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RTLTR I: Beginnings

I've been giving myself too little leeway (and reverse escapism) to focus on the little, but nonetheless satisfying little things that pay the bills and ensure that the a negative worldview remains in a firm state of semi-negative, rather than bleak.

In this series, I would like to talk about the road that lead to the development of a logo- and a few other things for an NGO. We've been working together for a few years now, so there is a lot to cover, beginning in 2015, which, at the rate at which information currently races through the pipes dedicated to it, feels like it was decades ago- dog years have become human years in their compression. I'm calling this a personal design history, as it is somewhere between a case study and an account of my personal involvement and philosophy during a design process and thus utterly subjective and may not apply in other cases.  

Let's start here: 

My main body of work, when not arguably artistic*, deals with bilingual type and design, mostly with Latin and Arabic involved. RTLTR, which stands for Road to Logo through Reflection (or Right to Left to Right), documents chromatic, Design and Art Direction decisions taken over two years of working with a German Syrian-NGO. It will occasionally try to draw some lessons, but mainly document subjectively the background to an ongoing design process.

The Union of Syrian-Geman Aid Associations (which is the English name I'm giving them, for more details, check their website: contacted me in that capacity at the end of 2015 to work on a reader for project managers and humanitarian organisations working between Germany and Syria. It was to be a collection of experiences, helpful hints and guidelines on the intricacies of funding, logistics and project management in Syria.*

There were few custom graphics involved, and once we made the decision to use the UN's Humanitarian font (this one), which provides a set of standardised symbols and icons dealing with aid and humanitarian work, for most of our iconry, it seemed that, once the text was finalised, this would be an easy job to accomplish.

We wanted to create a document that could easily be expanded and be as sustainable as a paper document can be. A digital version can be found here, in German and Arabic, as should be, but nevertheless, we wanted the option of adding to the information within without having to reprint the entire document. Finally, though it is an unusual format for a graphic designer to choose, I suggested that we go with a folder with loose pages, in the hopes that the initially higher production costs would help keep costs to a minimum when updating the document itself- single pages are cheaper to print than a bound book. Considering how quickly the status quo tends to change in the Syrian Quagmire***, and on the road between there and Germany, we wanted to be set up for quick updates in future.

We were also aware that we were setting the groundwork for a future design direction, the foundation of the brand we hoped to communicate. For this, we outlined a couple of rough guidelines- we would avoid national flags and their colours where possible, and use colours to mark sections of content, rather than nations, and design had to be bilingual and balanced between Latin type (in whichever Indo-Germanic/Semetic combination it appeared). A determination for the content was that it was to be of high quality- especially in a publication we dared to call Best Practices- and that we would, as possible, prioritse that quality over speed.

This means that we took (and still take) the time to reflect design and content decisions, trying to ensure that we have made, if not the best decision, at least a meaningful one that does not undermine the content and one we can explain to ourselves and others if neccessary, without needing to justify it to ourselves in retrospect. That is something that I continue to enjoy about this document- I can look through it, and in spite of hindsight and personal evolution, there are no decisions on a macro level that I cannot trace back to a thought or reason. This occasionally falls apart on a micro level, but that can be considered proof of hindsight and personal evolution.

One last positive aspect was our collaboration with the GIZ's (they funded the project and the related publication) design department. As someone who regularly works with NGOs, I am used to a certain amount of research for graphic elements (maps, amongst many other things), with a preference for open source files. Imagine my joy, therefore, to discover that we had access to a number of high-quality, up-to-date maps in a variety of formats, ready for use and recombinations. And it's always fun to discuss the intricacies of applying Corporate Design, where it would denote collaboration, and where we could deviate from it to denote individuality. In the end, we agreed that the format and the bilinguality of the publication gave us some leeway what it came to execution, but would nevertheless adhere to some guidelines. All of this was accomplished with a minimum of bureaucracy and very short A-B communications.

I may be colouring the process with nostalgic pink goggles by now, and leaving the crunch and non-stop, coffee-fuelled weekend crunch to finalise the printing files due to a late Arabic translation out of the main story, but I do view this as a positive collaboration, even with hindsight: We managed to put the document to plate very close to our deadline, and achieved the goal of laying a groundwork for how we would proceed in future projects.

The only regret I have is that we never found the time to expand the guide. We did do a second print run, this time a ring-bound version of the guide, but the project is unfortunately (as it reflects the situation and need on the ground) ongoing. It is fortunate that there are those hopeful and willing enough to continue this work, in the face of the above-mentioned quagmire.

RTLTR II will deal with the how these basics were applied in future designs and how the design evolved over the period of year.
RTLTR III will focus on the design of the Logo and content for the project "Almanya B-il-logha il- Arabeyya"
RTLTR IV will appear sometime after the current logo has been finalised, dealing with how we iterated lessons learned into a new graphical identity.

* very arguable- I argue no, until proven otherwise.
** The idea of this still fills me with some amount of hope, in spite of the normality of disgusting news surrounding the country itself. There are several organisations involved in work. One of my favourites- mainly because they attempt to maintain their independence is Adopt a Revolution, and of course the various members of the VDSH. 
*** I am at a loss- what do you call an uprising that degenerated into a civil war that brought about a counterterrorism campaign that ultimately turned into a proxy war that had nothing to do with the original uprising and continues to be to the detriment of the Syrian population, both in the country and in exile or refuge

This has to be said somewhere: These views are my own, and do not reflect the views of the GIZ, the VDSH, or the BZE, no matter how flattering they are.


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