Modeled after a government agency with five distinct departments and exploring graphic design’s relationship to political and societal mores across the world, designing the identity and website for the inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial in the United Arab Emirates involved researching ways to both embrace and subvert conventional bureaucratic forms, as well as forms arising from simple mass production.
After exploring many options ranging from governmental seals (too obvious) to department names that branched from the main title (too abstract), the idea of using Friz Quadrata arose. While no longer even close to being in fashion in contemporary design circles, it nevertheless retains a sort of hidden ubiquity in the everyday — particularly in the UAE, an important consideration. It can be found on everything from governmental letterhead to pawn shop signage, both a remnant of the past and also a default option today for many mass-produced goods.
When set with care and paired with novel graphic approaches (a dynamic set of frames, a bold color palette), it once again comes to life — unexpected, but strangely familiar.
The website pairs Friz with Pica, monospaced and typewriter-inspired in another nod to the government aesthetic. The line between the two languages on the site is blurred by not offering a simple language toggle link, but rather a slider, randomly positioned at first, that can be used to rotate one or the other into view as if two sides of the same canvas, with the Arabic logo at some points paired with the English and vice versa.
The content of the website was designed and developed to be largely unstructured and freeform, in line with the sprawling and complicated nature of the biennial, with the recognition that the team of designers involved would create a cohesive patchwork reflecting the themes of the initiative.
I haven’t touched even the most basic elements of setting Arabic type in any meaningful way that’s ready for visibility and production outside of this collaboration, but took it as an opportunity to learn and work with a team of fellow designers and friends halfway across the globe that do.