Graphic Design intercultural: Iran

In a series called “Graphic design intercultural” starting off with Iran I want to tell about my experiences as a Designer working in different cultures so that we can broaden our professional horizons.

Please see the gallery. It contains a selection of nice Iranian Graphic Design samples. Of course, it is only a selection so it gives only a hint at the immense variety of fabulous pieces that exist.

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“Iran ????!!?!?!?!?! Are you insane? ”

I hear this question almost daily before my departure. Misunderstanding, mistrust, fear. But how is it there, really, where noone wants to go? After a few years as a designer in Germany, I am at the age where most people are either becoming successful or having children. I make my decision: Get out in the world, broaden my horizons. It’s now or never. But where do I go?

After a long internal debate, my mind settles on a long-standing invitation from an Iranian designer friend. I am always welcome I think, ‘Why not now?’

Apart from what the media serves me every day, I know nothing about the country, its culture or its people. Its time to make my own judgment. A few calls, a trip to the embassy in Frankfurt, and, voila, I’m in Tehran.

Since I have already worked as a freelancer in Germany, I’m not necessarily bound to any particular place. Through my friend I am lucky to quickly get in touch with the Iranian creative scene.

The Islamic Republic of Iran: politically unique. The country’s logo: also unique given its simplicity, which contrasts sharply with the usual pattern and playfulness of Iranian design.

Incredibly warmly and hospitably welcomed to my new home, I walk through the streets of the city of Tehran, home to 20 million, and see lights. No, not from LSD in my Chai, but from the glow of Neon signs along the road. Usually reserved for certain establishments in Germany; here neon blue, red and green lights dominate the scene. Everything is blinking and flashing in similar fonts and standard sizes, yet seems anything but standardized thanks to the dislike for levels in this country. I am inspired by the unusual appearance of the ever-present Arabic script. On this street, I see no posters, no advertising spaces, no city lights and no billboards. The few billboards i see are painted with governmental religious motifs. They show martyrs, imams, white doves, and stylized rainbows.

On the next road I see my first Billboard. Wow: The new Nissan. The copy says: the new Nissan. The picture shows the new Nissan. Hmm. Did I overlook something? No, there it is: the good old Black in front of hut. Unexpectedly to me, he would cross my way often in the Islamic Republic.

After a few days in the city, I notice that advertisements for wrinkle cream are done with peaches and for “Always” with roses instead of women. That’s where boundaries make for creativity. There is more advertising than I initially thought – unfortunately they are – except for a few positive examples, such as the charity organization MAHAK – mostly idea-less and product-oriented.

I wonder where posters from concerts, etc. can be found. At a young, creative-scene party i am invited by a new friend to a graphic design exhibition. Reserved in Germany for famous designers only, I find that here exhibitions are common even for ordinary designers.

A few days later I am on my way to the exhibition. On the way, I see a surreal ROSHD-Rice poster hanging on a bridge, with photos of babies, elephants, rice, parrots and eggs that advertises for basmati rice. All images are scaled to one size – copy doesn’t exist. Photoshop can be bought at any corner for 5 U.S. dollars.

After 1.5 hours in a 35-year-old IranKhodro taxi – only 3 blocks down the road – I finally arrive, my eyes feeling happy. The posters that I see shine full with a sense of typography, color and form. The to-me-unknown designer shows poster work on individual words using old calligraphic styles. He mixes this ancient Persian art form with modern reproduction techniques and skillfully uses the results in a minimalist environment. It reminds me of art.

By this time I start to understand that a really clear demarcation between art and design does not exist here. Through a friend I am invited to give a lecture for professional designers at VIJE – college for visual communication in Tehran. I am happy and want to include the topic ‘art/design’ in my talk. Even the discussion after the presentation shows that both are likely to be mixed up. Many young, talented, and open-minded designers are present. I’m surprised.

In the following weeks, I see lots of exciting and inspiring posters and book layouts. In terms of corporate design, most designs lack strategy. In general, neither systematic nor constant logo-work or CD-Implementation  are anywhere to be found.

Wonderful patterns, great calligraphic influences, inspiring mythological material, but often a lack of concept. Thats how I experience Iranian graphic design after some time in the country – with a penchant for playfulness, drawing inspiration from the depth of cultural traditions and a strong love for experimentation.

My first projects come in time: a brochure, a few button designs and two ads. I open Illustrator – textedit – Copy – Paste – et voila – But only almost. The text box displays a huge collection of rectangles. Hmm, oh yes, what was that, Arabic writing. How about Unicode, etc.? In textedit everything looks fine. A friend shows me that I need Illustrator Middle East which basically is my Illustrator plus a “From-right-to-left text-writing tool”. A few installations later I can begin. Despite a language course at the University of Tehran, working with typography is hard. Situations such as: How do I select – oh, must be from right to left – why do these damn arrow keys always move in the opposite direction – or oh, the cover must be on the back are common in everyday life.

In the coming months the ultra-slow Internet, the continually collapsing mobile network and the frequent power outages make work hard. When I meet Reza Abedini, a famous Iranian designer and ask him he only retortedly says: “This is Iran – expect the unexpected.”

I leave his incense and cigarettes smelling office, which is full of western design books and eastern sources of inspiration, and go on my way gathering new impressions. It seems like there is infinite scope for them in the land of Hafez and Co. Nothing is perfect or predictable, which makes life here exciting.


  1. says

    I mean the”bild15″,the red Alphebit makes me feel it looks like blood!The blood Alphebit is bleeding.I don’t know why i have this feeling.
    Today i saw your web-site again,and it made me remember when i was in Iran,a group of young gils said to me:hi,this is blackboard!I felt pain in my heart…

  2. admin says

    ah, now i see what you mean by blood …
    All the images that you see with the article are made by iranian designers and not by me :-) as it is about iranian graphic design and to give people outside Iran an impression of their Design world. Their names are in the lower left corners of the opening pop ups when you click on an image.