• Su120611-arabic
  • Su130611-arabic
  • Su140611
  • Su170611
  • Su190611
Graphic Design

Success and Uncertainty

Posted by Rob Alderson,

When two Dutch graphic designers were offered a residency at a Cairo art gallery back in January, they had no idea world-changing events were about to rock Egypt to its very core. After Bart de Baets and Sandra Kassenaar finally got there, they immersed themselves in a country where everything was in a state of flux, and produced a poster every day for three weeks reflecting their thoughts, feelings and reactions. We spoke to Bart to find out more about this extraordinary project.

Hi Bart. What was was the atmosphere like in Cairo during those weeks?

It seemed to change daily. Friendly-looking circle discussions suddenly got out of hand and turned into fights, no one really knew who to trust, the curfew changed from 8pm to 9 pm, there were rumors going around that women who weren’t wearing head-scarves could be arrested, the curfew changed again from 9pm to 12 pm and then there was the absence of police and the unclarity of not knowing what the army would do and whose side they were on anyway.

So the atmosphere was somewhat unstable but filled with opinions, stories and curiosity. There was a sense of freedom in the air. Next to all this, life in Cairo kept going. And man, do I love living in Cairo. I think that one of the most important things that keeps the Egyptians on their feet in difficult times like these is their great sense of humor and a curiosity that supplies them with a never-ending buzz of energy.

What were the ideas behind the posters?

For a long while Sandra and I were looking for a way to shape our ideas and the insecure position we found ourselves in. We decided to stop thinking of a best way to collaborate but just focus on each other’s qualities and exploit those. Sandra had collected a big bunch of news paper clippings that dealt with various ways we received the news – she used existing material she found on blogs or in newspapers we bought and wrote or re-wrote articles, placing them as a tabloid-like structure in a newspaper called Recent Events. I had made a big file of sketches for posters that dealt with our daily struggles in this new city.

I made use of slogans and existing icons to create an overlap between my familiar western background and the Arabic world, basically to create recognition for the posters that quite immediately became rather absurd and sometimes hard to read.

What was the reaction like?

Some people simply gave us the casual thumbs-up whenever we presented a new poster, whereas others immediately fired away questions about our latest creation. Some didn’t understand our posters and thought they were difficult to read. Many of the posters made use of icons, like a Mickey Mouse glove or a spinning rainbow from Apple computers, but we also used icons that illustrated the Egyptians or that became iconic due to the events of the last few months.

The posters that made use of more abstract translations, those became our favourites but were the ones the audience related to the least, I think. The ones dealing with political issues in a more direct or humorous way were read more and seemed easier for the Egyptians to respond to.

How would you sum up the whole experience?

I am incredibly happy with the project Sandra and I realized in those four months we were in Cairo and am amazed by the discovery that time and a healthy amount of passion can evoke all kinds of issues in me. The project deals with our difficulty of being foreigners and strangers in a country in the middle of a revolution, a revolution that isn’t ours. How to deal with the images the media provides, a foreign language, a culture where a lot of news travels from mouth to mouth and what that does to the authenticity of the entire thing.

We used the posters to filter all that and enjoyed the fact we could make a new one each day. That gave us the liberty to make bold statements next to highlighting silly little details. We were two tourists who made friends with some wonderful people, including many Egyptians. But also we’re reporters and artists who have the opportunity and responsibility to give this revolutionary stretch a face that shows more than a raging mob on Tahrir Square and Egyptian flags going up in flames.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. List

    Illustrator Eleonora Marton’s raw, bold aesthetic lends itself perfectly to large scale design, so we were happy to discover that rather than confining herself to witty, irony-soaked zines and sweet watercolour portraits, she’s unleashed her talents on a huge series of A3 posters and smaller flyers too. Using recurring imagery in varying forms – legs, animals, furniture and toys all feature – she creates posters for upcoming events which tick all the boxes event posters should. They’re eye-catching, interesting and incredibly informative, and what’s more, she makes it look incredibly easy. Just trying spotting that record player wheat-pasted up on a street corner and not taking a step closer to find out what it was advertising.

  2. List

    There’s something about the painstaking perfectionism of type design that doesn’t scream fun and frolics, but Commercial Type’s new webfont showcase is ready to prove me wrong. The New York and London based type studio run by Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes is widely-regarded as one of the best around, but the pair have struggled sometimes to communicate the personality of their fonts. Enter the Commercial Type Showcase which they built with Wael Morcos to show off the lighter side of 16 of their creations by way of 16 microsites, ranging from poetry and poster generators to a train schedule board and even a digital therapist.

