NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 42

Editorial column

Design, Culture, and Us

Farshid Mesghali

Culture is a publicized strategy in a community, which meets any real or unrealistic need. Simply speaking, culture is what people are living with. Edward Taylor defines culture as a “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Wikipedia). While culture is our developed manifestation of norms, design is the practical approach to implementing these norms in everyday life. For example, in our society, a suit is the cultural norm for men’s formal attire. Design, in this instance, is the actual appearance of the suit. The designer will consider social expectations and trends to develop practical solutions when creating it. 
Design is one of the visible, often tangible, shells of a culture, but like all the other components of a culture, it can be influential. Because of this, graphic design is often used as a tool, much like how a screwdriver is a tool, but it is used to communicate and solve visual communication issues. Today, graphic design reaches all platforms of mass media including magazines, newspapers, advertisements, blogs, and social media to transmit information.This information then touches the public and influences them, or it can create a culture norm of its own. 
There is no doubt that any design being utilized as a cultural tool can bring a certain kind of culture within itself. However, the way it is structured can bring forward either positive or negative outcomes. For example, if it (the design) is incommensurable and irrelevant, it creates disarray. On the other hand, if it’s expressive and efficient, then it facilitates communication networks of a society. Because design acts as a communication tool and influences the general public, it takes the form of that culture.
The design principles, which are the application of design elements, are essentially the same across various cultures, making design a universal language. Two of these elements, word and image, can be localized, much like a dialect of a language. 
Persian art and design garners influences from cultures all over the world. During the Timurid dynasty, Persian paintings had similar characteristics to those from China, the Mughal Empire, and even the Sasanian Empire, but they maintained a certain distinction due to their depictions of Iran’s natural landscapes. Iranian design culture is fundamentally western, which has caused a blended the appearance in calligraphy and in design motifs. Unsurprisingly, the quiddity of Iranian graphic design has not yet formed, but over time, with continual growth and social influences, Iran will naturally develop its own design culture.
Today, our culture is a diverse mix of the remnants of various cultures that have inhabited this land, influences from Western civilizations, and years of local history after the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911). Over the past 100 years, there have been changes in the social, political, and economic structure that have radically changed our individual and social habits. Historically, one of the most important features of Iranian people is the development of their cultural while under the rule of foreign powers. As a result, the cultures integrated with one another and birthed a new hybrid culture, or as some like to say, it was ‘Iranianized.’ When looking back at the development of some calligraphy styles, for example, one can see the Islamic influences that formed the Naskh, Thuluth and Reyhan styles, the official manuscripts calligraphy. These styles continued to establish newer techniques such as Ta'līq and Nasta'līq, which is a combination of Ta'līq and Naskh, and one of the most beautiful calligraphic styles. The impact of foreign cultures, such as the Sasanian and Arabs, has also helped create some of the most beautiful mosque ceramic tiles. 
In the short history of graphic design publishing, beginning with newspapers and gradually expanding into books, magazines, advertisements, and posters, one can see how Persian painting combined with lithography created a specific type of imagery. In another example, during in the Qajar era, the western Realism style’s marriage with Persian painting produced a variety of Qajar styles and icons.
Our design culture is a mixed pot of many influences. A little bit from here, a bit from there, a little bit from the past, and a bit from the present, but we haven’t reached a coherent identity yet. In fact, we have seen tension and passion for attracting the culture of the contemporary world in different aspects of life. From design to food, we have seen how our culture has changed over decades. We have beautiful calligraphy styles, and on the other side of the spectrum, fried chicken and pizza are now part of our national cuisine and Sabzi Khordan (garden vegetables) have been replaced by salads. We have constantly been between two stretches: modernity, and the desire to maintain or return to the past.
We are understanding ourselves, analyzing what we are, how we think, how we act, what our desires are, which one of our desires we like the most, which ones we dislike, and what has the most effect on us. We are learning what we are sensitive to, we are understanding and communicating with the spiritual worlds, and many other things that introduce us to ourselves. These outcomes may reveal our identity in the long-term. Identity is culture within itself, which is ingrained in each of us.

Farshid Mesghali

was born in Isfahan, 1943. HeStudying painting at Tehran University, he began his professional career as a graphic designer and illustrator in 1964. After his graduation, he joined the Institute for the Intellectual Development for Children and Young Adults in Tehran, in 1968. During years 1970-1978 he made many of his award winning animated films, posters for films and illustrations for children books for this institute. In 1979 he moved to Paris. In the next four years he worked as an artist producing a number of paintings as well as sculptures, which were presented at Sammy King Gallery in Pairs. In 1986 he moved to Southern California. He opened his graphic design studio, Desktop Studio in LA. During 1990-1994 he creates a series of digital artworks based on snapshot photos. They were exhibited in some galleries and later in L.A. County Museum of Modern Arts. At present he is working on a few sculptures and installation projects in his studio in Tehran.

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