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Apr 3, 2009

TalkingDesign: Kuwaiti style

In addition to all the fun, it was very clear that Mousharaka offered a unique opportunity to share views with our counterparts in the Gulf States. So, AIGA XCD cornered a few Graphic Design majors from the American University of Kuwait (AUK) for some Real Talk about their lives and perspective on the Profession.

Our TalkingDesign Session features Fatemeh Dadkhah, Hadi Sarieddine, Faisal Muhammad and Ranya Al-Mastaki

AIGA XCD: Which description of today’s changing world makes most sense to you? Which one best describes your personal experience and why?

Poster Design by Dana Dadkhah

a. multiculturalism b. crossculturalism c. globalism

FD: Globalism. I feel human beings similarities (are) much more than their differences. With the development of technology and communication in particular, I feel we (now have) even more things in common than ever before. We identify with the same music, we enjoy the same brands and we relate to similar experiences but in different geographic locations and under different cultural influences. I think this helps us to tolerate one another more and to be open and respectful of the differences we have, due to the different environments we live in, while enjoying sharing our similar interests.

Hadi: From my personal perspective, I find that crossculturalism is what applies to the world today. I will take Kuwait as an example here, we have people of many cultures coming in to the country and going about their cultural notions while experiencing the cultural notions of others.

FM: I think multiculturalism is the word that best describes the world today. I’ve been living outside of Kuwait for about 16 years and every country that I’ve lived in is multicultural.

RA-M: multiculturalism

XCD:  Describe your contact with cultures different from your own. What were your impressions? What made the experience different? Were there some similarities? Have these experiences changed you in any way?

FD: Being an Iranian who was born in Kuwait and exposed to a multicultural environment, I have dealt with this situation all my life. But I have to admit that the more I travel and meet people from different places, the more I can understand our unity despite our diversity. It actually helps me to know myself better. This makes me feel so good as I see us all connected to the same roots, experiencing the same emotions and working to overcome the same problems, in a different context. These kind of experiences helped opening my eyes and broadening my horizons.

Logo treatment by Hadi

Hadi: When I first got to Kuwait, from Lebanon, about 6 years ago, it was interesting getting myself to adapt to the changes. These changes were on a number of different levels such as the type of comedy that people used with each other, (the way) I had to translate certain Lebanese slang phrases that only I could understand to the rest of my classmates at school, and mostly the change that I sensed was in the ideologies that my new classmates had; whether these present themselves through religious or cultural traditions… it was just very different.

FM: I have made friends from all over the world when I was at school and it’s great to have friends from different countries. You get to learn something from their country, and then later you might want to visit their country. Probably the first day of school in Kuwait was a little bit of a surprise to me, because all the schools that I have attended were international/American schools with foreigners as the majority of the school’s population. When I came to Kuwait it was the opposite, majority were Kuwaitis and some foreigners, but I got use to it and made friends with Kuwaitis and foreigners. This has sort of changed me a little bit (…) one of the things that I would like to do in life is travel the world and see different places (…)

RA-M: To be in contact with different cultures were just by visual (TV, Magazines, Book …etc) but not really had the chance to be engaged with a different culture… But I do recall a short period of trying to understand one’s culture that is when I went to Dubai for a one day Zayed University trip and a week to VCU Qatar for the conference. I tried to understand the surroundings; the specific pattern of people’s movements, likes dislikes, tradition, and so on.
I was always open-minded, I accept what I see, hear and feel and sometimes rationalize them. I don’t like or dislike anything new that I tap into, but I do wonder.
Concerning my experience in Zayed and VCUQ, the environment was different and interesting. The similarities were the colors of the traditional clothing, the palm trees, the land – basically reminds me of my homeland. And yes the experience does change me in a way that makes me ask for more in this world, and set a big dream to accomplish.

XCD: Which cultures do you think about most when you are designing? Why do you reference these cultures?

FD: It depends mostly on the purpose of my design and the target audience or perhaps my client’s requirements. When I am designing a piece for myself however, there is a little bit of everything in it. As I said I have myself a little bit of Persian, Arabic, Eastern and Western influences on me. Each part show up depending on my mood and the situation.

Hadi: This comes down to the client or project that I am working on, I have done some freelance work on some logos for individuals and companies and I set myself within the framework of what had caught their attention when they had imagined their business identity. In this part of the world most of us idolize European and American company designs and so that’s usually the starting point to most projects.

I, additionally, had one project that needed some Japanese manga references so that was a nice change of inspiration!

FM: I don’t think about any culture when I’m designing. I just create designs which I like and I get advice from my professors and colleagues.

R A-M: Western and Chinese. Because they are modern and artistic.

