I’v been invited by Dubai TV to talk about Brand Strategy’s importance for establishing new business.
I’v been invited by Dubai TV to talk about Brand Strategy’s importance for establishing new business.
In my Master of Design degree, my thesis topic investigated how design can assist in emergency management. I explored how design can be utilized as a strategic and communication tool in governance to preserve livelihood, lower environmental degradation, and reduce property, financial and economic losses. Design—in this context—does not only manifest itself in visual applications, but is also a tool to create innovative and evolving system(s) of strategies, plans and applications.
The Tank: Détourned
In The World’s Armored Fighting Vehicles, a tank is defined as “a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities. Firepower is normally provided by a large-calibre main gun in a rotating turret and secondary machine guns. Heavy armour and all-terrain mobility provide protection for the tank and its crew” (van Senger Und Etterlin, 1960).
Russians have been making a wide range of tanks, of which the Russian tank T-62 is a good example. One of the largest markets for these tanks is the Middle East, Syria in particular. Syria ordered 500 tanks from the Soviet Union in 1973, and 200 from Libya in 1978. In 1982, Syria ordered a further 300 tanks from the Soviet Union (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2011). Thus, as of 2005, Syria had 1,000 T-62s in service (Syria–Army Equipment). Unfortunately, the Syrian regime has been using these and other types of Russian tanks against its own people.
Syria originally ordered these tanks as a defence against its traditional enemy, Israel, which regularly orders US-made M48 Patton tanks. Israel used the M48s in 1976 against another of its neighbouring countries, Jordan, which is also a steady buyer of the M48 Patton tanks. Moreover, M48 Patton tanks were used by the Lebanese Army, the South Lebanon Army and other Lebanese militias in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military expenditure was estimated to be $1,630 billion in 2010, which represents a real-terms increase of 1.3% over 2008 and a 50% increase since 2001. The top five spenders are the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia, and tank manufacturing makes up a sizeable portion of their investment. For instance, in 2010, the Syrian military’s expenditure was US$2.2 billion, Israel’s was US$13 billion, Jordan’s was US$1.3 billion, and Lebanon’s was US$1.5 billion (SIPRI, 2011).
The tank has played a dominant role in the visual literature that has been produced since the start of the Syrian uprising. It represents the military force of the ruling regime, and many artists, especially caricaturists, have made fun of the Syrian tanks being used against the Syrian civilians instead of against Syria’s traditional enemy, Israel.
Last September, a Red Crescent volunteer in the city of Homs was killed by a bullet inside an ambulance while he was helping some injured people (Reuters News Agency, 2012). This incident posed a question: what if tanks were ambulances? What if armoured live-saving vehicles were let into the effected neighbourhoods of Homs instead of armoured vehicles of destruction?
What if the tank is détourned to be a tracked, armoured vehicle which combines operational mobility and tactical defensive capabilities designed to save lives? Heavy armour and all-terrain mobility provides protection for the tank and its crew.
The production cost for a Russian T-62 is estimated at around US$4 million, and the cost for a US M48 Patton is around US$5.5 million. Conversely, a brand new GMC G4500 Braun Ambulance is priced at US$129,900.
The idea for this détournement was conceived after looking at the current situation in Syria, which includes the deployment of hundreds of military tanks into Syrian cities. These tanks are not only destroying properties and homes, they are also wounding and killing many civilians. In the midst of this situation, no ambulances are being allowed into the destroyed neighbourhoods to save the lives of the injured. Moreover, the wounded people are not allowed to go to hospitals but instead are taken to field clinics that offer only basic supplies and equipment.
For this project, two tanks were chosen – the Russian-made M-62, and the American-made M48 Patton. As explained earlier, these two types of tanks are very “common” in Middle East countries. The “visual distortion” (Debord & Wolman, 1965) of the détourned tanks was twofold: first, the removal of the guns, and second, the painting of the tank in white and red, similar to ambulances. One of the tanks is détourned to be a Red Cross ambulance and the second a Red Crescent. The cross and crescent represent the two major Syrian religious affiliations – Christianity and Islam, respectively.
The pictures used in the backdrop were chosen from a Syrian context. The one in the centre shows three Russian-made tanks in the city of Homs. The other two pictures show injured people getting treatment in temporary field clinics.
