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Rant: Designer vs. Human Rights

Designers are a weird species, On the one hand, they take on the job of redefining the perception of their clients, on request. On the other hand, they're a bit of an artist.

The mind trained in design is a mind trained in assessing and solving problems. It has received years of exposure to media in all its forms, sometimes to the inclusion of art and the work of other designers. It will have a close connection to the ocular organ, to the mouth and ears and fingers through the study of materials, textures and type.

In addition, a designer, typesetter, calligrapher, illustrator. web developer, CI specialist and copywriters have learned the tools required to produce their craft in the age they live in. From the monks illuminating manuscripts to the binary glitch crowd, even the neanderthals slapping their hand on walls to leave behind a mark of their existence, they have proved very resourceful at adapting the materials at hand to the purpose of shaping their environments.

Dusts mixed into paint, metal shaped into a chisel, reeds cut into pens, hair tied to the end of a stick, humans have always found tools to fine-tune their communications, mathematical and algorithmic expressions currently being adapted to that purpose. Sometimes, once that purpose was discovered, a joy in expressing yourself graphically or otherwise through the medium of the day.

A specimen of the species will also believe that the world is improved, in a very real way, through good design, just as bad design makes it worse. Nothing is more distressing to the serious designer than a badly executed visual communication. A logo that says nothing, a badly set flyer, a copycat website, parroting all other websites around it, money spent on ugly print materials.

Why does this distress the designer? He knows he could have done it better, if the particular communicator had gotten in touch with him or another designer. He knows that whoever is sending out the communication is not representing the content they wish to convey adequately.
Even if the communication is adequate, it might stand out more. It might convey the distinct personality of those who put the content out, in stead of feeling like a strung- together stream of letters or a jumble of images on paper. He, she knows that an opportunity and money have been wasted on the creation of something that adds some information to the world, but will not reach it's full potential. It does not matter that they had nothing to do with those who created the piece.

It is even more distressing when the designer is personally involved with an organisation that, through neccessity, ignorance or laziness, does not wish to implement ideas the designer suggested. You may have been wondering when this was going to got personal. This is it.

A recent job has brought what you read above to my attention once more. The brief was to clean up an existing logo and improve whatever I can about it. After pushing the pixels of the logo for a while and having fulfilled my brief, the realisation hit me that I was not satisfied with the results. I knew I was about to exceed it. And so set about creating an alternate version for my pleasure and the possible benefit of the client.

After a few attempts at adapting the current design and making it more palatable to fellow designers and myself I realised even that would be a rather pedestrian makeover. A short talk with Lex (One of my teachers and one of the finest design minds I can think of) confirmed both of the above: The existing logo was bad, for lack of a better word, and my remake, though an improvement in the eyes of my peers, pedestrian.

A brief elaboration on the client: An Arab Human rights organisation, which I am a member of. I call them a client, because as the resident designer, and even though I took the task upon myself, my perspective is slightly different. In the light of all the change going on in the Arab world, leaders being overthrown, people finding their own voice, flags being altered, the assumed basis for the redesign was the ushering in of a new generation of activists and sending a clear signal of change. In my dealings with members of said organisation, this was the impression they had made on me through their actions and opinions.

Some of them were however, surprisingly reticent to accept even small changes to the logo, referring me to a general assembly for a binding decision on a new logo. A lot of wrangling ensued, in which my passion for design seemed to collide with political inflexibilty. During this wrangling, I of course defended the new design, as pedestrian as it is, against the old one, forgetting in the process that I had already far overstepped my brief.

The client is also part of a greater network of Arab hum rights organisation, AOHR, which further complicates a change in the logo, as it is adapted from the signet that represents the greater organisation. That I cannot link to their website is a testament to their understanding of communication.

But small steps are being taken, both in communications and in Logo design, allowing me to happily announce the launch of the OMRAS website, complete with cleaned-up, yet unsatisfactory logo. I will report on further developments as they happen and if you visit the site, you can observe them yourself as minute improvements happen.


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