aimed to highlight the coexistence of contrasting qualities.

“Through Marathon Zen, I aim to intertwine my passion for running, the transformative journey of cultural adaptation, and my growth as a typeface designer.”

However, as I started the development stage, I faced significant challenges in designing a typeface that truly captured my initial vision. I struggled to incorporate two different serif designs into a single typeface, trying to convey the essence of contrasting qualities. While my peers were making progress on much-developed stages of their typefaces, I still explored in the early sketching stage to find serifs that truly embodied the desired duality.


Fortunately, the instructors at Type@Cooper Condensed provided valuable assistance in settling with the serif design I had been aiming for. From that point onward, the rest of the process seemed to flow effortlessly. I felt elated with the round and sharp ending serif, which perfectly showcased the harmonious blend of contrasting elements I had envisioned. This experience taught me the importance of seeking help and guidance when facing challenges, and I am sincerely grateful for the support that enabled me to overcome my initial struggles and bring Marathon Zen to life. Through Marathon Zen, I aim to intertwine my passion for running, the transformative journey of cultural adaptation, and my growth as a typeface designer.


How did you transition from a career in marketing, digital design, and illustration to a career in type design?

Transitioning from marketing, digital design, and illustration to type design has been an unexpected and transformative journey for me. As someone without a formal design background, I embarked on my journey as a self-taught designer with limited knowledge in various design areas. However, I embraced every opportunity that came my way and embraced the challenge of learning and growing in each of these fields. It all began when I landed a job as a content marketer at a small startup where UI/ UX design played a crucial role. This experience sparked my curiosity and pushed me to explore digital design further. Luckily, the startup had a flexible and open-minded environment, allowing me to take on small design tasks and learn from my peers and experienced designers. Over time, I gradually transitioned into a dedicated designer role. To gain practical design experience, I also volunteered my skills for free projects at a local design agency and non-profit organizations. These pro bono works grew my skills in illustration and motion graphics, which later proved invaluable in my journey into type design.


As I continued to work as a designer, I realized the importance of studying design principles more deeply and learned that typefaces form the foundation for all kinds of design. Hence, delving into type design became a natural progression for me. I wanted to study more fundamentally and systematically, which I thought I lacked, so I took a chance and joined Type@Cooper Condensed program. There, I found joy in the peaceful sketching process and the vast range of possibilities that typefaces offer. During the program, I became particularly fascinated with the creative potential of using Python and Drawbot to bring type animations to life.

Overall, my transition from marketing, digital design, and illustration to type design has been a humbling experience. I am eager to continue expanding my knowledge and skills in type design and exploring the endless creative possibilities this field offers.


What’s next for you?

Moving forward, my main focus is to continue developing my expertise and advancing as a multidisciplinary designer. I’ve learned from working on diverse projects that managing my time and delving deep into each area can be a challenge. However, I’m determined to find a way to integrate my experiences and channel my energy into creating projects that combine different disciplines. One project that I am working on at an early stage is the development of a typeface that intertwines the Korean script ‘Hangul’ with the English alphabet. Both systems are phonetically based, and I believe that this fusion could enhance the intuitive and enjoyable learning experience for Korean language learners. This idea was sparked during my involvement in co-leading a Korean Chat Group at MIT, where I had the privilege of connecting with and supporting individuals from diverse backgrounds who were learning Korean. It presented a meaningful opportunity to leverage my experience and skills. As I continue to develop this project, my ultimate aspiration is to combine my digital design experience and craft an engaging mobile app that gamifies the hybrid typeface design, making the experience of learning Korean exciting and fun.



María Laura Olcina 

María Laura Olcina is a Latin America graphic designer currently living and working in Santa Fe, Argentina. She obtained her diploma at Universidad del Litoral, where she teaches in the Bachelor of Visual Communication Design. There she met Alejandro Lo Celso and was his intern for two years in the elective course of Advanced Typography. Then started working with him on PampaType social networks, which allowed her to see typography from another perspective. She took several lettering and calligraphy courses, until she finally applied to the Master’s Degree in Typography at University of Buenos Aires, where she is studying now. 


How do your background and community shape who you are as an individual and designer today?

I think that the background I have is what always ends up bringing me closer to social and educational issues when thinking about design projects. My mother was an educational psychologist and dedicated her life to supporting children who had learning difficulties. She worked in several schools trying to give children with Down syndrome, autism, and other conditions the necessary tools so they could continue learning. My dad was a teacher at an elementary school for adults. He taught in the night shift so that those students who worked during the day could go to school too. Also, my younger brother has Asperger syndrome. So educational and learning issues were always a topic of discussion in my house, while I was growing up. They taught me, from a very young age, the importance of being a person who has the sensitivity to see others and the bravery to change the things that we think are unfair. I hope I can honor those values in my practice.

