Reaching Out To Middle Eastern Designers


Looking at my profile on LinkedIn, I feel quite satisfied. I think I’m the only Israeli designer who is in contact with designers from hostile, or less than openly friendly, countries such as Iran, Jordan, Lebanon. Strange, isn’t it?!

It all started about three months ago when I decided to embark on an adventure! I decided to contact designers in other countries in the Middle East.

I thought about the fact that if I was living in a European country, I would almost certainly have contacts with designers in surrounding countries. My living in Israel, a country surrounded by hostile neighbors, prevents me from engaging in such contacts with other designers in my region. But I wanted to know what was going on with other designers in the Middle East. Do they have contacts with designers in other countries? Do they go to international conventions? Does their living in the Middle East pose an advantage or a disadvantage for them with regard to their development in the field of design?

I had no idea what kind of response I’d get, if at all. After all, these countries are our enemies, so why would anyone agree to answer me?!

I love a challenge, and so I decided to give it a try and whatever will be, will be. At least I could write an article about it afterwards

My first thought was LinkedIn as a most useful tool for my purposes. In the first stage, I decided to try contacting designers who were members of the same groups in which I was a member.

I scanned through all 3,000 members of the group, looking for those who live in the Middle East. I sent these a brief message in which I introduced myself and asked if they would be willing to collaborate on an article I was writing about design in the Middle East. I have to admit that at that point I had no idea what I would write in such an article, as I didn’t know what kind of response I would get.

I was thrilled when two days later I received my first replies! Shadi El Haruv from Jordan, agreed to collaborate on my article. Great! I immediately added him to my contact list. Following this, I received several other positive replies, however, none of them related to my request to collaborate on an article. I had to think of another way to reach more designers. I had no way of contacting designers who were not within my circle of contacts, and so I upgraded my account to Premium for a month’s trial period.

The Premium account allowed me to send mail to ten people outside my circle of contacts— and I had one month in which to do it. I looked for designers from every field in countries including Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. I sent out my introductory message, but the responses were few. I noticed that most of the recipients visited my profile, but chose not to respond. I wondered to myself, what would happen if it had been the other way around? How would I react if I received a similar message from an Iranian designer, for instance? Would I be wary about responding? Would I think twice before clicking on Reply, or would I happily respond? The truth is, I’m not entirely sure, and so I can’t blame those who didn’t reply to me. I expected that that might happen. It was actually those who did reply who were a pleasant surprise. After a month I decided to send a list of my questions to those who expressed willingness to collaborate. The next set of responses I received did not surprise me at all.

Everyone uses websites such as Dribble or Behance in order to share their work. Facebook is not their platform of choice for presenting their work. Most of them do not attend international conventions or design events, but they do have colleagues in other countries, and not just in the Middle East. They all agreed from a professional point of view, it would be preferable to be living in Europe, for example. Or as Saeid Taheri from Iran wrote, “We all know there is a better life going on outside of the Middle East.

It was a brief and enjoyable experiment. I would be very pleased to meet with every one of the designers who were in contact with me. I even dreamt that we arranged to meet in some neutral place that we could all get to easily and would create a short video film together. That would be amazing, wouldn’t it!? It’s quite clear to me that that won’t happen any time soon… meanwhile I can be happy about having made some new friends.

I would like to thank those who took part in this adventure and made me smile: Shadi Hroub, Saeid Taheri and Mahdi Al-Farra.

Shirlee Armeland Chen is an graphic designer based in Israel. She has over 13 years of experience in the marketing and design industries, including lecturing and mentoring young designers. She likes challenging herself and her clients during the design process, and feels very content when the end result is unique and memorable.

To see award-winning design from around the world, don’t miss the March issue of HOW magazine.