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Neshan 38


Is There “A Rich Background”? On Graphic Design Books Published in Iran

Meraj Ghanbari

During the past half-century, the publication of graphic design books in Iran has faced several ebbs and flows. After a thorough search (via libraries, the field, the Internet, and other study methods), 320 books were identified and reviewed for writing the following article. However, it is worth noting that The bibliography of Iranian graphic design, edited by Hussein Chanani (2004, Honar-e Iran Publications), has already inspected the same subject up to 1997, and is the only published reference in this field. In the present study, the reviewed books are categorized into three distinct groups: picture books, original authored books, and translations. In the following parts, a number of these books are selected and briefly introduced as successful examples in terms of quality, significance, and influence.

Picture books    
A picture book can be a portfolio of works by a designer, an exhibition catalogue, or a thematic collection. Some of the reviewed cases contain only pictures, while others are accompanied by one or more introductions, articles, notes, etc. The art of graphic design in Iran edited by Morteza Momayez (1974) is the country’s first graphic design book and belongs to a series published by the Supreme Council of Culture and Art which intended to introduce Iranian art to other nations. In 1976, the groundwork was laid for the establishment of the Tehran Syndicate of Graphic Designers. The exhibition of Fifty Years of Iranian Graphic Design held in the Mehrshah Gallery was one of the first attempts to formalize the syndicate; although, the ambition was never fulfilled. The event’s catalogue included the works of about 300 graphic designers, cartoonists, and calligraphers with different mindsets and visual qualities. The works were accompanied by Morteza Momayez’s introduction that is considered as one of the first written examples describing the graphic design profession. As Momayez explains the concept of graphic design in the beginning of the introduction, “However, today, the art of graphic design has adopted a broad concept; since its applications in today’s society is highly diverse and boundless. Today, the art of graphic design is a means for informing consumers about the quality of the subject in use. A small portion of the subjects in use are commodities, while the majority has an educational, informatory quality, such as all sorts of human intellectual activities that are illustrated through images.” In terms of historical documentation, this catalogue is one of the most remarkable records in the historical path of the graphic design profession. The Iranian Poster Art Exhibition was mounted in 1977 in Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, in the midst of the social turmoil before the Revolution. Two years after that, the First Exhibition of Asian Art of Graphic Design was held at the same place. The picture books of these two events became particularly credible, since they documented the professional works of the designers of the time. Logos (the collection of logos designed by Morteza Momayez, Chahar Rang Publications, 1983) was the first volume of the series dedicated to the works of graphic designers and was the direct and indirect educational resource for designers in this field through the years. In 1985, the collection of posters by Morteza Momayez, titled Poster design, was published by Wilhelm Art Publishers in Germany, supplemented by an introduction and an interview by Firouzeh Saberi. In the interview, Momayez comments: “The freedom available to Western designers does not exist at all for us. He/she can at least easily talk about human, history, law, ethics, ideology, government, classes and groups of people, art, and many other issues in his/her country. But we must always be cautious about everything and deal with problems as indirectly and obliquely as possible so that no misunderstanding happens. ‘Caution’ constantly aggravates the situation.” In addition, he writes in the introduction, “Original ideas must be visualized with original practical techniques. The level of a designer’s thought and action must be as coherent as possible, despite the professional deficiencies and lack of technical facilities. Such actions develop and raise the spiritual and cultural needs of the society.” The significance and educational functionality of this book in the field of poster design and its publication abroad multiplied its importance. In 1988, the first Biennial of Iranian Graphic Designers in Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art smoothed the way to the convention of graphic designers after 1976. Unlike the past, in this period, there was no integrated group for holding exhibitions and therefore Momayez asked Ali-Asghar Mohtaj, the art director of Soroush Publications, to publish this exhibition’s book with the facilities of his publication house. This book well depicts the thoughts and artistic level of the graphic designers at that time. Book production became more serious in the 1990s with the beginning of cultural and economic renewals in the country, the development of educational centers, and, most importantly, the introduction of modern printing and publishing equipment. The most salient feature of the development of graphic design in this decade is perhaps the introduction of computer to this field -a factor that also led to an important transformation in the process of book production. Previously, book preparation and publication entailed a lot of time and the application of manual methods. The foundation of the Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) in 1997 was the decade’s most crucial event for those involved in graphic design. The personal collections of a few designers are among the major publications of the nineties, in addition to the books of four design biennials which clearly demonstrate the qualitative transformations of the works of designers in this period due to their regular publication intervals. In the 2000s, the increase in the number of publishers, the expansion of the Society’s activities, the growth in the number of designers and clients, and the development of communications led to the duplication of the need for books. The most important visual book which is accompanied by texts might be Iranian graphic design I, the first volume of the selected works of Iranian graphic designers who were members of IGDS. After two years of information gathering, the book was published in 2001 with the efforts of the IGDS publishing committee. In addition to the pictorial part, the collection also contains a timeline of the Iranian graphic design written by Hussein Chanani which turned into an important reference for research and historiography with all its weaknesses and strengths. In the meantime, the activities of The Fifth Color and the books it published through the years of its activity cannot be overlooked. The books and catalogues which document the exhibitions mounted by this group precisely illustrate the formation process of different trends in Iranian typography at its zenith. In the 2000s, the Fifth Color had a significant influence in introducing the younger generation. Vitrine is the name of a pictorial-research book edited by Majid Kashani and Parisa Tashakori (Mirdashti Publications, 2014). In addition to exhibiting the works of a hundred graphic designers who are active in the field of book cover design, Vitrine contains four Persian articles by Mohammad Reza Riazi, Aydin Aghdashloo, Ebrahim Haghighi, and Bijan Sayfouri and one English article by Steven Heller which discuss the history of book cover design in Iran. Vitrine is somehow the only relatively comprehensive written-visual source about Iranian book cover design and designers and has become an important reference for writing theses and articles due to its significance.