I’ve always liked to read and to be informed about what’s happening with the people in my town and in the country. I believe the social, political, and economic contexts should be at the heart of any design practice and guide all the process. I’m aware of my privileges. I know I have been lucky to be afforded a good education and have the chance to study at university. I was very lucky too for being surrounded by many generous teachers and designers who shaped my way of understanding graphic design and typographic work. I will always be in debt for that. So, the best I can do is try to give something back. I’m trying to orient my research at the Master’s degree within the framework of local design and make a small contribution to the typographic practice. As a graphic and an under-construction-type designer, I think I have a responsibility to use letters to take part in whatever happens around me. I hope for my design work to have a positive impact on the community. I understand that typography by itself is not going to save the world. That is impossible. But I believe we can do something so that at least some aspects of our daily life are more accessible to all. For example: having the tools and materials to learn our mother tongue can’t be a privilege of just one group of people. And typefaces are one of those tools. It doesn’t matter that the mocoví indigenous community of Recreo has no more than 400 speakers, their language is just as important as Spanish or English, and they have the right to pass it by generations. I want to do something about it, and I think it’s time to use all the things I learned in a project that takes into account this language. That’s where SHILCAIC appears.

Can you tell us about your project, SHILCAIC?

SHILCAIC is an ongoing project that began in the Master’s in Typography at Universidad de Buenos Aires. The purpose of this typeface is to be used at the Bilingual (Spanish/ Moqoit) Intercultural School N. 1338 Com-Caia, located in Recreo, Santa Fe. This school is one of the places where the Mocoví community works to keep their language alive, but they have very few financial resources. On many occasions, students, teachers, and other members of the community make their own teaching materials by hand, as they do not have specific design software or high-quality printers.

In the research for this project, I intend to combine all that we know about the shape of the letters that are designed for learning to read and write and a Latin American perspective that takes into account both its users and the available printing technology systems. In this way, the typography should be resistant to printing and reproduction on lightweight paper, old printers, and successive photocopies.

SHILCAIC means “iguana” in Moqoit, the language of the Mocovi indigenous community which I’m working with. This animal is extremely significant for the Mocoví worldview: when the iguana appears after winter is finished, it means a new cycle has begun. An interesting fact is that the Mocovies chose the Latin alphabet to represent their language, but they only took capital letters to write it. That’s why you’ll see the name of the project spelled in all caps.

To maintain the integrity of the letters despite the reproduction on light paper and successive photocopies, SHILCAIC is a monolinear, rounded typeface designed for use in bilingual early literacy materials. This typeface adapts to survive: just as the iguana loses its tail in the face of danger, the letters lose the pointed endings and gain blank space in the joints, a characteristic shape of the letters designed for early literacy (as in typefaces like Sassoon).

There is also a Serif version of SHILCAIC that comes to extend the project, presenting more mature forms for more advanced readers, but who are still in going through a literacy process. The idea is that the roundness of the shapes is maintained even with the inclusion of the serifs and more marked contrast.


How has your experience as a teacher influenced your craft in type?

I have been teaching at the university since before I graduated, as a student assistant and now as part of the Chair of Audiovisual Expressive Media, led by the professor Ysabel Tamayo. Although this topic is not entirely related to typography and is more focused on film and storytelling, I believe that my experience with this amazing group of people has positively influenced the way I approach any design project including type design.

As teachers we believe that it’s important to build relationships between the university and the community. That is why we try to get students to work together with social organizations of different kinds: NGOs, animal shelters, popular libraries, day centers for the elderly, etc. In my experience, when we teach we are forced to remember that no one has the absolute truth and that everyone, regardless of whether they are teachers, students or interns, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or economic condition, everyone has something important to say and to teach others.

I am a very shy person, but there is a sense of responsibility and gratitude that makes me feel that I must give something back for all that I received even if it means putting myself in uncomfortable places. I think this is the reason why I’m always looking for a social approach in the projects I’m working on. What’s


What’s next for you?

I think it is a difficult question to answer, because it is always scary to think about the future and also in a country like Argentina these things are difficult to predict as well.I can’t say for sure what will come in the future, but what I would like to see happen. First of all, I plan to keep studying typography, to complete my master ‘s research project and test SHILCAIC in the environment it was supposed to be used, get the feedback of the community and keep on designing with them the typeface side by side.

In the long run, I hope to have more time and financial stability to complete all the work in progress that I have been accumulating for a while. One of the projects that I would be most interested in continuing to work on is Bice, a collective project with Camila Pire and Sandra Morales (The Malee Scholarship 2021 Recipient) that was part of the work in the Typographic Fonts Production Workshop of the Master in Typography (UBA). Bice is not a revival, but rather a contemporary interpretation of a transitional font. Last year this project was selected for the 9th Biennial of Tipos Latinos in the “New Talent” category. This gave us a major confidence boost and planted the idea of expanding the family and creating the italic version of the variables that we already have, which are regular, bold and black.

I also see myself in college teaching for a while longer. As a queer woman, I think it is important that women and the members of LGBTIQ+ community begin to occupy more important places, not only for decision-making but to show students that the university is a space for them too. No matter where they are from, what they are like, or who they love.



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