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Rant: A designer in times of revolt

A while back, i posted a question that had been haunting me for a few weeks on twitter: what use is a graphic designer in a revolution?

Far from being a trick question, I was, through reading blogs and magazines, to find out that I am not the only one asking myself this. Not only was I not the only designer with Arab roots to be stuck in Germany during the arab spring, or whatever this period of middle eastern history end up bein called, I was not the only one feeling just a wee bit useless.

Nadine Chahine, type designer extraordinaire, started producibg snippets of type in commemoration of the Egyptian revolution. A guy in the states turned a picture of a muhagabba doing the v- sign into a vector poster a la sheppard fairy. Designers in egypt created posters, type and websites. I know of one person who made stencils in Germany that were later sprayed on walls in Tunis in support of their revolution. Someone made a crumpped
Kathafi poster for reporters without borders.

Even though not all of the above were made by graphic designers, It does
Show a wide range of activities related to a designers skillset which have proved useful to the various uprisings in the Arab world, even if these Contributions mainly helpEd people on the ground spread their opinions more rapidly or were sponaneous, designed expressions of joy, attracing internet awareness and spreading the world online.

That is what designers do: spread the word, sometimes making it look good in the process.

Now me: apart from watching news and writing about it, mostly right here, the beginnng of the revolution in Egypt took me so much by surprise that for a while, a graphic designer I was not. I considered expressing my sentiments through type and caricature, however felt that, without accurate understanding of what was happening on the ground, I would be making hollow statements which may look good, but helped no-one. It would notmecen relieve my frustration or allow for a much- needed venting of elation. So I watched some more news.

A few weeks later, most revolutionary activity has become political: demonstrations, talks, panels and exhibitions. Finding that demonstrations are but one way to get your point across, my attention quickly turned to things my skills would come in handy for. Type and flyers are useful tools when organising photo exhibitions, as is the dash of marketing savvy that having done a few ads brings with it. So, together with a newfound friend, we went ahead and organised Egypt: Faces, which I posted about below.

This being the egyptian way of doing things, the work was quick, hard and done in less than two days. We proudly hung our photos in the back of the Academy, had a vernissage, then toppled off home to sleep it off.

The process was repeated at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and I hope to do this at least a couple more times in the next months.

Meanwhile, thanks to some good friends of mine, an old association for human rights in the Middle East, OMRAS, is being rejuvinated. That this organisation has no website, CI, calling cards or paper stock can only mean that there is work I can do here. Logos need to be adapted to the 21st century, type selected, a web presence created. An organisation needs to be Rebranded and brought up to current speeds. That's a job for a graphic designer, no? If he happens to enjoy brand- building, so much the better.

And it is elating to watch a march carrying signs you made. Once again, the basic skill any designer has- quick transmission of messages- comes in handy. The feeling you get is much more direct than from knowing a poster you designed is hanging throughout a city. Knowing that I was helping people express themselves directly and without having to recourse to screaming or chanting is satisfying. It was also a branding opportunity not to be wasted, as can be seen below.

So, what can a graphic designer do during a revolution?

The complicated answer is to be found above. The simple answer is: Think. Design. Support a cause you are passionate about. Above all, quit asking yourself "what can I do?" and start acting.

Now, there is work to be done.


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