The Making of a Design Society in Iran

This essay together with visual presentation was presented at Icograda Regional Design Seminar - Istanbul 2004

The ancient country of Iran (Persia), used to be a cradle for different civilizations, which during the centuries all of them have been grasped and .digested by a nation who in return has created its own unique civilization Until a century ago Iranian were prominent for their creativity and ,inventiveness, in art and architecture, handicraft, calligraphy, painting ,illustration, ornamental designs applied in jewellery, tile work, textile handmade books and manuscripts, many examples of which today exists in museums all over the world, and they are recognized instantly as Persian Style. Iranian have developed a sophisticated skill and style which has had extensive influence in Asia if not the world.

Graphic design as such, first appeared around mid 19th century in Iran, in form of early newspaper and periodical illustrations and also some political and primitive folk posters, and commercial announcements. But the graphic design in modern sense is quite young in this country. Although the first graphic design works can be traced back to some sixty years ago. They have been produced by individual artists who have been doing their jobs partly according to their instinct and partly in response to their admiration for the things which was happening visually in the industrialized parts of the world, namely the western world.

The first attempt to form a society for the graphic designers dates back to some 37 years ago, when graphic designers excitingly and willingly, tried to make a society of their own by gathering their professional colleagues together. This aim, however in spite of long discussions, failed to be accomplished at that time. Some years later when Iranian society had been subject to great changes in political, social and cultural structure, we graphic designers, were also facing a new situation.

The great changes in social and political situation in 1978 in Iran, and the outbreak of the war in 1979 tightened the social conditions in Iran, and imposed a kind of isolation for the Iranian society from the world as a whole. Graphic designers were no exception, we had almost no communication with the world and younger generation almost had no first hand clue of what is happening visually in the world outside, even they had very little communication within themselves inside the country. Therefore in an early s the professional condition of graphic designers begins to deteriorate'1980 dramatically, in both material and moral respects. Due to new situation naturally one could see, those days, that graphic designers were downgraded compare with their past and felt quite alienated and isolated from the Iranian society itself, let alone the world.

The necessity for organizing a designers in to some common society, in order to protect, guide, and accommodate their common needs and to develop and improve their profession in all respects, moral, material and the standard of their works, became far more urgent than before.

Around 1985, it all started by friendly gathering of few (about 15) graphic .designer from older generation, around the coffee tables at their studios As it will be shown, although it was not a one man show, but it is certain that the active presence of one man, a great teacher and a prominent graphic designer Morteza Momayez from the beginning to this date in the whole process was crucial and irreplaceable. In order to begin with, they were trying to find the most attractive subject of their trade to catch the attention of other colleagues, in order to gather them around it. So as a result, a universal recommended Price List (+ questionnaire asking fellow designers what are they doing, how, and with what effect) was circulated among many graphic designers. Most of them at that time had their head down and laboriously doing their jobs as good as they could with least amount of income. The Price List worked and shook many of them. As a result some fifty designers responded to it.

The Price List was updated and renewed within a year, and the initiating group (by then 20) were looking for some more extensive means to gather the Iranian designers. Considering the restrictions about establishing societies or unions at that time, there comes the Idea of organizing an exhibition of Iranian graphic designers work through some kind of state sponsorship . And the first one happened with lots of enthusiasm in 1987. As many as 120 graphic designers, with 400 works had participated in The 1st Biennial of Iranian Graphic Designers.

Before the commencement of 2nd Biennial, the Price List was edited and extended in some details like recommendations about graphic studio administration matters ie order forms, contracts, legal matters etc. and republished informally for the third time. And as a result of it, 1) the prices of graphic design commissions has been raised 2) Designers worked with much more pride and enthusiasm 3) Clients took their design needs more seriously and in complement to all, designers tried to work better in order to reach the top in next biennial. The 2nd Biennial of Iranian Graphic Designers was commenced at the year 1989. During this time about hundred graphic designers became in permanent contact with each other for one or another reason and nearly 30 of them were well committed to the cause of creating a union or a society for graphic designers. This cause was not permitted by the civil law, due to the war condition prevail at the country at that moment.

