Thursday, 26 March 2015

Trying to help Omani Designers - Step 1

A'Salam Alaikom,

"Been a while" that's always how I start my blog, I know, but I'll try to write more often just to pour my heart out when it comes to design in my country. So expect some happy moments and some angry ones in my coming blogs. I can whine and I can be extremely ecstatic.

I don't think I'll criticise ads as much anymore, because it's pointless - I write about them, people read, laugh, and it ends there. It's time for useful/productive blogs. Let's face it.. Nothing will change here unless a revolution is made by young Omani Designers. I say designers precisely, because fine artists and photographers have their own associations/communities that could take care of them, but we don't.

So today, I have made a decision that this will be MY job. As an Omani designer, my design path has not been easy in my country for the past 10 years and it's getting worrying and upsetting to see talented Omanis leave the country to seek better opportunities abroad. We lack nothing talent-wise! We just crave appreciation and support. The country is full of young, talented, creative and mad designers! 'cause a designer is not a designer unless she/he had a pinch of madness in them. Right? Right.

Neighbouring countries are waaaay ahead of us and it's time for us to fight, to catchup, and to learn from them. It is not a shame to get inspired by them. We don't have to copy them, but it is important to learn and benefit from their experiences whether good or bad. We'll then blossom and flourish like they did. It's never too late.

By saying the above, it's obvious that I have something in mind. Right? Right. Well, I do, and I'll share it with you, but first let me talk about how I met those creative young Omanis and why I'm so pumped up...

I organise PechaKucha in Muscat ( I am very patriotic when it comes to selecting speakers - Omanis always have the priority on my list. At the beginning, I was afraid of running out of speakers from the creative field, because I only knew a few who are floating above the surface. Everyone always mentioned them, appreciated them, and brought them to very similar events, but then I dug deeper and found a huge number of Omani designers who're superb at what they do, but are ... lost. Yup, majority are just hidden treasures who seek an opportunity.

That's why, for PechaKucha Muscat, I started featuring those talented ones who are under the surface. They are now my target. I do not accept any applicant who is well known, had several exhibitions, or will use my non-profit organisation platform to advertise for his/her well-established company. I seek young unknown creative Omanis.
I get asked a lot: "Where do you find these talents from?!". Well, I work hard, I dig deep, I go to schools, colleges, I meet people, go to exhibitions, online... etc. I do proper research because I'm genuinely into it. I genuinely want to help others and I believe I can differentiate between the good original talents from the "copy and paste" ones from my experience in the field. I do this voluntarily.

PechaKucha started in 2012 in Muscat. It runs 4 times a year according to the contract signed with Japan, but it has stopped for a year because I did not find a sponsor for many reasons I don't want to get into right now, but majority do not believe in design to support it. They don't see it as an investment. I, honestly, don't blame them. We are not surrounded by creativity, our advertisements are between mediocre and poor, majority of the logos are a joke because the cheaper always wins the pitch, design is not a subject taught in public schools... etc.

Anyway, one day I woke up thinking to myself: PechaKucha Muscat can't stop. It won't stop. I cannot fail in front of the Japanese! Some people anxiously look forward to this event. People have been emailing, texting and calling asking about it. 7aram. I can't do this to them. I have to do something.

So I decided to meet with - who was at the time - Omantel's CEO Dr. Amer Al Rawwas. I heard from friends that he supports youth a lot. I took an appointment with him and after a few long weeks, it was time to meet him face to face.
I was given 20 minutes only to convince him of my needs. So I prepared a keynote presentation and put in everything that I thought would sell the concepts from my marketing and communications experience. I even added a page of financials - in case he asks "how much?",  'cause, you know, it all comes down to money with CEO's.

I can say I was very well prepared. I was ready to conquer the world. I wasn't ready to take no for an answer. This was my chance. I presented two projects, one of them was sponsoring PK for a year = 4 events and another on a bigger scale that also involves designers. He approved both on the spot! I remember myself looking at him in shock  "Are you sure?!". He replied simply " You're good at marketing". He then told me that he'll be waiting for his invite for the next PechaKucha.

A couple of weeks later, I invited Dr. Amer to attend.

On the night of PechaKucha Vol.06, Dr. Amer showed up. I always start on time - at 20:20.
This time was no different. Six speakers spoke confidently about their incredible portfolios and inspiring stories in 20 slides each. Each slide in 20 seconds. That's a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds for each speaker.

A picture of me and Dr. Rawwas sitting next to me as my
guest of honour listening to all the presentations
(Picture Credit: @FullFrame)

PechaKucha was a huge success as usual #AlHamdulillah. Many companies approached me immedietly after the event to sponsor the next one.
So, at the beginning I had to stop for a year because I couldn't find sponsors and now sponsors are approaching me! Hallelujah!

