Learning to create a good brief is a highly useful skill to have as a designer. The point of a brief, essentially, is to outline the deliverables and scope of a project, keep the project on track, and evaluate the effectiveness of the design after it has been produced. (Wikipedia Contributors, 2019) A good design brief always starts with a review of inflexible elements – the parameters within which you must work, such as how much time you have. That will help you understand how much "wiggle" room you have to deliver a project. (Phillips, 2012) However, in attempting to write a brief today, the inflexible elements I will be presenting are not cemented in any traditional working parameters. As we're assigned to develop a personal project, for it to truly be in line with my personal ethics, let's set some ground rules:
The concept of this project should be near and dear to my heart, to keep my interest in it as genuine as possible.
The project should be affordable to carry out so that it's realistically achievable without any external influence.
The project should be sustainable and not time-consuming; I would like to give proper attention to the project and not rush it due to time constraints.
To draw some inspiration for this personal project, I looked at the themes and concepts explored during my first module of the Falmouth Graphic Design MA:
Week 9 - Time has moved on
In this week, I explored the transience of the Arab experience. Jordan, a country of refugees, movement is no stranger to this place, and it’s common for its citizens and livestock, to move in order to find betterment for their own lives.
Week 6 - The 5-day walk
The theme for this week was to notice the ignored, and in rural Austria, where privacy is regarded with the utmost importance, how does one bring attention to a place without causing a commotion? In this week, I resolved my own experience with a wine cellar by utilizing a once-popular activity in the region of painting and hiding stones in the neighborhood. The stones I contributed were painted to match the cellar doors I found most beautiful and interesting. They were tucked into safe little spots near the door, hoping to be noticed by walker-by’s, and thus calling attention to the doors themselves.
Week 10 - Life is a Snake
The output for this week was both a tribute to the late Nawal El-Saadawi, a prominent and highly controversial feminist figure in the Arab region, as well as a personal exploration of how graphic design can be utilized to express femininity. There is much more to discuss here, as well as dig into current/contemporary contributions of the female-presenting community of Arab graphic designers.
Week 8 - Swallowing my pride
This project was an introspective self-exploration into what my weaknesses were, in contrast to my strengths. The output was centered around creating something I wasn’t particularly good at, in order to deliver a message of the one thing I’m really bad at. There is room to explore this further, on how to utilize the physical world to deliver messages of personal fulfillment goals or desires.
Inspection & Introspection
For this project, Week 10's general theme stood out to me the most, as I came into this program with confusion about my own identity. While a general feeling for a concept was there, there wasn't a solid direction I had in mind which wouldn't have been so cliche that I was stuck with a mediocre project idea, and probably one that has been done many times before.
This Summer, I had the opportunity to visit l'Institut du Monde Arabe's Divas exhibition in Paris, a beautifully curated tribute to iconic female Arab artists, including Oum Kalthoum, Warda al-Djazaïria, Asmahan, Fayrouz, Laila Mourad, Samia Gamal, Souad Hosni, Sabah, and Dalida.
The exhibition wasn't merely to celebrate their life's work, but rather put on a grandiose display of their impact on feminism in the Arab world. This had me thinking of their contemporaries, singers like Haifa Wehbe, Ruby, and Nancy Ajram, who were also critical parts in further shaping the identity of the Arab woman and feminist ideals.
These contemporary Arab pop stars donned public images that were highly sexualized, a feature that was essential in their success, but also intensely criticized and scrutinized under the public eye. However, that was not much different than Oum Kalthoum or Fayrouz's public images either, which were highly altered to fit an important narrative at the time. Fayrouz, for example, is a concept whose connotations are ethnic and nationalistic, as well as musical and poetic. Her music was and still is a crucial component of the nation's identity. (Acee, Harnish and Kara, 2011) The contemporaries played an equally important part in the sexual liberation of our time.
Today, we're a far cry away from the media sensationalism over whether a singer's voice was good enough to be deemed worthy of her fame. The influencer is no longer a TV spectacle; they live on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Social media has taken us away from a centralized system of cultural consumption and given us the freedom to pick and choose who we want to watch, listen to, and follow. Our identities are built on the video media we consume through these internet channels.
Using this as a moment to reflect on my own identity, I myself fell lost in reference to the contemporary Arab woman. What I see represented in media doesn't with me or my beliefs, ethics, or ideals. Online as well as in real life, I feel like an outlier, an anomaly that doesn't fit in. Having lived in many different countries across the world during my lifetime, I feel that I'm too western to fit in with my friends back home, and too Arab to be fully embraced abroad.
