GDE710: Week 12 – Helvetica Hate

Design for social good, while not a new topic, is most certainly the topic of the hour. It’s not a secret that graphic design is often utilized in environmentally or socially destructive settings, whether for wasteful packaging or deceitful advertising. But what exactly is social design, and how do we approach our current graphic design practice to be more aligned with it?

Social design is those things we create that consider issues beyond the bottom line. It is designed with attention paid to environmental impact, labor practices, and the common good. Social design isn’t extravagant; it is just enough; it is witty, fun, and practical. It encourages a response through how it looks or how it is used. It promoted community rather than further detachment from the world around us. (Scott, 2012)

In Andrew Shea’s Designing for social change, there are 10 important steps we must consider when designing for social good:

  1. Immerse yourself
  2. Build trust
  3. Promise only what you can deliver
  4. Prioritize process
  5. Confront controversy
  6. Identify the community’s strengths
  7. Utilize local resources
  8. Design with the community’s voice
  9. Give communities ownership
  10. Sustained engagement

A common theme in some of these steps is an alignment with local communities. The end-user of a design can better describe their needs and wants more efficiently than a designer can. Only in honest collaboration can a good design solution be produced.

It’s never fair to assume that a community doesn’t know what’s best for them or that they don’t know any better. This type of approach has only been destructive towards local cultures.

That takes us to our next topic of how graphic design can be destructive:

Swiss design is an erasure of culture.

Yes, this is quite a bold statement, but hear me out:

  1. Have you ever thought minimalism is a much cleaner, more elegant, and informed look?
  2. Do you scoff at vernacular type design, namely colorful shop signage or posters?
  3. Do you often find yourself opting for global design trends over local design aesthetics?

I hate to break it to you, but you have a design bias. You believe that your educated palette is more refined and informed than that of the everyday person.

Midcentury architects like Adolf Loos have defined modernist design as direct opposition to what he gemmed uncivilized cultures, reducing objects to their least decorative.

“The kind of modernism that Loos advocated was spare and austere, highlighting the function of each object or structure rather than concealing it behind layers of frippery. He talked about ornaments as kind of savagery … referring to tribe members’ facial tattoos, and posing the reductive modernism of white Europeans as the ultimate answer to all aesthetic problems.” (Jennings, 2020)

This sort of thinking leads to an erasure of culture and identity. Everyone has the right to express themselves visually and not be judged for how they do it. There is no right or wrong way to present yourself or your culture outwardly, through fashion, architecture, graphic design, or any other medium.

Workshop Challenge

For this challenge, I have decided to protest against minimalism in the form of a poster. The significance of poster design in this challenge is conveying my message and feelings in one bold and controversial package while paying homage to my own Palestinian heritage, which is known for its resistance. Let’s start by reiterating the bold statement we’ve unpacked today:

Swiss design is an erasure of culture

التصميم السويسري هو محو الثقافة

The process of this design is to keep it as intuitive as possible while determining various elements as I move along.

Let’s start designing!

Artboard 1

Illustrator > Select A3 Print template

Background color Black #000000

Typeface: Noto, short for “No more Tofu,” is an open-source Google font, Google’s answer to tofu. The name noto conveys the idea that Google’s goal is to see “no more tofu.” When text is rendered by a computer, sometimes characters are displayed as “tofu.” They are little boxes to indicate your device doesn’t have a font to display the text. Noto has multiple styles and weights and is freely available to all. (, n.d.) I wanted to use it as a response to Helvetica, a typeface available in numerous languages but comes at a steep price, making it generally inaccessible.

200px margins outlined by the edge-to-edge white lines with a 2pt stroke.

At this point, the design is void of any character and has a minimalistic quality to it. It’s “clean” and easy to read.

The backdating to the 1st of May is intentional.

Let’s move away from that.

Artboard 2

To this poster design, I wanted to insert a piece of my own identity and resistance to the norm, my Palestinian heritage. I’ve chosen to seek inspiration from iconic Palestinian posters from the past.

