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During the past 15 years, graphic design in
Iran has expanded beyond simply layout and book cover design. Its
potential has become increasingly clear to students, universities,
businesses and the public. Some Iranian designers’ work has been
recognized internationally, especially in Europe and Asia. A graphic
design major is now being offered in more and more universities in Iran.
Some faculty members have studied abroad and have a good knowledge of
design, design theory, design history and printing technology.
The history of graphic design in Iran goes back to 1940 through 1950.
The first official graphic design department was established in 1950 at
Tehran University’s College of Fine Arts by Morteza Momayez.* Before
that, and as early as 1921, graphic design consisted mostly of newspaper
layouts and illustrations related to their articles.
In earlier years, most artists, including graphic designers, worked in
several areas of art, including cinema, animation, cartoon,
illustration, painting, set design and film. This meant that one had to
study in all areas, and there was no fine line between different art
majors. Expectations from clients and the public was not high. As a
result, a simple solution to a problem was sufficient to everybody.
Illustration, which again is rooted in fine art, is well integrated in a
designer’s work. Designing type electronically is very limited.
Therefore, there are few typefaces available. Calligraphy and
handwriting are the dominant forms of typography. One can see the use of
handwritten Farsi text on many posters and book covers working
perfectly in terms of composition and style. Because of nature of the
alphabet with many curves and movements, it easily becomes part of the
composition in a very expressive form. There is no such thing as writing
in all caps or all lowercase. It’s always a combination of the two
cases. Each individual letter is used in four different formats:
beginning, middle, end and by itself of a word. Letters can be enlarged
within a word for beauty or stress, yet the letter has to keep its
thickness in proportion and relation to rest of the letters within that
Iranian designers have been searching for an identity of their own, and
this search has been quite successful in the past 10-15 years. Drawing
upon their culture and history, they have found visual forms and
memories to build ideas and solutions for communicating with the people
of 21st century.
There is a unique style in design that combines of calligraphy and
painting called “khat-nagashi,” which has its roots in antiquity when
calligraphers were writing and illustrating the works of famous poets
and religious books, and also its usage in pottery and architecture.
This continues to this day, especially in recent years in many graphic
designers’ work. However, the approach is different in very abstract and
Many books published on design during the past few years were
collections of posters, book covers and logos. But there are few samples
of publication design or advertising. Most advertising for consumer
goods have an international look, value and message. Many advertised
products, such as fashion, cosmetics, heavy industries, appliances,
machinery and electronics come from other countries. As a result their
message, tone, value, and other cultural suggestions come from the
country of origin and hardly ever are tailored or changed for the
consumer’s culture. Text on ads, packages and billboards often appear
both in Farsi and English. Overall, one could say advertising seems to
function mostly as an announcement for new goods, not as competition
against other sellers.
Due to internal and external economic issues, constant changes in laws
and shortages of material, the availability of products is limited,
whether they are local or imported. Therefore, there is little need for
competition. Since it is hard for many companies and organizations to
predict their future progress, they do not spend time and money to
create a look or an identity.
In many instances, creating an identity program consists of a logo and
stationery for companies or posters for a conference. A variety of paper
is not available to designers or publishers, and good quality is
expensive. Most magazines are printed on newsprint with the exception of
their covers, due mostly to paper shortages.
The few standard magazines concerned with cinema, children, women,
family and literature range from 64 to 80 pages and have only 1 to 4
pages of advertising. Some are well-designed with nice layout and
typography. Designers commonly tailor their designs and color usage
based solely on what paper and ink color is available to them.
Digital printing permits the use of large formats. As a result there are
many billboard advertisements in big cities. Young artists have
welcomed web design and computer technology. Having access to the
internet and international publications has made communication and
accessibility to information easier. Although Iranian designers share
ideas and form connections across the world, they have not forgotten
that other designers’ work is only a point of reference. For them,
tapping into their history, culture and memory has brought creativity,
uniqueness and better solutions for effective communication.
“The Iranian Graphic Designers Society,” a member of ICOGRADA, is the
only coherent group among artists with their own standards. The society
has over 400 members.
Neshan is the most prominent graphic designer’s magazine in Iran,
published quarterly in Farsi (in color) and English (in black and
white). It usually features designers’ profiles from Iran and around the
world and carries articles about design related issues.
There are yearly, biennial, triennial and quadrennial expositions that
give all artists a chance to show their work to the public and the
design community. Some of these expositions attract international
participants; a number of them are held in other countries.
* Morteza Momayez, Graphic Designer, 1936-2005
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