Below are a few excerpts from articles echoing my sentiment –
“I’m used to right-wing fascists; it is usually the same old “Go back to Algeria” and it’s very basic. But then you have Algerian people saying “Never come back to Algeria”, so I’m like, where should I go? I have people telling me to go back to Algeria, but in Algeria I find people telling me to never come back. …” Habibitch for MyKali Magazine (MyKali Magazine, 2021)
“This wasn’t the first time I was edged out of a circle – both physically or proverbially. My status and legitimacy as an Arab has always been contested and debated, not by myself, but by others. By Arabs and non-Arabs alike. My identity as an Arab is not up to me, it is up to them.” Lubna bin Zayyad for Sekka Magazine (Sekka, 2019)
Being femme-presenting and Arab in the diaspora is difficult. We’re teetering on the edge of acceptance from our own community and our host communities alike. Our feminist plight is wildly misunderstood by one, and flat out denied by the other. How can we call out gender-based issues when our narrative is often being misconstrued, co-opted, or stolen for nefarious reasons?
Thinking about social media and the algorithmic bubbles it places us in, they're an essential factor in our self-expression and building an identity. There's also certainly an opportunity to bring awareness to certain underrepresented or vulnerable groups to learn how social media can be used to effectively build virtual safe spaces. This is not to say that they're impenetrable or free from any potential harm, but there are some interesting possibilities in 2021 that we didn't necessarily have online before.
This summer, I was invited by FreeMuse (advocates for artistic freedom worldwide) as a female Arab artist to participate in a focus group. They had determined a need to build an online safety toolkit for MENA artists and wanted to revise that toolkit with us for feedback on how it could be improved. Something that stood out quite sorely about this toolkit was that it was essentially fearmongering, with little to no advice on connecting with audiences constructively and positively online. But that's generally the advice given to many on the topic of building a public social media presence: better stay safe than sorry, right?
I see a lot of possibilities here, forming a guide of some sort, something light-hearted enough not to feel like it's imposing, but also informative enough to be useful. The guide can be formed on the advice of other online creators who have found success in building positive communities surrounding their niche interests or identities. The guide can be a secret one, passed around from friend to friend without stirring up any negative attention. These are just some ideas for now.
That brings me to this final question in this introspective inspection –
How can virtual safe spaces be utilized to validate the lived experiences of Arab womxn in the diaspora?
Tailoring a Brief
To start the project, I developed a brief to help me along my research journey. The main points of the brief were the following:
Being femme-presenting and Arab in the diaspora is difficult. We’re teetering on the edge of acceptance from our community and our host communities alike. Our feminist plight is wildly misunderstood by one and flat-out denied by the other. However, in the age of the internet, the ability to form our communities lies at our fingertips. This project will explore the potential to develop virtual safe spaces for Arab womxn in the diaspora to validate our lived experiences and acknowledge our unique identities.
Qualitative data on real-life experiences in the form of interviews
Quantitative data on social media usage in the context of community building
Survey to assess feedback on potential ideas pertaining to the subject matter
Auto-ethnographic reflections and personal explorations
An exploration in slow and purposeful virtual community building exercises tailored to a global audience of Arab womxn in the diaspora.
An online safe space or a guide on how to build one or integrate yourself into one. The research to be conducted for this project will help determine the outcome that is the best fit for this particular audience.
Acee, D., Harnish, D. and Kara, A. (2011). WOMEN IN SHA’BI MUSIC: GLOBALIZATION, MASS MEDIA AND POPULAR MUSIC IN THE ARAB WORLD Committee. [online] Available at: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=bgsu1321368508&disposition=inline.
MyKali Magazine (2021). Habibitch: Algerian non-binary boss femme aiming to decolonize the dancefloor. [online] My Kali. Available at: https://www.mykalimag.com/en/2021/09/18/habibitch-algerian-non-binary-boss-femme-aiming-to-decolonize-the-dance-floor/ [Accessed 6 Oct. 2021].
Phillips, P.L. (2012). Creating the perfect design brief : how to manage design for strategic advantage. New York: Allworth Press.
Sekka (2019). How I’m not Arab enough for people. [online] Sekka Magazine. Available at: https://sekkamag.com/2019/06/24/3595/ [Accessed 6 Oct. 2021].
Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Design brief. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_brief.