In conclusion, the aim of the détournement project was to ask a simple question, yet the answer is not so simple: instead of investing in killing machines, like tanks, would it not be better to invest in products that contribute to the growth and healing of humanity, like ambulances?
Debord, G., & Wolman, G. J. (1965). A User’s Guide to Détournement. Retrieved March 13, 2102, from Bureau of Public Secrets: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/detourn.htm
Reuters News Agency. (2012, January 2012). Red Crescent official shot dead in Syria—ICRC. Retrieved March 7, 2012, from The Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1121402—red-crescent-official-shot-dead-in-syria-icrc
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (2011, April 11). Background paper on SIPRI military expenditure data, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2012, from SIPRI: http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/factsheet2010
Syria—Army Equipment. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2012, from Global Security: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/syria/army-equipment.html
von Senger Und Etterlin. F.M. (!960). The world’s armored fighting vehicles. London: Macdonald & Co. Ltd.
Communication Strategy Framework
A partial outcome of my current research is a communication platform. While I was mapping the communication strategy that I wanted to establish, I thought it might be interesting to visualize the framework of any communication strategy in general. It is another way to comprehend the main components of such a strategy, and how they are connected to each other.
Throughout the past fifteen years of my life, I have changed my place of residence several times, moving to and from various cities in five countries. Because of this constant exposure to other ways of living and perceiving life, cultural heritage and dimension pique my interest. In particular, I am fascinated by how these factors formulate the identity of a specific community and how this identity is reflected in their individual human behaviour. My observations of this phenomenon have also emerged from my studies in design, having developed the skill to view the relationships between and amongst those communities as well as various aspects of the design disciplines and their artefacts.
Since coming to Canada, I have paid significant attention to understanding cultural factors within this context. Surprisingly, this task has not been easy. Therefore, it has been necessary for me to delve deeper into this dilemma to try to analyse not only the cultural factors but also why it has been difficult for me to define what the Canadian cultural identity is.
One reason that came to mind is that Canadian culture may yet be in formation and therefore more difficult to discern, Canada being a relatively young country. I come from an old-world country (Syria), where the cultural identity is very distinct. I also thought the official attempt by government on all levels to blend British and French heritage and language might be affecting the development of a distinctly Canadian culture, or that the struggle between North American (i.e., American) aspects and European ones may be detrimentally impacting the formation of ‘Canadianism’.
In addition, what adds another layer of complexity to the cultural mix in Canada is the increasing number of immigrants who come from the Far and Middle East. These immigrants carry with them deeply ingrained cultural beliefs that, generally speaking, are in direct conflict with Western or North American ones. However, in contemplating this factor, I was rewarded with my first insight into genuine generic Canadian culture – that Canadian policies respect others’ cultures and strive to accommodate them. This approach is manifested in a multicultural dimension that is so generic, it is almost invisible or loses its distinct feature. Nevertheless, this generic nature could indeed be a distinct feature that differentiates Canadian cultural identity from other countries.
As well, there is often a clash between second (or third or more) generation immigrant Canadians and first-generation immigrants or new Canadians. The first group can define the Canadian cultural identity clearly and claim this identity is distinct and recognizable worldwide, while the second group tends to side with the claim that Canadian cultural is ambiguous. Here is where the temporal factor, amongst others, may come into play. This factor is reflected in the comparison new Canadians carry with them, between their home country’s cultural heritage and beliefs, and the new ones they are experiencing in Canada. Moreover, new Canadians can also be considered almost external observers to the Canadian context and are more objective in their argument, while “old” Canadians are emotionally attached to the country and therefore render judgements that are more subjective.
This argument is still ongoing and is reflected in the decision-making activity of design strategies, which then trickles down to design application and artefacts. Personally, I keep questioning the nature of the Canadian cultural identity in my design practice, but I wonder how my reflection on this subject matter will be changed were I to spend another five years in Canada?
In Love/Hate, Johnny Hardstaff various questions regarding the roles of graphic design and designers in relation to politics, with some of the questions relating graphic design to social reform and self-expression. In my opinion, the article is polemical, which is not surprising considering that the author is a filmmaker as well as a graphic designer and thus is likely more prone to demanding an interactive and visceral audience response. However, that Hardstaff calls on graphic designers and designers to become engaged in a specific subject or cause is, to me, not only unrealistic but illogical. What are the factors that frame the practice of a designer? And what is the reason to frame it in a specific domain in the first place?