Original authored books
Since visual arts are always disregarded by researchers and writers in Iran, the domain is filled with numerous shortcomings, particularly in the field of original books. The books written by Iranian authors have a significantly higher influence compared to those translated from other languages. However, remarkable examples among the available works are scarce. Experience talks is a collection the essays by Morteza Momayez from 1966 to 2003 edited by Hussein Chanani (Did Publications, 2003). Apart from graphic design, the book discusses movies, painting, travel log, and other subjects. Dabireh edited by Reza Abedini (Nazar Publications, 2009) is the highly invaluable collective work of a number of Iranian graphic designers in an effort to reach the most correct answers to questions about handwriting and typography. Neshan-e Ordibehesht is a collection of original and translated articles by IGDS which is published in four volumes to date. IGDS gives close attention to the annual publication of this book in order to promote the culture of producing theoretical references. One of the successful original authored examples is the collections containing An introduction to graphic design (2010), Typography (2011), and Illustration (2014) by Farshid Mesghali which are published by Nazar Publications. These books demonstrate efforts to delineate the basis of these three topics from the viewpoint of an Iranian artist and designer. In this collection, the writer tries to outline the framework and foundations of the discipline based on its conditions in Iran. In the beginning of An introduction to graphic design the writer says, “This book is an introduction to defining and explaining the concept of design in general and graphic design in particular. Despite the increasing interest of graphic design devotees, the field and its related definitions have theoretically remained quite isolated and narrow.” Garteh book of the year I is a series of essays published by Garteh analytical-research website (Aban Publications, 2012) in order to fill the huge gap of reading and writing among graphic designers. Writers of the book believe that the community is in need of knowing more about the theoretical issues of graphic design, in addition to gaining visual experiences. Due to the diversity of its theoretical topics, Garteh has become an important reference. The footnote for signs written by Massoud Sepehr (Hermes Publications, 2014) is another successful case in this category. The significance of the book is largely indebted to the introduction of semiotics to graphic designers. Through the book, Sepehr explains why having a general intellectual background about this science is useful for graphic designers. Then, he notes the keywords and common definitions in this field and, finally, instructively recounts the story of fifteen signs in his professional works and informs the readers about their intellectual and practical ups and downs. An introduction to the history of graphic design in Iran written by Parviz Tanavoli (Nazar Publications, 2014) includes the works of some of the first illustrators of printed books in Iran. Combining pictures and texts, this book represents a clear overview of the field’s history in Iran. As the writer notes, “This book must have been published many years ago, so that students could become familiar with the pioneers of the domain and would not –incorrectly– trace the origin of Iranian graphic design back to forty or fifty years ago.” The six-volume series of The basics of specialized discussions on graphic design in visual communication (Fatemi Publications, 2016) intends to improve the theoretical knowledge and practical skills of graphic design students and is published under the supervision of Massoud Sepehr. What fundamentally distinguishes the books of this series from other books in the field is that the common or traditional educational issues and viewpoints are revised and then formulated and written according to the present-day needs. In each volume, one writer discusses an issue (graphic design for web and virtual environment, environmental graphic design, designing letters for Persian fonts, motion graphic design, advertising graphic design, and analysis of graphic works).

