Publisher:Refugee Phrasebook

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PubStudio 04 RPB.png

Welcome to Benelux PDF


Who collaborated

collaboration involved

  • compiling a new version
  • creating illustrations (uploaded to Wikimedia Commons [1],[2], [3] [4])
  • layout design
  • printing
  • folding
  • distribution

How did students get involved?

The project appealed to us in WdKA publication station, as besides being important voice in this time of humanitarian crisis and European amnesia and arrogance, it was a project that require a hybrid publishing workflow and collaboration between many participants - two aspect we have been exploring for the past year in the Publication Station from the Willem de Kooning Academy. [[

Hybrid Publishing workflow

Just like the tutors or volunteers from the outside, by receiving an email about the project asking if anyone would be interested in collaborating. A few of them joined, for different moments in the process and different modes of collaborations - designing the phrasebook, folding it, or distributing. But it all happened very organically. Students and staff members were deciding by themselves what they could or could not do.

After the team has gathered the phrases, agreed on the essential languages, the format of the phrasebook, and it's structure, the design team - that consisted mostly of 2nd year BA Graphic Design students - organized itself to complete the layout. That involved having someone doing illustrations, others making the layout, and assembling it together. Tutors worked with them, like equals, mostly fine-tuning some rough edges.

Folding was the most fun part where many friends from the outside came to give a hang. We folded 2000 booklets so far.

And currently are in the process of distributing them, but the lack of information of shelters, and Dutch government strategy, where refugees are moved around the country in buses staying in temporary shelters for around 3 days, is making distribution and other grass-roots support difficult.

Design team working

Folding party at the Publication Station

Folding party at the Publication Station

Folding party at the Publishing Studio Rotterdam

Folding party at the Publishing Studio Rotterdam

Folding party at the Publishing Studio Rotterdam


no Git

Unfamiliarity within art school with to collaborative distributed tools work, such as Git.

Text layout - enemy of hybrid publishing

Lack of text-layout software capable of working in a hybrid publishing mode, where:

  • the designed layout will incorporate changes performed in the source document
  • design decision can be applied to other editions of the phrasebook, like a template. (We wanted to make our work usable by others. We didn't succeed in that.)

The alternative to using text-layout software, would be to work with web-to-print. Many issues, such as fonts (see below) or re-usability of styles, would be solved, but others such as the impositions that made the Benelux version into a booklet wouldn't have been possible. Yet Web-to-print seems to be the more promising text layout method for hybrid publishing projects like the RPB.


Finding a font that covered the many alphabets present in the Benelux version of the Phrasebook was not easy.

Supposedly Arial covers a lot of the languages present on the Unicode table. In reality it seemed to cover Latin languages, Arabic, Bangla, Urdu and Dari fine. However when it came to Kurdish some of its glyphs where not present. The open-source font Dejavu-Sans saved us there

Unfamiliarity with non-Latin alphabets

The unfamiliarity with non-Latin alphabets and the different steps needed when laying right to left scripts, resulted in a small disaster where Arabic lost its ligatures and was mirrored.

One student from the team and the Phrasebook community helped finding the method to correctly paste Arabic in inDesign. The process had to be redone and this time before any thing we had an Lebanese student proof-reading it.

Pasting Arabic in inDesign

Locations of Distribution

  • Rotterdam
  • Amsterdam - behind the train station