February 1, 2017
By: Alexandra Kinias
Egyptian graphic designer Ghada Wali was selected on the Forbes’ List 30 under 30 Europe – Arts 2017, making her the first Egyptian to ever be included on the European list. With her cutting edge projects, controversial artwork and short, yet rich professional career, Wali already inscribed her name amongst the world’s most renowned graphic designers. Her project Lets Play – was chosen among the best 100 graphic design pieces in the world by The Society of Typographic Arts, Chicago. She also won the Granshan competition in Munich, as well as two Adobe Design Achievement awards.
Wali, 27, was nominated for the Forbes selection by her School IED FIRENZE, where she received her MA in Graphic Design. “The process to get on this list is rigorous, especially since I am a non-EU citizen,” explained Wali. “My belief that ‘graphic design can change the world’ is the main conviction behind my every piece of work, and I think it shows in my submitted pieces. This makes my objective as a designer, to both learn and educate people through graphic design a leverage tool for positive change.”
Let’s Play – Innovating the Arabic Learning Experience through Lego is a reflection of Wali’s obsession with colors, geometrical shapes, love for the Arabic language, and a desire to save the Arab script history from visual extinction. Let’s Play introduces the Arabic language to early learners or non-Arab speakers through building each letter using colored Lego blocks. “Each letter is explained through sound, form and words in function, with the equivalent in Latin, resulting in a fun pocket book with the 29 letters simplified in all their forms plus a dictionary of 400 words, in addition to an encyclopedia of pantones.” She explained her project.
A passionate artist from a young age, Wali always wanted to study art. She changed her mind when the German University in Cairo introduced its graphic design program. Wali “hopped on the opportunity” when she realized she could still be an artist, change the world and improve people’s lives through design and visual communication. As one of the Graphic Design pioneers in Egypt, “it was a great challenge to join a program offered for the ﬁrst time in Egypt, and I insisted on marking my ﬁrst steps in my journey.” She said.
Today, the accessibility of quick online tutorials and easy-to-learn graphic design software created a generation of non-professional designers producing a lower quality work. “Nowadays, the internet makes it possible for everyone to become whatever they want – and this is a double blade. Designing is not only about using the tools but also the brains and theory behind every design decision taken.” Wali explained. Having said that, she also acknowledges there are “a lot of exceptional amazing” self-taught designers.
With her art background, Wali was disappointed to learn that design in not art, but she aspires to prove this statement wrong, or at least she tries to prove that “Design is Art – with function.” Through her work, Wali strives to experiment and explore with “diversity of approaches” that work for different briefs rather than tying herself to a specific one. “My heart is my compass,” she says. “I work with my full heart and emotion, and I believe that it reaches the cores of people when it is true and genuine.” Wali also believes that, “inspiration has no distinctive specifications. It can be extreme, complex or a simple idea, generated from absolute infinite and unpredictable sources. Everything, everybody, everywhere inspires me.”
To develop her work and improve her talents, she practices daily to enhance her skills, “drawings, sketches, conceptualization, watching tutorials, reading design books, following the global scene, and latest trending articles.” She is also keen on attending major design conferences, workshops, exhibitions, competitions and design events happening around the world.
In November 2013, P21 Gallery in London refused to show her project “Film Ikhwany,” days before the opening of “In the City” exhibition, deeming it too risky. Film Ikhwany was a collection of 12 posters satirizing Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood organization. “I was shocked to find my work censored because it was ‘too risky.’ It just reinforces that censorship happens in the Western World where “freedom of speech” is their biggest claim. However, this proves how important the ideas manifested in my project were.” Wali commented.
Her controversial project was an expression of her feelings against the Brotherhoodization of Egypt depicted in a series of movie-posters featuring the Islamist president playing a different character on each poster; a joker, a Pharaoh, Satan, and other slogans he used that manifested the religious fascism that swiped Egypt and spread like “a deadly epidemic” under his rule. The project was later exhibited at the Hardy Tree Gallery, London under the name of “The censored.”
Believing in the power of changing the world through art and design, Wali created “Meen Homama,” a social awareness poster design campaign, with the purpose to re-correct misleading Egyptian religious and social misconceptions. The project, which was a team work with graphic designer Nourhan Moaz, created local and regional buzz after its launch in 2015 and it went viral on social media platforms, as well as online magazines and local newspapers. Wali is currently working on launching the sequel to the campaign that also includes videos, and is considering publishing a book with the entire collection. The hunt for a publisher hasn’t been easy so far since “all publishers contacted saw the theme too sensitive to publish.”
People and places propel Wali’s drive for design projects, and she considers the redesigning of Cairo’s National Circus project, which combined these two elements as “one of the most enjoyable design journeys” she had been through. The objective of the project was to develop a poster series for the Egyptian circus, that highlights the spirit of the Egyptian culture, and create a new identity that “influences the perception of the brand [national circus] to attract a higher social class and become an original cultural and touristic spot.”
To produce posters with the desired results, Wali spent an entire month at the circus with the performers and audience. She observed, recoded, photographed, ran surveys, conducted interviews and examined the psychology of both the performers and audience. The innovation of both the idea and the subject matter in Egypt was her “source of motivation.”
During her career, Wali worked in several international and local advertising agencies, including working as a team leader at MI7 Egypt; a leading Egyptian Advertising agency working with several multinational brands. Wali quit her job at the peak of her career to pursue her passion and to spend more time working on what she loves most. As a person who doesn’t settle for mediocracy, she always pushes herself to work harder and longer. She understands the power of graphic designers in enhancing, molding, influencing and inspiring people. And with this power granted to her, she set her goal to change the world, one project at a time.
For more read about Ghada Wali and her projects, visit her website