Instead, there came an idea of creating a big design company and going about to deal with the professional matters through this company. After calling the general assembly of about 100 designers, the idea of establishment of designers' company turned to foundation of a designers cooperative. Iranian Graphic Designers Cooperative IGDC came into being at 1990. Through this cooperative we imported design books and organized book store, supplied our ,members who reached nearly 200 with graphic design tools, computer, CDs limited amount of magazines, etc. also planned and created some educational courses for the members. Above all IGDC too kept upgrading the Price List and consulting and organizing the 3rd and 4th Biennial of Iranian Graphic Designers in 1992 and 1994. All of these events prepared our fellow graphic designers to become more serious in their professional works.

However the designers cooperative was abandoned by its own members due to certain financial and commercial difficulties, above all ongoing taxing system in the country. Also social situation in Iran was turning in favor of establishment of non-profitable professional societies. As many designers ,were looking forward for the formation of Iranian Graphic Designers Society the same serious members of the trade started to prepare themselves for the foundation of IGDS, around 1996, sometimes in the middle of commencing the 5th Biennial. For the first time, the 5th biennial had a glance at the outside world and had a side exhibition concerning an overview of Asian Graphic Design.

As a result of tremendous efforts of many graphic designers, Iranian Graphi Designers Society was established in Autumn 1998. It was only then that Iranian graphic designers of different ages and generations managed to gather up in a meetings for the first time as a body of professionals with ,common interests and ambitions . It was just then that conversations discussions and criticisms began. After all, never before had there existed any chance for them to be with each other in a professional union.

IGDS started its activities from 1998, first of all by formal publication of the continuously updated well known Price List, and organizing specific committees for different kinds of organizational activities in the interest of the designers, authorized and published the first Professional Code of Conduct. This was and still is the only Professional Code amongst all the artists and designers societies established since in Iran. See it at

The 6th & 7nth Biennial of Iranian Graphic Designers in1999 & 2002 was for the first time formally sponsored and organized by IGDS with the aid of Visual Art Center. At both of these biennials there were side exhibition of works by well known and very prominent international graphic designers, who were present during their exhibition, as IGDS guest of honor.

IGDS is now just a little more than six years old and , it has nearly 400 members in Iran. Up to now it has organized more than 20 professional and social gatherings, many exhibitions, and as it has been presented before IGDS has been formally responsible for two national biennials, it has its own regular and popular news letter Jahat-e-Ettellaa ( For Your Information and published many small brochures on different subjects concerning the ,( profession, and continues to update the well circulated Price List. Also publication of Graphic Design 1 (The first selected works of Iranian graphic Designers compiled with A Calendar of Graphic Design in Iran) in the year is among IGDS major cultural activities. IGDS has organized 4 2001 educational seminars and discussion groups, on different professional subjects; 1) year1999- Clients and Designers / Commission of the job and its / execution / Values of professional expertise in both clients and designers The importance of professional presentation of the job / Rights of clients and designers in the process of accomplishing jobs, 2) year2000- Relation / between producers of the graphic works and the graphic designers Applications of tools and new technology, 3) year2000- Price List and its practical difficulties / Effective usage of The Price List and its problems.

Applications of tools and new technology, 3) year2000- Price List and its practical difficulties / Effective usage of The Price List and its problems Pricing the job on hourly base / Adjusting and making contracts with / correct legal considerations, 4) year2002- Limits of legal protection of members by the IGDS / Cultural activities of the IGDS and trade and professional problems of designers / Cultural graphic versus commercial graphic / Effects and importance of commercial graphics in cultural improvement of the society as whole.

The 8th Biennial is going to be commenced in late winter 2004. At which we hopefully expect to have other world prominent designers as our honorary guests and their works will be displayed during the biennial separately

Icograda Regional Design Seminar - Istanbul 2004