Artist Mohammad Sharaf

KUWAIT: On the streets of Kuwait, sidewalks that are supposed to be pedestrianized are crowded by billboards. Some of these are annoying to the extent that we marvel about the fictitious amount of money spent on these campaigns. Some of them make you sympathize with the advertising company due to the money wasted on a bad design. You wish you were personally consulted to offer some advice.

In Ramadan, advertisers compete over advertising spaces in Kuwait. Everyone is trying to add the spirit of Ramadan to their products, from cars to antacids. However, graphic design specialists realize that growth in innovation has not been impressive in the last five years, with advertisers continuing to commit the same technical and designing mistakes, which reflect a lack of knowledge of the visual aspect.

Artist and graphic designer Mohammad Sharaf is a well-respected but controversial figure, known for his frank views of the advertising and graphic design scene in Kuwait. Sharaf is recognized significantly for his visual reactions, as he calls them. He admits that he has not created an artwork for an art exhibition focused around a preconceived idea, although he has worked as a graphic designer and in branding since 1999.

World fame

"I have created several digital posters over the past years," Sharaf said. "My visual reactions began in 2011, the most notable of which was 'Allowed,' which depicts a woman wearing an abaya riding a bike and carrying a Khaleeji man. This poster went viral around the world. It was my response at that time towards a social and political event."

His current location in New York has not separated him from the local scene. He is constantly following local affairs that he considers the sparks of his artistic revelations. "I cannot remain visually silent when I witness something wrong. However, I would leave out the idea of reacting to an event if three days pass without creating something," he told Kuwait Times.

Messaging in advertising design relies on several key components such as copy, size and shape, graphics, colors, placement and the value of the message. It is not enough to rely on beauty or humor only as an influential factor. There must be harmony between all these elements to accomplish the desired impact. "Free stock images and fonts are heavily utilized. We rarely find advert designs that are customized from scratch to suit the message and the product. Most Ramadan adverts contain a bunch of serious design mistakes," Sharaf pointed out.

The designer attended the MFA Design/Designer as Author + Entrepreneur at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2013. During the program, he completed several diplomas in design, centering mostly on Arabic typography. He believes that the most important phrase in Ramadan is the greeting - 'Ramadan Kareem', 'Ramadan Mubarak' or 'Mubarak to you the month'.

Designers' mistakes

"The greeting is the first thing that tells us that the month of fasting has come. But there is a lack of implementation on this point. Some forms of calligraphy are overused. Some of them are closely related to other media or commercial brands and shouldn't be employed. Take the tear shape as an object lesson - this shape is strongly associated with the logo of Al-Jazeera news channel and has become a part of its identity. The same calligraphic form when used in other mediums will remind of the views of the news channel. Even if you replace their name with an insult, it would still look pretty Islamic and related to the channel," Sharaf said.

"Another mistake some designers make is when they employ a font that is designed to be used in specific architectural applications, like the Kufic Square font. The designer should read about the history and uses of fonts. Some fonts are designed for text and others for headlines, and each one of them has its own features. In addition, some Arabic fonts have unique characteristics, like Quranic fonts. It is unacceptable to use them to write something else other than the Quran," he added.

The message addressed must also conform to the cosmopolitan culture of the community and use simple and concise language. The influence of the nationality of some designers is noticeable in local ads, who apply their own accents. On the other hand, there is a community segment that is entirely absent from the advertising scene, although it constitutes a large percentage of the total population of Kuwait. "The lantern was never part of the Kuwaiti culture, along with other Islamic decorations. They are rooted in countries such as Morocco, Syria and Iraq. In Kuwait, family and social gatherings around food is still the symbol of the spirit of Ramadan," said Sharaf.

On the positive side, designs of Ramadan adverts, whether good or bad, have succeeded as a unified advertising force in drawing out the Ramadan spirit and entering the hearts of millions. Some brands have attracted their audiences to wait for their campaigns year after year. However, the knowledge of visual arts is no longer exclusive to designers, which creates a greater challenge to their innovativeness in creating powerful and influential adverts. You can view Mohammad Sharaf's works on Instagram @Mohammadrsharaf and website:

By Athoob Al-Shuaibi