Designing for the Community: Graphic Design Seniors Tackle Social Challenges

If you haven’t yet been enticed by the graphic design senior exhibition’s distinctive logo this year, featuring multiple layers of the words, “Alt w Shidd,” this week is your last chance to take a look at the students’ expressions of creativity –– and solutions to community problems –– at the Sharjah Art Gallery.

This year’s theme, Alt w Shidd, evokes a keyboard shortcut typically employed by graphic designers when they click alt and drag an element to create another copy.

“We keep tackling so many topics over and over again,” explained Nagla Ismail, associate professor of practice in the Department of the Arts and acting director of the graphic design program. “Our students are very concerned citizens. So we find several topics connected with the community that are repeated in our exhibitions. Every year, we come up with a concept for the exhibition to brand it. Brands reflect our vision as a graphic design program because we are working on reaching out to the community.”

Delving into the Community

With brands on her mind, Nourhan Hassan, a graphic design major and architecture minor, tackled nation branding as the theme of her project. “Nation branding is when governments treat their countries as if they were businesses, creating a strong brand for it to increase investment and attract tourism,” explained Hassan.

Hassan chose to rebrand Egypt around the theme, Egypt Offers. “Egypt has more to offer than its touristic merits,” she explained. Her brand was organized into three main subcategories: fresh produce, industry and services. She designed an emblem for each sector that could be applied for categorization or decorative purposes to help represent the sector and then applied the brand in the form of exhibition stands to show users how to make use of the brand.

While the thread that ties all of the graphic design projects together seems to lie in an urgent desire to make an impact on their societies, moving from one project to another reveals diversity in the ways the individual students think. “We leave an open approach,” said Ismail. “We don’t ask students to focus on just one part of graphic design. It’s very liberal. So you’ll find publication design, fashion and product design, advertising awareness campaign or user interface projects.”

Observing poor treatment of children with autism in public areas around Egypt, Rania Morshedy, double major in graphic design and integrated marketing communication, chose to address this often ignored population in her project. She created PlayPecs, an educational card game, intended to make children with autism more comfortable in social situations that often occur in school. “In Egypt, we don’t have educational materials or games for children with autism,” said Morshedy. “We get most of the materials from abroad. I wanted to create a game that is tailored especially for children with autism and that fulfills their needs.”

In a similar effort to bring to light overlooked citizens in society, Alya Mosharrafa, a senior majoring in graphic design and minoring in Arab and Islamic civilizations, decided to learn more about the lack of conveniently priced, locally produced shoes. Seeing a need in the community, she decided to design affordable and sustainable footwear for nongovernmental organizations to sell to those in need.

The shoes themselves were made of recycled materials, including gift wrapping cloth, plastic bags and canvas sacks, and were handmade by local craftsmen in workshops in Bab Al Shaariya. “This provided an enriching experience for all participants, as the craftsmen were able to experiment with unconventional materials,” said Mosharrafa.

Each project chose to address social issues through different lenses and through different media. The final products ranged from actual products and their branding materials to videos, books and creative art pieces.

Salma Saad Srour, a graphic design major with a minor in architecture, chose to facilitate visits to Wekalet El Balah with a mobile application. “My project aims to enhance visitors’ experience at Wekalet El Balah and let people know more about Egyptian local markets, encouraging them to visit this area as a start,” explained Srour.

The application features a list of shops, locations on a map and nearby historical landmarks to help visitors navigate the market easily. Additionally, the application includes a section aimed at teaching users how to haggle in the market, how to choose fabrics and when it is best to visit.

Malak Shouman, on the other hand, decided to zero in on one store in Zamalek for her project, choosing to address the unique issues of Egyptian retail stores. She focused her case study on one tailor shop in Zamalek whose isolated location in an alley prevented the owner from attracting customers. After drawing up plans to create a store brand – all revolving around a purple suit the owner’s father once made – she implemented her designs and renovated the store, redesigning its layout and creating marketing materials, including a business card in the form of a tag. “The whole point was to use design as a marketing tool for him to reach more people,” said Shouman.” It was all about digging for stories to make this reflect in the brand. Each store has its own story, and this should be reflected in the brand.”

Those visiting and judging the works are aware of the high standards set for these seniors. “This project really teaches you about trial and error,” noted Shouman. “We all made changes based on the feedback we received. We had to be precise about everything we were presenting.”

A culmination of nine months of research and implementation, the graphic design progam invites people from different industries to participate as jury members, simultaneously acting as recruiters as they browse through projects in search of striking and innovative ideas. “We like when our students leave here with their completed projects and are able to enter the market as entrepreneurs,” noted Ismail.

This passion for real-world impact through design translates in conversations with any of these designers, most of whom plan to continue the work they’ve started in this exhibition as they begin their professional careers.