Thank you Dr. Amer. I will forever be grateful for your support.

The audience. A full house
(Picture Credit: @Bluesynergy)

Now that I know PechaKucha Muscat will go on for another 3 events AKA حاطة في بطني بطيخة صيفي, I'm happy and can focus on other designers' needs... On to the next step to help my fellow designers...

With design, SF.

PS: Ignore any grammatical mistakes. I don't read my blog twice before I post and I'm not much of a writer. I design.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Take it easy

Salam everyone!

Eid Mubarak! Anyone traveling this holiday?

It's been ages since I last blogged about the beautiful *cough* ads I see around Muscat - 15 months to be precise.

Been caught up with work and life in general. I just want to take advantage of my blog space and thank god for the countless blessings in my life and the hard times I've been through as well, because without them I wouldn't have given the best a chance. A big thank you to the biggest blessing in my life; my family. I love you mama, baba, sisters and bro. You've always been there for me. You are my fans, my supporters, my cheerleaders, and most importantly my comedy channel when least expected and most needed (hehe). Al Hamdulillah.

Onto what I like doing best; criticizing ads around me.

Was asked to blog about a specific ad that has been released quite sometime ago here in Oman - maybe a few months now. I think you'll remember it without me even posting a picture. The name will ring the bell. The one and only:

Take it easy (خف علينا) by Nawras - a telecommunication company in Oman.

Yes! see.. you remember. That billboard was the talk of the town! No one missed it and I don't think anyone will ever forget it, whether for a good reason or a bad one. 

But why did it stand out? Was it the size of the billboards, the location, layout, colours, copy, translation, concept or was the message confusing?

First of all lets start by saying that Nawras do have some great ads. They do try their best to be creative and capture the right audience attention. They do think out of the box, but this one was just somehow.... "special". 

Billboards are placed in very busy common areas

Lets break it down...
- Starting with the layout. It looks good; simple, clean and applied according to their guidelines. CHECK
- Font-wise: Clean and clear. Legible. Arabic on top of the English. CHECK (native language has to always go on top)
- Colours: White on dark green; makes the copy stand out. Perfect contrast. CHECK
- Image: Okay. They are trying to show us some different ways of communicating; phone, laptop.. etc. Adding a local with the Kumma and Dishdasha. CHECK

So far so good. Then why are people talking about it? 

The most important part in a corporate ad or any ad is the headline along with the image. One should get it in a few seconds in order to move on to the call to action.

Nawras is trying to deliver a message. What is it? It's "Take it easy".
OK. nice. We know what "take it easy" means. It means slow down, be patient, relax, take care, and we use this line often in our daily lives, so we can relate to it. Another CHECK.

Next, lets now link the line "take it easy" with a telecomm company. So they provide broadband, wifi.. etc how do I take it easy with those services? or how do I "take it easy" with the company itself since it's not a tactical ad? Ding Ding Ding... Confusion alert.

Answers to that were different from different people. Those who like their services said "take it easy" has nothing to do with the brand. They are just reminding us to take life easy... Like a general reminder.
Other people said: They are telling us to take it easy or not to be harsh on them and stop complaining and calling their help line.
Others said: Take it easy means don't make calls much cause it congests our network and slows it down.
Some were rather considerate. They said: They are telling us to take it easy, therefore, we're moving to another telecom company!

Those are some of the responses I heard and remember. Honestly, I am just as confused. So, I'll leave it there hoping Nawras would clarify at the bottom.

On to the Arabic.. 

It's just the same if not worse because "Khif Alaina" translates to "take it easy on us" or "slow down". So if you compare it with the english, this one actually specifies that we should take it easy "on them". 

The english line could pass as a message or a general reminder, but this one doesn't. It's so specific. 

This can only be explained one way; stop bugging us, stop complaining, we are getting there, take it easy and bear with us or maybe stop showing off as it's commonly used as a sentence to stop the speaker jokingly from showing off or exaggerating. 

I know that they're trying to use those common sentences used amongst youth, but I don't see how it serves them in a corporate ad. Yes, you can be hip and cool using some interesting engaging lines, but does it serve any purpose or is it just an idea that needs better execution?

One more thing... The three dots in Arabic? Why? 

Below are some random tweeps comments on the billboard:

Layout over all: 5/5 
Colours: 5/5 Font: Legible 5/5 
Concept: 2/5 (trying to use common sentences) 
Execution of concept: 1.5/5 

With design, SF.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Nawras branding gone wrong.

As'salam Alaikom,

I know it has been ages since I last blogged. Apologies. I've been busy organizing PechaKucha Night - Muscat, which was held on the 21st May.
If you're into creative visual designs, you're invited to the next one in August.

Nowadays, I just have quick short comments on ads I see around me in Muscat that I place on my twitter account @omanadvertising.

