Copyright 2019
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Fikra Biennial

Contribution to IDEA No.386: Ministry of Graphic Design – Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 01 Index, p.48–49, June 2019

In response to IDEA magazine’s request for a keyword that describes the Fikra Biennial, we decided to begin writing this entry before identifying a particular word, with the expectation of it leading us to one at the end. This approach deliberately and directly presents the act and process of reflection as its outcome.

Given its absence, we can only attempt to describe what this keyword might be and how that relates to the biennial, without actually referring to any specific word. This might seem at first to be an impossible task, yet, this approach is not unfamiliar to designers. We often attempt to articulate something in or through a work of design while designing it at the same time. The articulation is only formulated upon its completion. Some might refer to this as a way of thinking through making/designing, and it relates to seeing design as a mode of engagement and form of research rather than, if not in addition to, a point of service or translation. We find this similar to the premise of this biennial: graphic design is as much a catalyst for dialogue as it is a form of communication.

The nature of this process is speculative; it investigates that which does not yet exist. This raises another contradiction: how does one examine something before it exists? Again, we find its possibility inherent within design. In designing, we look into speculations while simultaneously realising them, whether in theory or practice, situated and imaginary settings alike. We see a parallel between our search for an appropriate keyword (through writing speculatively) alongside the scope of the biennial: it speculates upon graphic design’s expanded role by creating and engaging from within, as a way of designing itself.

Our somewhat unnecessary “alternative” approach to this entry may be seen as a form of indulgence, comparable to how many might view design practices that are labelled similarly. Nonetheless, we argue that this exaggerated form of creativity imposes upon viewers/readers to actively engage with and reflect upon what they see, which renders criticality and/or reflexivity within such practices. We draw a connection between this and the works presented at the biennial: even when at times seemingly obscure in their form or presentation, they had clear intentions to engage or question conventions within the discipline or the broader issues they address.

After briefly describing these three aspects of the biennial in relation to our attempt at finding a keyword, we still do not have a confident idea of what this word might be. For that reason, we provide a response that is both provisional and tautological: the keyword that describes the Fikra Biennial is one that describes the works and practices it represents or includes. Before we are seen to be avoiding the question, here is our (hopefully clarifying) closing thought:

The lack of a keyword signals both a potential and limitation in discussing such forms of graphic design. Although recent terms like critical (graphic) design, design activism, discursive design, speculative design, radical design, “ugly” design, etc., are useful in extending thought trajectories within the discipline, individually, they fall short when seen as a “privileged” form of “design” isolated from the rest of design practice. To some extent, they paradoxically contribute to the lack of a political, discursive, speculative, or socio-cultural, etc., nature/approach/relevance within the whole of design. More than the need for a new descriptor (or term/keyword), we need a way to approach, speculate, and critique design practices concerning these terms and their discourses. In our hopeful view, the Fikra Biennial can be one of such examples in practice. If that is the case, it becomes the keyword for itself, while this text serves as its description.