Translated Books
Translating books is perhaps the simplest, yet most burdensome ways to transfer experiences and thoughts from one culture and language to the other. The first edition of A history of graphic design (1983) by Phillip B. Meggs (translated by Nahid Azam Farasat and Gholam-Hussein Fatholloah Nouri, SAMT Publications, 2005) is known as a comprehensive reference. Through this voluminous book, the writer describes the important events in the course of graphic design history. The unique prominence of this book stems from its different translation compared to other resources of graphic design history. Meggs’s book is an important educational reference in many universities and design schools through the world. Grid systems in graphic design by Josef Müller-Brockmann (translated by Daraj Haghi, Did Publications, 2007) focuses on grid principles and the first printed works based on these rules which spread in Switzerland after World War II. Among the books focused on this topic, Müller-Brockmann’s work better clarifies the importance of grid for designers with the aid of its practical exercises. Design literacy: Understanding graphic design by Steven Heller and Karen Pomeroy, translated by Ali Rashidi (Darvag No Publications, 2012) introduces and studies particular works of graphic design and explains their influence in the entire history of this field and in the general culture. Within ninety three scientific and thematic lessons, the book tells the story and describes the circumstances of the creation of works that have played a prominent role in the evolutionary path of graphic design. What is graphic design? by Quentin Newark is a book of graphic design theory, translated by Marjan Zahedi (Meshki Publications, 2015). The first section, titled “What is graphic design?” discusses ten topics and the second section, “Anatomy,” reviews over twenty other topics. The writer focuses on the nature and meaning of graphic design with an educational approach.
    Lastly, it must be noted that the conditions of the publication of graphic design books in Iran reveal that trend of producing visual catalogues as books has overtaken the other two categories. Going through these books, it becomes obvious that book production and publication is one of the most neglected aspects of graphic design. Today, with the expansion of the graphic design family in Iran, we still suffer from the shortage of Persian references for teaching the basis of design and the need for writing and translating books in this community is strongly felt. On the other hand, the emergence of digital books and the high cost of preparing and publishing paper books have incredibly transformed the archive of written documents. There were also a few other significant books among the studied cases; however, the inadequate space and the vastness of the dimensions of this topic did not allow further discussion of other cases and only some of the most important ones were introduced.

Chanani, H. (2004). The bibliography of Iranian graphic design. Tehran: Honar-e Iran.
Iranian Graphic Designers’ Society (IGDS). (2001). Iranian graphic design I. Tehran: Darvag No.
Mesghali, F. (2010). An introduction to graphic design. Tehran: Nazar.
Momayez, M. (1976). Fifty years of Iranian graphic design. Tehran: Mehrshah Gallery.
Momayez, M. (1985). Poster design. Germany: Wilhelm.
Tanavoli, P. (2014). The history of graphic design in Iran. Tehran: Nazar.


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