One of the distinctive characteristics of design practice is the questioning capacity. Designers question everything, from facts to their own practices. Is it necessary for them to stick to one kind of practice or deal with one type of interest? For me, design is my practice, and this practice does not live in its own world; it is interconnected and influenced by my interests and needs. These interests and needs change according to other factors, including the passage of time. Accordingly, the outcome of my design practice changes as well. With this in mind, why would I want to force myself to design for political issues or for social change if I do not feel the need or ‘call’ to?
I am certainly not questioning here whether design in general or graphic design in particular is able or effective enough to deliver a message or to act as a catalyst for change. There are designers who spend most their design practice advertising luxurious brands, seeking to break into the glamorous world of fame and rewards, and suddenly they become agents for social change. This sea-change in their design direction occurred because they encountered a situation or a fact that prompted them to change their outlook, or because of a change in their body of knowledge or interests; it was not artificially imposed.
I believe that designers in general are blossoms that become boundary-spanners as they mature. Their boundary-spanning is the result of them being exposed to different design disciplines, as well as to other discourses or issues. The design process in general incorporates many skills, such as analytical thinking, researching, defining problems and solving them in accordance with human factors and behaviour. Therefore, designers could become boundary-spanners between logic and magic or between art and science. This, I believe, is what differentiates design from art: design is not a form of pure self-expression but is rather a form of response to the context or one of its aspects, whether political, social or anything else. To superimpose a cause onto this response is to change the very essence of what design is.
Hardstaff , J (2010). Love/hate In C. Davies & M. Parrinder (Eds.), Limited language: rewriting design (pp. 41-46). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag AG.
David , C., & Parrinder, M. (2010). Base and superstructure In C. Davies & M. Parrinder (Eds.), Limited language: rewriting design (pp. 41-48). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag AG.
Homs—The Capital of the Syrian Revolution
I was born and raised in a small Syrian city called Homs. Although it is the third largest city in the country, it made me feel ashamed every time I travelled to any of the major cities close by, like Damascus, Beirut or even Aleppo. One of the reasons for my shame is historic, as everybody in the Levant region traditionally makes fun of what they call “Homsies” (inhabitants of Homs). No one knows the reason behind this phenomenon, but Homsies are the butt-end of all kinds of jokes that feature Homsies’ foolishness and naivety, much like “Newfies” are often the butt-end of jokes in Canada.
The second reason why I used to be ashamed of my hometown is that the inhabitants of Homs are considered insane. There is a myth about how they celebrate their insanity on Wednesday of every week, which is why Wednesday is well recognized in the region as the “Day of the Homsies.”
The third and most important reason why I was once ashamed of Homs is the nature of the city itself. It is a relatively small city, with no aesthetic distinction. Its buildings’ architectural features are below average. There are no entertainment activities such as theatres, music concerts, or even shopping malls, and no nice restaurants like those in the capital, Damascus. Because most of the inhabitants of Homs belong to the middle or lower classes, life in this city was generally boring, similar to its image and physical appearance. In brief, for a long time, Homs was an analogy for foolishness, naivety, insanity and (material and mental) poverty.
However, over the past few months, this has radically changed. Homs, the little ridiculed city in the middle of Syria, has been featured in almost every major mass media channel not only in the Middle East, but also in the rest of the world. It’s been referred to as the centre or the “capital” of the uprising revolution against the long dictatorship in Syria. It’s been brutally hit by heavy bombing for many weeks and still, in an attempt by the ruling regime to halt the continuous demonstrations, but in vain. Thus far, ‘crazy’ Homs has sacrificed at least 587 of its inhabitants, who were killed by the pro-regime security forces between the middle of April 2011 and the end of August 2011 (Human Rights Watch, 2011). In spite of all of this, the demonstrators are getting more determined to achieve their aims of freedom and democracy.
I am in agreement with what David Phillips wrote in his essay, Analogous Cities: “The complexity of cities makes them difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand. We prefer, instead, to understand their images.” I realized recently, that although I had spent 24 years of my life in the city of Homs, I had never tried to understand what lies behind its dull walls, or underneath its unsophisticated architectural features. Only now, not only me, but tens of millions of others in the Middle East are referring to Homs as the capital of the Syrian Revolution. Homs finally got its dignity back and has become a byword not for foolishness but for freedom and democracy.
