Graphic Design in Iran: Crafting Identity, Inspiring Change

Illustration by Morteza Momayez | Source: Print Magazine

Positioned at the crossroads of East and West, Iran stands as a cultural nexus, enriched by the confluence of diverse influences.

Graphic design in Iran is a fascinating blend of heritage and modernity, reflecting the nation’s rich cultural diversity. However, examining contemporary Iranian graphic design necessitates an exploration of its contextual roots.

Positioned at the crossroads of East and West, Iran stands as a cultural nexus, enriched by the confluence of diverse influences. Over centuries, this multicultural amalgamation has bestowed an extraordinary visual legacy. From crafts to miniatures, the imprints of illustrations endure in Iranian visual culture and resonate strongly in the present day.

Origins of graphic design in the Iranian context

The origins of contemporary Iranian graphic design can be traced to the 1960s, a transformative era marked by the emergence of modern graphic design programs at the University of Tehran. Pioneers like Morteza Momayez, a visionary figure, played a pivotal role, leaving an indelible mark on the collective memory of Iranians with his groundbreaking creations.  

During this pivotal period, the University of Tehran became a center that encouraged & supported contemporary graphic design practices as new academic programs flourished. Morteza Momayez not only influenced the curriculum but also mentored a generation of designers who would shape Iran’s visual identity. Momayez founded influential design publications, hosted exhibitions, and contributed to the establishment of professional design associations. This era saw a fusion of traditional Iranian artistic elements molded with modern design principles, giving rise to a unique aesthetic that continues to influence indigenous graphic design in Iran.

Illustration by Morteza Momayez, 1960 | Source: Darz-art

Reinterpretation from Traditional to Modern

The 20th century witnessed a dynamic exchange between the whispers of the past and the roar of modernity. Pioneering figures like Reza Abedini, with his revolutionary approach to typography, pushed the boundaries of visual communication. His bold, expressive letterforms, often imbued with social commentary, became a hallmark of Iranian modernism.

Ghobad Shiva, another titan of the era, seamlessly blended Persian imagery with avant-garde techniques, creating designs that resonated on a global stage. These artistic giants, along with the influential ‘Tehran School’, injected social and political consciousness into their works, transforming the graphic design into a powerful tool for expression and dissent.

Reza Abedini Poster Design | Stir-world

Steeped in history, Iran’s design scene pulsates with a unique tension. Young designers inherit a dazzling 3,000-year-old tale, a trove of inspiration yet a potential platform for fresh ideas.

As graphic designer Behrouz Hariri says, “It’s a privilege and a challenge.” The internet has been a game-changer, opening doors to global dialogue and dispelling media myths. Today’s designers, post-revolution youth, proudly wield Farsi as their tool, even as some lean towards globalized aesthetics. The elders whisper, “Don’t forget your roots,” ensuring a dynamic interplay between tradition and modernity.

This is the charming essence of Iranian design – a fusion between past and present, pushing the boundaries of what can be made possible.

Illustration by Ghobad Shiva | Source: Artbox

Influential Iranian Designers

The two most influential masters, Reza Abedini and Ghobad Shiva stand as testaments to Iranian design’s pizzazz. Abedini with his revolutionary typography, & Shiva, a master alchemist who formed a beautiful synergy between the traditional imagery and eccentric techniques, leaving a legacy of global recognition.

Today, the torch is carried by Shirin Neshat, whose evocative compositions explore displacement and gender, and Hamid Rahmanian, whose playful digital dances redefine the boundaries of graphic expression. Platforms like ‘Iranian Women of Graphic Design’ amplify the voices of rising stars like Aida Mirkhani. Rooted in history, Iranian design blossoms with each innovative stroke, etching a unique path to a dynamic future.

‘On Guard’ by Shirin Neshat | Source: NWMA

Graphic Design and Cultural Narratives

Iranian designers wield their craft like a potent pen, engraving social, political, and cultural narratives into the visual landscape. Therefore, graphic design becomes a mirror reflecting the complexities of Iranian society.

Projects like Neshat’s photo montages explore the contrasts between Islam and the West, femininity and masculinity, public life and private life, antiquity and modernity, and bridging the spaces between these subjects. On the other hand, Rahmanian’s playful satires on consumerism spark public discourse, challenge norms, and shape collective understanding.

This zesty interplay between creativity and cultural commentary makes Iran’s design expression a powerful voice, shaping not just aesthetics but the very fabric of its identity.

Poster by Akrames Mailli | Source: IWGD

Women in Iranian Graphic Design

As a response to injustice & lack of representation, Iranian Women of Graphic Design (IWOGD) was born. Initially, a platform showcasing the creative fire of Iranian women designers, both within and beyond borders, it transformed into a powerful voice during the #WomenLifeFreedom protests following Mahsa Amini’s tragic death.

IWOGD now pulsates with an amplified heartbeat, featuring Iranian and global creative voices united in solidarity. The works of the designers act as a chronicle of graphic protest, ready to be wielded against internet censorship and empower the silenced. This platform is a dual force: a repository of visual memory, and a potent weapon, igniting courage and resistance.

As IWOGD asserts, “Posters work both in the streets and on social media. They are the visual memory and an archive of this movement. They tell stories of struggle, resistance, and the timelines of the issues represented.”

Poster by Akrames Mailli | Source: IWOGD

Future Trends and Innovations

The future of Iranian design is not merely about aesthetics; it’s about harnessing the power of visual communication to address social issues, inspire change, and redefine the role of design in a globalized world. This evolution is fueled by a tech-savvy generation connected to the global design scene yet deeply rooted in their heritage. As globalization intensifies, Iranian designers are poised to bridge cultural divides, sharing their unique narratives with the world. Collaboration with international talent and participation in global design events will further propel them onto the international stage.

Graphic Design Week, Tehran | Source: Tehran Times

In conclusion, graphic design in Iran isn’t just a discipline; it’s a bridge between ancient echoes and the digital future. From Abedini’s social cries to Neshat’s haunting whispers, this visual language blossoms on the global stage, bound in tradition yet reaching for the future. As technology bridges borders and collaboration ignites, Iranian design stands firmly to paint the canvas of a culture refusing to be bound, forever pushing the boundaries of what design can create.




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