Palestinian visual identity that is known today can be credited to the artists of the Palestinian resistance movement from 1960 to 1969. The mediums of expression for the Palestinian struggle started with different means, varying according to the context. Under the British mandate, handwritten flyers, slogans painted on walls, and stamps were all employed as forms of resistance.

Stamps rejecting the British occupation and the Zionist project were first issued in 1934 in Jerusalem to affirm and call the attention that Palestine is an Arab country. Beginning in the 1960s, the Palestinian political poster, like any artistic and intellectual production, gave a powerful expression to the concerns of the Palestinian people. It cannot be seen in isolation from its context. It was an important and integral part of Palestinian culture that gave rise to visual images and representations of the struggle. (Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar, 2020)

To pay homage to some of those images of resistance, I’ve chosen to incorporate two iconic illustrations from Naji Al Ali and Burhan Karkutli.

In this version, the Kufic Arabic font is replaced with Honaleka by Hey Porter!, a more ornamental display font with calligraphic forms based on the Naskh style of writing.

Artboard 3

Some symbolic elements were added, like the key and hole. The key is a significant symbol for the Palestinians of the Nakba, the catastrophe of 1948, who fled their homes with the hopes of returning and have now, for generations, resided in refugee camps. Thus, the key as a literal object, visually or symbolically, has become emblematic of dispossession and, more appropriately, a visual reference to what is known as the Palestinian Right of Return. (Habayeb, 2014)

Another distinguishable Palestinian visual element is the kufiya. Irrefutably Arab and used as anti-colonial garb in the 1930s, it attempted to blur the lines between the rich and poor of the Palestinian social class and unite them visually. (Habayeb, 2014)

Artboard 4

An image of Al Aqsa Mosque as the backdrop of Jerusalem was added at this point. The English title was given a little makeover with the typeface Rhomantic, a sort of calligraphic display font that slightly resembled the strokes of Honaleka.

The background color was changed to blue to provide a starker contrast with the text and imagery of the poster.

Final Piece

Illustrations of olives and oranges decorate opposing corner edges. Palestinian identity is nothing without its land, including the trees of olives and oranges. The land is symbolic of Palestine’s lush climate, fertile soil, and farming heritage that’s prevalent in the identity of the fellaheen. (Habayeb, 2014)

A clash of visuals is starting to emerge. Its identity as a poster is solidified by applying multiple filters and masks to give it the appearance that it is wheat-pasted on an outdoor wall.

The final result is an ugly but bold statement, lacking the modifications to harmonize its numerous elements to stay true to its meaning and message.

Thoughts and Conclusions

This was the toughest of the twelve weeks. It felt like I squeezed every creative idea out of my mind up until now. My research started with a reading of Speculative Everything, which only exasperated the situation. As a remedy, I dropped everything for a week to return to it with a fresh mind. The idea to protest against minimalism was sparked by some online discussions of Swiss Design and its racist implications. Because my research on the topic was a bit rushed and mostly based on my emotional reaction towards the topic, I would like to revisit it in a future project. The poster design part was a daunting task for me. In my many years as a practicing graphic designer, I haven’t undertaken this type of task often. With the number of jaw-dropping poster archives that currently exist, I constantly reminded myself to be confident in my design decisions, whether or not they were playful or humorous at times. Overall, the experience of week 12 was an overwhelming one, and it’s a relief to be done with it.


Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar (2020). A history of Arab graphic design. New York: The American University In Cairo Press.

Habayeb, F. (2014). Symbols of Palestine. [online] Darabzine. Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2021]. (n.d.). Cartoons about Women. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Refreshing, V. (2018). A peek inside Brazilian vernacular typography. [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Scott, D. (2012). DESIGNING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE. Social responsibility and the graphic designer. [online] . Available at:

The Palestine Poster Project Archives (2009). Burhan Karkoutly. [online] The Palestine Poster Project Archives. Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2021]. (n.d.). Google Noto Fonts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2021].

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