NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 29


The Reading Experience of Well; Designed Books in Iran

Majid Kashani

Studying the work quality of Iranian graphic designers active in the field of book design is impossible without first considering the conditions surrounding the publishing industry. Due to various economic and cultural issues, this industry has experienced a difficult time period. Inflation and unpredictable increases in the costs of publication, accompanied by an increasing disinterest of people in reading books, have led the publishing industry into stagnation. This has also slowed down the creative process of those active in this field, including writers, translators, researchers and consequently graphic designers. That is perhaps the reason that the more I researched the activities of graphic designers in Iran, during the past two to three years, the less I found. It seems that the attraction of poster design continues to be so powerful as to enchant Iranian designers and close their eyes to the more serious areas of their field, such as book design. Of course, the fundamental problems faced by the publishing industry as indicated earlier should not be forgotten either.

However, there are still publishers who aim for their books to be seen as well as read. There are also graphic designers who are ready to delve into this field, designing books page by page in order to show their art, all for a meager wage. If the conditions were to stay the same, this feeble cooperation would change from its dying state into a complete demise.
Glass and Mirror, 2007
Among our limited number of publishers, Nazar can perhaps be considered one of the most professional in their choice of book design. Glass and Mirror is of a memorable quality, well ahead of all other books designed by the graphic designers of Nazar Publications. While the design of this book dates back to 2007 (before the three-year span of study for this article), I deemed it necessary to mention this book, as I haven’t found any other reviews worthy of attention. Glass and Mirror, designed by Reza Abedini, is a collection of photos of Iranian Tazia1 during the Qajar era. Abedini has based his approach on the use of a piece of fabric from the readymade cloths, produced and printed for Ashura ceremonies. When Glass and Mirror was first published, using a different material in a book was a novel approach, with few other precedents in Iran. Although the book is in fact a bed of display for Tazia photographs, Abedini has not left a single page untouched by his unique outlook and exemplary hard work. Typography, traditional motifs, imagery, calligraphies, full-color textures and backgrounds are all elements that invite the reader to a feast of art on every page. Some of the approaches that Abedini has reused from earlier books such as Dwarfs and Giants and Outlook, have evolved in full in Glass and Mirror. However, in my view, the design of this book acts as a double-edge sword, making the book a unique and memorable work of art but overpowering its main function, which is to display Tazia imagery, due to the strong presence of the graphic designer.

Elephant, 2007
Meshki Publications is an independent publishing company, established a few years ago by Saed Meshki. In the recent years, Saed has been able to improve upon the skills he had gained through his past experiences with Mahriz Publications. Contrary to his earlier works, Saed who is a prolific book designer, has pursued a minimalist approach in designing Elephant—a collection of fictional philosophical stories by Berthold Brecht. Through the repetitive use of ants, a clever and sarcastic choice contrasting the size of an elephant, Saed has tried to help the reading experience and the understanding of the text through this conceptual approach.
The small, black ants, busy with their innate tasks on the page—in between the lines and among the words—create an enjoyable experience for the reader.

The Thirsty Lips, 2009
When a designer such as Kourosh Parsanejad, transfers his innumerable experiences of layout design for different journals, to the field of book design, the outcome is one of the most successful examples of book design in the recent years.
The Thirsty Lips, a collection of stories about the events of Ashura, is published by the Young Adults and Children’s Intellectual Development Center. In designing this book, Parsanejad has aimed to ornament the pages with the use of classic motifs, special colours, textures, paper material, varying font sizes and a form of calligraphy. However, the recurring treatment of rectangular shapes throughout the entire book has somewhat damaged its visual logic. Including explanatory notes on a number of pages in their respective margins (for instance notes on litho-printing), and the good harmony of illustrations with the overall design, are some of the distinct characteristics of The Thirsty Lips.

Gun Game, 2010
Hassan Karimzadeh is the designer of Gun Game, a book written by Pouria Aalemi and illustrated by Mehdi Karimzadeh. As the third creative role in this work, Hassan has tried to design a book where the writings, illustrations and the design are all completing one another. His choice of typefaces, the typographic treatment, his appropriate use of colours, and the design of the table of contents and the introductory pages, are all elements that contribute to his approach. However, the design of the front and back covers seem to be unrelated to the visual form of the inside pages—a negative attribute that makes one hesitate to call this an absolutely perfect work.

Coffee with a Sugar Cube on the Side, 2011
Among the state-owned publishers, Sooray-e-Mehr is undoubtedly one of the best in book design. Contrary to what we would have expected from a state-owned publisher, they have been successful in offering graphically notable books to the market. Habib Iloun is an active, though lesser-known, graphic designer who has designed many books for Sooray-e-Mehr. In Coffee with a Sugar Cube on the Side (a collection of contemporary satiric poetry), Habib has tried to adopt a satiric approach in design, by using a minimalist method and conforming the design with the subject matter. Aside from the introductory pages, his wise choice of typefaces, leading and textual infrastructure, have greatly contributed to the reading experience. Although the cover design has little affinity with the visual story of the inside pages, there are many other good qualities that allow us to ignore this defect.

Garta Almanac 1, 2011
Book design for subjects such as essays, analytical research and other similar fields is difficult due to the inflexible nature of works of research. Ali-Asghar Hosseini however, has been able to create a memorable piece with the use of simple visual techniques, which are derived from his experience in designing commercial journals. The frames that engulf the body of text and images, along with his unique approach to the design of the introductory pages, table of contents and so on, have greatly contributed to a better and easier reading experience. The similarities between the introductory pages of each chapter and the cover design (by Parisa Tashakori) have helped create a homogenous look, treating the entire book as a single unit. Hosseini has also made beautiful typographic choices throughout the book for the body copy, headers and footnotes, which demand special attention in text-heavy content. The poor quality of some of the images however, is a disadvantage for Garta Almanac.

The Little Bird, 2010
Mehdi Mousavi, an Iranian poet with his paradoxical innovation of “postmodern ghazal2”, is a young but well-known figure in Iranian contemporary literature. I had previously seen a digital copy of The Little Bird, a collection of his poems that are accompanied by the graphic design of Vahid Erfanian. Both the poems of this book as well as the appropriateness of its design, made this piece a memorable one. It seems that Erfanian has tried to present a form of text-based, sensory design for this book. Along with axial and a documentary use of photography, other devices such as choice of typefaces, use of punctuation and so on, have also contributed to a more tangible expression of the feelings embedded in the poems. The designer however, has paid less attention to grade and uniform geometry in order to give an overall structure to the text. The cover design also requires more precision as it hasn’t succeeded in relating to the design of the inside pages.

1. Tazia: Passion Play
2. Ghazal: Poem

Majid Kashani

was born in 1978. In 2006 he received his master's degree in graphic design from Tehran University. Besides teaching graphic design in university. He has published several books, articles and commentary in his field. Majid has been a key note speaker in several seminars, jury team member in dozens of festivals, and participated in numerous domestic and international exhibitions. In his studio called 'Daftar', he provides professional design services for cultural centers, publishers and galleries.

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