NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 42


Graphic Design and Ethnic Languages in Iran

‏Mehdi Haghshenas

Iran is a multicultural and multi-ethnic country with many diverse languages. The pervasiveness of these languages in contemporary graphic design is the result of the recent attempts to maintain this quality. This essay provides a three-part introduction to the discussion of this topic. Part one addresses the aforementioned presence as a new phenomenon. Part two expands the understanding of this subject matter and part three explains the development of design localization.

The Genesis of Graphic Design Associated with Ethnic Cultures 
The history of graphic design and Iranian culture mainly goes back to the inventions of the regional press, theater posters, and other related printed work such as the publication of books and stamps. However, recently, a universal growing trend has been noticed in this field. As a result, the interaction between graphic designers in different cultural parts of Iran has encouraged a strong relationship between these groups. Both designers and their clients relate to each other by using vernacular language and visual components of folk art of each region. Although these works of art were created as a response to society’s actual needs for graphic design, academic and professional circles of graphic designers have overlooked them. Hence, the concern for this aspect of graphic design (which plays a considerable role in society and within the industry) contributes to the development of Iran’s design community and provides a more in-depth look of this potential. Similar to other formal and professional fields of design, these works are created as a response to the demands and expectations of consumers and targeted audiences. 

The Function of Languages and Dialects in Graphic Design
One of the most prominent and valuable characteristics of Iranian culture is the mother tongue, the native language, which is preserved by a group, community or region to maintain their cultural teachings and literary heritage. The diversity of these languages has resulted in the coexistence of several languages or dialects in one country. This is not exclusive to Iran as it is also observed in other countries such as Germany, Italy, and France. Despite the long history of languages and regional dialects in the works of western designers, this type of expression is relatively new to Iran. A list of work is provided in this paper to showcase the development of Iranian graphic design and the various languages. Some examples include Armenian, Balochi, Azerbaijani Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Gilaki, Luri, and Mazanderani. The Arabic alphabet, commonly used in Iran, is often seen in the listed examples except for Assyrian and Armenian, which have their own alphabets. The provided selections also address a wide range of topics from ancient stories, contemporary poems, and events to the names of brands, representing small and large-sized industries. It is important to note that these examples have altered over time due to changes made by the designers and the clients, and they do not solely belong to the designers residing in the respective regions. Limiting the visibility of these works to only people of the same origin or people speaking the same language limits the actual scope of the designs. There are few instances where populations beyond cultural borders are targeted. This is a missed opportunity because there are potential markets in areas where people speak the same language and there is also potential in areas where different languages are spoken. Since Farsi is Iran’s official and most-spoken language, it is often used in a subheading or as additional information to expand the target audience from a region to an entire country. It also represents the country’s national identity. However, there are some publications that are geared towards the global community, thus pushing designers to use English and use the Latin alphabet.

Local Design and Design Localization 
There is a difference between a local or native design and the localization of a design, the latter being a process of altering and adapting a design to conform to a specific region. However, there are similarities between these two notions. First, they both center on cultures and the role the cultures play in an interaction. Second, the scope of the opportunities of both notions is determined and limited by economic markets and legal regulations. Third, they both expand their boundaries in shifting “from design for a culture to cultural formation and representation”.1 The distinguishing fact between these two concepts is that localization is a form of design translation for introducing a production to a new region, e.g. from a village to a country or continent, and a local design approach does not adapt. Rather, it is born of a regional culture to serve that very culture. In other words, localization is linked to design globalization, which secures the uniformity of cultures, whereas a local design could be considered a culture-based design that promotes and celebrates the local differences and identities. Since “local differences can contribute to the development and success of the global marketing strategies, globalization does not try to eliminate these differences, it also stimulates them”2 and makes them part of its entirety. Furthermore, it could be stated that the increasing growth of graphic design and the contemplation of the bases of identity are the causes of the adoption of such approaches by the customers and designers. There is a need for novel notions that are rarely conceived in previous works. Although, this concept can be considered a rich and valuable one by designers, it can be challenging and destructive if it is touched by ethnic nationalism and if it defines the problem of design as a phenomenon belonging to a race rather than the mass audience instead of solving it. In either case, more attention must be paid to the works of the designers in different parts of Iran. With such a deep history, vast area, and diverse culture, these works can constitute the graphic design prospect of a country.

1Julier, G. (2006). “From Visual Culture to Design Culture”, Design Issues, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Volume 22, No. 1, pp. 64-76.

2Dovey, K. (1999). Framing Places; Mediating power in built form, Routledge: London.

‏Mehdi Haghshenas

(born in 1982) is a designer, author and critic on visual communication and visual culture. He often emphasis is placed on the interdisciplinary studies and activities, and the basis of his work is visual communication and Iranian-Islamic culture and art. Mehdi graduated Master of Visual Communication from Tehran University of Art and is a member of the Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS).

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