XCD: Do you feel like your cultural visual language is well reflected in the design around you? Do you know why either way?

FD: Not really. At least not in Kuwait. Because we have handful of native designers if any. Therefore they cannot fully understand the culture even if they want to reflect it in their design. I feel an inner approach is more appropriate. Like we have in Iran for example. Most of our designs are done by people who really understand their audience, environment and their culture.

Hadi: The most that this would apply to is Arabic caligraphy which we find very commonly in many designs here. However, as far as signage goes I do not sense a strong connection between the visual language and design. I guess the reason for that is that not much attention was paid to including cultural naunces within these designs. The most of cultural visual language that is seen is in the ads of Islamic organizations, banks, and telecom companies.

Design by Faisal Muhammad

FM:  No my cultural visual language doesn’t reflect my designs.

R A-M: Not really that much. Design in Kuwait just started to emerge. I don’t feel that we have identified ourselves in visual design yet.

XCD: Do you feel like your cultural values are well reflected in the design around you? Do you know why either way?

FD: Some how yes. We live in a part of world where certain values such as religion, conservativeness, segregation, morals and ethics are highly promoted. There is a clear line between good and bad, do’s and don’ts and black and white which is practiced here religiously. I think this is mostly due to our religious teachings which are practiced by the majority or at least those who are in the decision-making positions.

Hadi: I think this goes along with the previous question, I find that not much attention was paid to portray cultural values within the designs on road signages. However, within corporate designs there is always a cultural naunce within the companies that are advertising an Islamic image or a locally-oriented image such as the telecom companies, banks, etc.

FM:  No my cultural values doesn’t reflect my designs.

R A-M: As I said, design has just started in Kuwait. Therefore I don’t feel that the designs that are surrounding us reflect the cultural values of Kuwait.

XCD: Do you think your design education has a role in addressing the last two questions? How so?

FD: Absolutely. As someone who lived here and have been exposed to different types of experiences (tried both the black, white and the gray areas), I think my education will provide me the tools I need to improve the design around me. First by understanding myself, my surroundings and then figuring out what can I do to improve the current situation.

Hadi: I think so, in addition to the fact that many projects have relation to the local culture, caligraphy, etc. design education allows us to put ourselves in the right perspectives and so this education will allow us to touch on cultural values and visual languages through our designs.

FM: Yes my design education has the role of making Kuwaiti (culture) a visual language and more.

R A-M: I do believe that it has a role, since when we start designing, we try to include Arabic, and that is a starter. Because immediately when we include Arabic we include Kuwait our homeland.

XCD: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? What cultural bagage will you bring to the table?

FD: Even thinking about this (gives me the) chill. I would like to do my PHD in Graphic Design and be really well educated and experienced in my field. I always had this dream of living and studying in California! Don’t ask me why, It just pops into my mind. As if something is calling me to go there and explore what life has to offer me in a total different environment. I love to get to know and understand different cultures. So far I mostly experienced the Middle East. Now I want to experience the West. I believe the more we know about one another the better we can understand and serve ourselves and influence the world by offering positive and constructive solutions. The fact that we come from different background actually makes us more interesting and tolerant towards one another. Perhaps this way we can find out ways in which we can communicate our design to our people in a more effective way.

Hadi: Somewhere else on this planet experiencing more culture-shocks!! =D..but honestly, I am going to be in another place on this planet interacting and learning about more cultures and bringing in input from all the cultures that I’ve experienced! I will probably be working on my music while doing freelance designing work on websites, company profiles, flyers, and more design stuff!

Poster by Ranya Al-Mastaki

FM: The plan that I have set for me is to graduate from the American University of Kuwait. Then I’m thinking of doing a master degree at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. After that my father wants me to work somewhere in the government, although I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. If I don’t like the job I’ll quit and get another job in a government area or private sector. Later I would like to work in a big city but I’m not sure where yet. I wouldn’t bring any culture with me because I don’t think about cultures when I’m designing, but I will bring my ideas.

R A-M: I see myself teaching graphic design along with my part time private design workshop, and travelling around for more knowledge. I would like to bring with me everything that is new to me.

The American University of Kuwait is a liberal arts institution, based on the American model of higher education. It is dedicated to providing students with knowledge, self-awareness, and personal growth experiences that can enhance critical thinking, effective communication, and respect for diversity. AUK has worked closely with Dartmouth College  since 2003 under a Memorandum of Understanding. The Graphic Design programme is in its second year, and currently has 70 students with a major in Graphic Design.

Many thanks to Maryam Hosseinnia, Assistant Professor and Graphic Design Programme Lead at AUK, for facilitating this interview.

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