The Art of logo design, “the science of branding”
Al Mohtaraf design house just published a booklet with a selection of logos throughout its history of more than 3 decades. The booklet starts with an interview on the experience of logo design and visual identity.
It is such a moving experience, to present one logo design to a demanding client, and watch it getting approved. This is a new success in getting one single logo design presented and approved. The logo is for the fortieth anniversary emblem of the governmental institute in charge of the Kingdoms two vast industrial cities, Jubail and Yanbu. I will have it posted once it is officially announced.
In our design company (www.mohtaraf.com) I have been lobbying for a policy of developing a single logo for a branding job. No options. To my mind a designer by definition, is someone who comes out with mainly one single design, to address one concept, or one entity. With this focus and determination, I believe,he or she, will be better able to hit the mark. The designers best resources of imagination, analysis, and experience come into play. I did not succeed enough times, to make this a rule. But enough times to prove its wisdom.
Actually this approach need not apply only on logos, but other main design
tasks, such as an anniversary trophy, a custom designed calendar, or even
a type design. It simply means, that if design is an idea, then once you find
the good ‘penetrating’ idea, there you are. Actually when you do succeed
in coming up with THE design, you will have no stomach to do another.
In some cases the client will complain. Sometimes the client complains even
if we present several logos, and asks for more. But more than once we were able
to explain our ‘one option’ approach, and the client was responsive. Of course,
this approach has a backup contingency plan: if the single design is disapproved
it’s dumped, and not defended. We take it that we were unable to ‘read’ the
the identity, and what it stands for. And start from scratch. But it’s another fresh start.
When I started this company, alMohtaraf around three decades ago, I presented myself
with one logo and approved it. It’s the same flower that appears on our most recent version, but the petals were CMYK !
Here it is, and some other such successes too.
Jubeil & Yanbu the two vast industrial cities of Saudi Arabia host the majority of non-oil directly related industries in the country
celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of the managing institute: The Royal Commission of Jubeil & Yanbu.
How did almohtaraf begin?
We started in the KSA in the 80’s, when construction was booming. We designed the Binladen group’s identity in 1989. True to the original identity, our work expressed the evolution of the corporation. It is still in use today.
But you don’t need a big client to have a big dream. Some of our best early identity work are spontaneous and fluid expressions for rather small clients. Almohtaraf has always had a holistic approach to identity development.
Thirty years ago, identity guidelines and extensive applications were not common in the region. Since the beginning, Almohtaraf developed many of these, both for new and existing identities.
What’s the secret behind a great identity?
Great identities are built on an idea, a feeling, a state, a story.
They feel like they couldn’t be otherwise.
An original, expressive idea is key.
A closer look always reveals the enthusiasm that goes into our work. It’s one of the most important drivers at almohtaraf.
When the idea is strong, the core identity is strong, and powerful branding comes naturally. Sometimes the idea is so strong that we present just one identity concept. In most cases, the design is approved.
For themar, which means fruit, the idea came from envisioning the three dots on the ‘tha’ as a heap of fruit.
Once you have a powerful idea, how do you bring it to life?
It varies. Calligraphy is central to Arabic culture.
Through powerful calligraphy we can create a ‘conversation’ around an idea.
Nai, which is also the name of a typical Arab flute, is a music shop in Syria. Their identity suggests the shapes and strings of an oud, another typical instrument. The design also expresses musical flow.
So the nature of the business is referenced in many ways, both by the name and the visual identity. We were commissioned to design the identity for the fourth edition of the ‘Annual Conference of Arab Thought’.
We went beyond the brief and proposed a new name: ‘fikr 4’, ‘thought 4’. We created a brand where there was only a name. It’s in use ever since.
What kind of challenges have you faced developing identities in the Middle East?
Major Arab corporations need to address Western and Middle Eastern audiences.
We believe that identities need to cater to Western standards as well as Arab heritage. This comes naturally to us at Almohtaraf, because it is part of our own identity.
We also have a perfect balance of intellectual and creative skills to handle these projects. For example:
Initials as names are common in the West, but not in Arabic. Although we believe it is too much of a compromise to Western practice, we developed two solutions rooted in Arabic calligraphy.
1— We develop a letter, a word, or an entire name as a symbol. These symbols appeal also to foreigners [binladin]
2— We develop a word, or an entire name as a symbol.
The full name appears below in Latin characters, to create an association between the symbol and the name.
A cultural restriction to figurative representation has made of words, sentences and letters new models for artistic expression.
This started Almohtaraf in what we now call ‘word art’.
How has Almohtaraf evolved over the years?
Our success with calligraphy has opened an entirely new landscape for branding through type, which is relatively novel in the region.
In recent years, Almohtaraf has pushed the design of letterforms and logotypes to new frontiers. In projects like Adabi Al Riyadh, Adabi Al Teaf and Dareen we synthesize Arabic authenticity and modern form. Experience with calligraphy led us naturally to Arabic typography & typeface design. We have developed typeface families for many corporations, including three newspapers.
One of our typefaces joined the prestigious Linotype portfolio in 2007, after winning an award in their first ever Arabic type design contest. In 2008 it won the Type Director’s Club award for best Arabic typeface of the year.
Some of our work for cultural institutions is especially successful.
Does Almohtaraf’s work include figurative symbols?
Some identities defy classification, because they can be interpreted as abstract or figurative. Sometimes the calligraphy itself becomes figurative. The identity for Teayana, a chain of tea shops, depicts tea as a medium for togetherness. Two cups, two kinds of tea, and cropping for intimacy. Anaam, in the fur trade, was inspired by the warmth of grazing herds. We used horses because of their symbolism in Arab culture.
The identity for the ministry of petroleum uses the emblem of the kingdom underlined by an abstraction of the earth strata where petroleum is found underground.
What determines the success of an identity?
Creating an identity is like dreaming what a client needs to live up to. It’s a matter of simple, relaxed expression that seems effortless.
Ultimately it’s up to the public. And the best compliment comes from someone who doesn’t know you’re the author. The best identities drive growth such as the case with Douaihy Sweets.
That’s Almohtaraf at its best.
That’s what we aim for.
Interview with Kameel Hawa,
Director of AlMohtaraf