Pentagram announces new partner, bi-scriptural specialist Samar Maakaroun

Samar wants multicultural brands to be an afterthought no more. Here’s what her appointment means for Pentagram and design at large.

Date
6 September 2023

Pentagram’s London office has a new partner, Samar Maakaroun. The creative director and graphic designer has been running the studio Right to Left since 2021, where she helms a team that works across multiple languages and disciplines and who specialises in “multicultural, multilingual design”. She had worked at Pentagram for five years before that and was content with returning as a consultant on a regular basis, until she received a call from Marina Willer in November 2022. “I couldn’t say no,” she tells us. “It’s a privilege to be thought of in that way and it has been a rollercoaster since then.”

Samar’s specialisation lies at the intersection of culture, language and branding. It’s a position that’s allowed her to spot a persistent problem in our industry. In London, Samar is frequently called in for branding projects with multiple linguistic components. But, more often than not, she receives the invite late into the process, when the project is almost complete. “At that point, the English face looks nice, the other language face looks shoddy. And when you combine them it looks worse.”

Samar, who works frequently with Latin and Arabic alphabets, says one example of a lack of forethought in branding is acronyms. The Arabic script does not feature the same upper and lower case distinction as Latin, which might have a huge impact on how a client names something. “There are stereotypes too,” says Samar. “Many projects say: ‘Let’s put a pattern in to represent the Arabic face’. But there is so much more to 24 different Arabic speaking countries than a pattern.”

And so comes Samar’s proposal for the design industry, informing her work at Right to Left, and now, Pentagram. “If you have so many designers in the city that speak so many different languages, why not set up brands that exist like this from the outset?”

New partners often give audiences a glimpse into where the design consultancy believes the industry is heading next, and what specialisations it will require to stay future proof. Pentagram partner Marina Willer says: “I am so delighted to have Samar as our new partner in London. I have worked with her on several projects; she is a wonderful designer who will bring a breath of fresh air to Pentagram. She thinks and works differently to all of us because of her unique cultural mix, approaching design simultaneously in Latin and Arabic alphabets. It's very exciting to add her perspective to Pentagram.”

On a personal level, Samar sees her appointment as an opportunity to evolve alongside long-time collaborators and friends. “Marina is the first woman who joined Pentagram and opened the door for me. Domenic Lippa is a person I share a joy of design and typography with, and Angus Hyland is the mastermind behind me joining. These people will be part of my day-to-day, to support me and share their wealth of expertise.”

While Samar doesn’t know what projects her first few months will entail – she’d prefer to stay curious about who might knock on her door – it would be safe to assume that the work will be led by cross-cultural exchange. “Do you know Max’s Sandwich Shop? They have a sandwich with spring rolls inside. At first you think ‘who wants to put spring rolls in the sandwich?’ But then you try the sandwich and it’s amazing. It’s done in food, it’s done in art. It’s interesting when you start to look at this design in this way.”

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Right to Left: AlUla, animated stickers and workshop delivered in AlUla (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: AlUla, animated stickers and workshop delivered in AlUla (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: AlUla, animated stickers and workshop delivered in AlUla (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: Type Map, typographic traditions explored through a poster project (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: Type Map, typographic traditions explored through a poster project (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: Type Map, typographic traditions explored through a poster project (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: Type Map, typographic traditions explored through a poster project (Copyright © Right to Left)

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Right to Left: 29 words for 29 letters, an experimental index, assigning one word for each letter of the Arabic alphabet (Copyright © Right to Left)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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