It never occurred to me how deceitful Homs’ dull appearance is and how everything in the city “conceals something else” (Calvino, 1974). From now on, I’m not referring to myself by any other word than Homsy, because despite all of the analogies this term carries, the past few months have finally made me proud to be one.
Calvino, I. (1974). Invisible cities; città invisibili. english. New York: Harcourt Inc.
Human Rights Watch. (2011). ’We Live as in War’: Crackdown on Protesters in the Governorate of Homs. Washington, DC: United States of America. Retrieved from
Phillips, D. (2010). Analogous Cities In C. Davies & M. Parrinder (Eds.), Limited language: rewriting design (pp. 207-214). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag AG.
Three Social Spaces
Henri Lefebvre emphasised that in human society all space is social. Social space becomes thereby a metaphor for the very experience of social life. In this sense “social space spans the dichotomy between public and private space”. Lefebvre adds: “social space contributes a relational rather than an abstract dimension”.
Cognitive space uses the likeness of position in two, three or higher dimensional space to explain and classify thoughts, memories and ideas. Each human being has her own cognitive space. “Cognitive” comes from the word cognition which refers to the process of becoming aware, thoughtful and knowledgeable. The proportions of this cognitive space reckon on information, training and in ally on a person’s awareness.
A cognitive space consists of two elements: the social element, the actors involved and the cognitive element, they share cognitive matter. Actors are incorporated in numerous spaces concurrently and during social interaction in one space.
I defined 3 of my social spaces—mutual love, cognitive, and influential—and visualized them. These virtual spaces represent my relationships with the actors in these spaces.
In his article Boredom, b’dum, b’dum…, David Crowley is asking if boredom could be a way for people to get out of the overwhelming clutter of communication they deal with in their daily life. Moreover he is asking how people will know what they are missing if they don’t take the time to slow down or stay still for a while.
Crowley is referring back to what Siegfried Kracauer wrote in 1929 about bombarding communication and wants to apply it in the 21st century. Although Crowley states that nowadays “pop commodities are more aggressive” (Crowley, 2010) than they were in 1929, but people are becoming more aggressive as well as the time goes.
People are immune to a high degree against this visual noise or communication clutter. They developed an internal screening system against the visual mess that they face daily, everywhere. They see what they want to see, or what matches their interests or concerns. Every communication message that doesn’t fit their circle of interests will be discarded automatically. A simplified example of this is the “junk” mail that people get daily in their mailbox. First, there are many who clearly state “No Junk Mail” on their mailboxes. This illustrates how they refused to be exposed to information clutter, and they’ve chosen boredom. Second, those who get junk mail, spend no more than a few seconds to sort out what goes to garbage bins, what might be interesting, and what definitely matters to them. Those people don’t look at each piece of paper thoroughly to assess its importance for them. They are used to the visual forms of those flyers or direct mailers, and they can instantly decide what to keep and what to throw away.
The creator of those communication media, or more precisely their designers, carry the major responsibility of the visual clutter their product is causing. This is why Crowley explored the possibility of graphic design operating “as a system to slow down perception, to create silences in the noisy media world?” (Crowley, 2010) Although, graphic design is not responsible or capable of resolving this problem on its own, without involving other design disciplines in the solution. Collaborations of multidisciplinary design teams will lead to better communication media. Media that is more effective, less expensive, more environmentally-friendly, and reach the core of their target audience without bothering others. This formula is not limited to flyers and direct mailers, but applies to every other communication tool or application ranging from TV commercials to way-finding systems.
This is the essence of design in general: to design well-though, integrated design systems—in this case communication systems. The critical attributes of these systems should be useful, in terms of content, functional and effective, as to fulfill the purpose they’ve been created for. Finally, they should be desirable. To achieve the latter attribute, a thorough understanding of the design problem and its target audience should have been established. This will lead to creating pieces of information or communication that their receivers would consider them and comprehend, rather than ignore.
Crowley, C. (2010). Boredom, b’dum, d’dum… In C. Davies & M. Parrinder (Eds.), Limited language: rewriting design (pp. 133-134). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag AG.
David , C., & Parrinder, M. (2010). Boredom to freedom In C. Davies & M. Parrinder (Eds.), Limited language: rewriting design (pp. 133-141). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag AG.