  3. List

    Lotta Nieminen is one of those graphic designers who is able to creating a lasting impression with her work in spite of it often being incredibly subtle in its approach. In my opinion this goes above and beyond her colour palettes, though they often combine pastel shades with serene muted tones; rather her projects seem to be finished with a kind of nuanced subtlety that resonates long after you first see it.

  4. Main2

    Not much makes us as happy as a brilliant studio churning out spectacular work, but to find out each member is a fantastic designer in their own right is even better. Diogo Potes just got in touch to show us some of his personal work away from his day-to-day collaborative venture, Portuguese design studio Alva Alva. Diogo’s solo work boasts all of the vibrancy, sense of humour and love of hand-drawn elements that Alva Alva has, but also contains a good dollop of personal style. For me, I think his work is strongest when he incorporates photography into his designs – something about choosing off-the-wall shots and enveloping them in rich colours and bold typography is very, very pleasing. Nice work Diogo, keep it up!

  5. List

    Like their counterparts over at Unit Editions, the Viction:ary team has an unerring eye for putting together graphic design books that are a cut above the competition. This stems from their ability to select a theme that is relevant and interesting and (crucially) identify the right creatives to showcase in exploring that subject.

  6. Wadelist

    When showing off a new typeface, most designers opt for the go-to panagram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” On one of the promotional posters for his new font Hardy, Wade Jeffree has plumped for “It’s too easy being a c**t.” In other words, this is a typeface with attitude.

  7. List

    20 years ago in 1994, little known designer Eike König set up his “graphic design playground” Hort, creating a community in the centre of Berlin where creatives could collaborate on ideas and client briefs side by side. Nowadays, the playground is slightly bigger, undertaking work for Nike, The New York Times and Walt Disney among others, but the underlying emphasis on collaboration and experimentation remains exactly the same.

  8. Main

    Political, powerful and poignant (although not always all at the same time), Abram Games’ work earned him a place as one of the 20th Century’s most iconic and influential graphic designers. Notoriously, one of his posters was banned by Churchill in post-war Britain and, although he crafted advertising for the Times, Transport for London and Guinness, his most impactful work was created for noble causes. During the Second World War he designed hundreds of recruitment posters and images discouraging waste, with slogans like “Use Spades, Not Ships” and bold dynamic graphics.

  9. Andrealist

    Sometimes the simplest things can be the hardest to pull off, but that is precisely what Andrea Evangelista’s graphic design achieves with quiet aplomb. I imagine most young creatives would quail at the notion of designing a book titled Trafficking Survivor Care Standards, but Andrea’s work is confident and careful, lending the text the clarity it demands. He lets the content sit in plenty of white space inside its buttercup cover, resisting the temptation to chuck in a bunch of pretty images.

  10. List

    As newspapers change, so the meaning, placement and purpose of their mastheads change too. This archive of Indian newspaper nameplates is therefore a celebration of the beauty and communicative skill that goes into them, and a snapshot of the contemporary news media in the sub-continent – see how the odd editorial email address crops up alongside some pretty historic type treatments. The collection has been compiled by Pooja Saxena, a Bangalore-based type designer who previously worked in Apple’s font team and studied at Reading University’s world-leading Type Design and Graphic Communication school.

  11. List

    Here at It’s Nice That we’re very aware of how often we cover certain creatives on the site, and we constantly make time to search out talented practitioners we don’t know as well as feting the latest work of those we do.

  12. List

    Every year during graduate season we sift our way through an enormous number of grad show identities. It’s arguably one of the trickiest briefs for a young student; creating a comprehensive identity for a showcase of upwards of 100 creatives’ work – all of them with different styles and concerns. Some of what we see is excellent, but many seem to struggle under the pressure of pleasing their peers.

  13. List

    Creating a visual identity to capture an aural experience seems like a near impossible task, let alone when the music is as lustrous and strange as Amy Kohn’s, but Non-Format have succeeded gracefully with their work for her new album PlexiLusso. The USA and Oslo-based team manipulated original photography by Merri Cyr to recreate the ethereal quality of her music, conjuring up a glass-like aesthetic with a hint of abstract surrealism in the form of floating boulders and rippling waves. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is all conceptual nonsense though; they’ve also made an original typeface to mimic the sonorous melodies, using disconnected arcs which resemble the notation of quavers and clefs laid out on the stave, as in sheet music. It’s an oddly alluring combination which creates an impression of Amy’s music before you’ve even pressed play.