Ten years ago, Bahia Shehab, now a professor of practice at the American University in Cairo, wanted to teach a course on Arab graphic design. The founder of the university’s graphic-design program, Shehab put together a description for the university’s course catalog. But as she planned out the course, she ran into a major obstacle: “There was no textbook to teach it.”
A few years later, when artist and academic Haytham Nawar joined the same institution, the two discussed developing such a textbook.
“Once we discovered that we had this common interest, and that we’re interested in teaching this course together, and writing this book, we applied for an AUC grant and we got funding,” Shehab explained over a series of WhatsApp recordings. “We started visiting different countries and interviewing and documenting the work of different designers.”
The pair did several years of research across many different countries. And now, a decade after their initial brainstorming session, Shehab and Nawar are celebrating the release of their co-authored book, A History of Arab Graphic Design, set to be released by the American University in Cairo Press in December.
They intended the book both for their own students and for any educator who is interested in teaching the history of Arab graphic design, in the hope that the book could be a universal educational reference.
Origins of Arab Graphic Design
Graphic design, Shehab said, is a constantly evolving field. Graphic designers practicing today need to be concerned not only with visual communication, but also with user experience.
But when graphic design emerged as a distinct discipline within the art world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it had no clear definition. Artists and calligraphers found themselves working on the design of calendars, packages, posters, and more. By the mid-twentieth century, as the demand for mass visual communication surged, graphic design also boomed across the Arab region.