Anywhooo, lets move on to what I have in store for you today; Narwas branding (a telecommunication company).

First let me explain what is branding? 
"To understand branding, it is important to know what brands are. A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognizable by more and more people, and identified with a certain service or product when there are many other companies offering the same service or product."

Nawras Logo in full colour

On Wednesday I attended TEDx. One of their main sponsors this year was Nawras.
On each chair there was this giveaway bag; a recycled bag filled with goodies. YAY! Who doesn't like free stuff?! Sa7?

Below is the bag. All clean and white with a green Nawras logo. Why the monotone?! Clearly, because it's cheaper this way. One colour printing is always cheaper than four. Fine. Whatever. It's not like its going to cost you fortunes or you can't afford a 4 colour print, Nawras! You should create a first impression, grab attention with the beautiful colours that already exist. I carry this bag to work every day as my lunch bag. Imagine how many people look at it!! and yeah, you're welcome :)

We all know Narwas' logo is bright and lively. You just killed it here and flattened it.

Moving along... Let us see what's inside the bag...

Trying not to judge a book by it's cover, Narwas, I'm giving you a second chance to impress me. I'll look inside the bag. You might've used your brand colours wisely.

In the bag I got:
TEDx' programme card,
a Nawras note pad,
a Narwas USB,
and a Nawras pen.

This is a group picture of the goodies. Let's check them now one by one:

The Programme card. Nice! Everything in place.
The Nawras logo is in full colour, but then this wasn't produced by them, so no credits here.

The note pad. Nice! the guidelines are implemented. 
The logo is in full colour.

And now the nightmare:
The complicated pen. 
Some ink cartridge and instructions sheet tucked under the pen. 
At the top end of the pen there a highlighting pen.
The logo is in black. 
Question: Why didn't you stick to green like the bag to remain consistent? or blue to match the below?

The WTF USB case:
1. The USB compartment is wayyyyy bigger then the USB.
2. The case has the logo in navy blue!
3. The logo on the USB is in white and the background is gold! Huh?
Can't the background be blue to match the case? *common sense shwaya?*

Someone explain to me why the mashed potato idea here? How does your marketing/branding manager allow such thing to be distributed to hundreds without checking the brands consistency and guidelines? or are your existing and potential costumers not worth the hassle?

EPIC FAIL when you can't reflect a decent image of your company.

After all this mash up of colours and dog food, I would like to ask Nawras:
Was this done in a rush?
Did you just throw other events left overs in a sack over night?
Do you know the importance of first impression/branding/marketing?

Seriously, are you colour blind? or are your clients simply not worth it?

Allah yahdeekom,

Rating: Zero for the pen and sack,
-1/5 for the USB case (yes! minus one),
4/5 for the spiral bound note pad and programme card logo implementation. 

With design, SF.

Monday, 31 October 2011


It's a shame (3aib) when a college of design (and other majors including English) produces such booklet to showcase their portfolio, facilities, courses and programmes.

Lets go through it before I start talking in details. It took me almost 3 weeks to blog this specific booklet out of my chest. Every time I sit infront of my laptop trying to put my river of thoughts into words; my hands shiver, smoke comes out of ears and my face turns into a red balloon filled with anger and frustration ready to explode! Maybe because it isn't only about this booklet, but its the whole experience, from landing a foot on the college grounds to running back to my car. The experience also has to do with the college's dean who asked me - when I went to apply for a job as a Typography teacher - he asked "What do you mean by Typography?" (!!!)  I felt like a bucket of cold water got poured over my head. I instantly thought to my self "Is this really where I want to work?"

For those who think.. Oh common, not everyone knows what Typography is, I totally understand if you're anything but a design college dean!

Lets showcase the bilingual college representative AKA booklet.

Arabic font is 16 throughout. Talk about little copy big fonts to fill up pages. Not just that.. Look at the design, layout and font. Overall, heart breaking, really! 

The two splats used behind the Arabic titles (Mission and Vision) are brushes set by default on Photoshop & Illustrator. So, basically no effort put into this. The whole booklet is designed in no longer than 1.14 hrs. I would say that, because there is a chart somewhere inside. Otherwise, a total of 53mins is more than enough.

Paper choice? What other than the cliché Matte Art paper that everyone uses even Salsabeel water flyers. Its the standard paper in Oman and the cheapest. Why does a design college go for the "default settings"? Shouldn't they stand out? Show their skills? Blind us with their overwhelming creativity? oh! and not to forget the cliché glossy covers.

See, this all wouldn't bother me for a second if it was designed for any company out there, but what ticks me off here is that this is a "design" college. There must be at least one teacher assigned to supervise the whole project and outcome. 
You know, I wont even be surprised if this was executed by some guy at the printers. Pay 20 rials extra and voila! Done in a jiffy. No soul, no life, no warmth into the booklet thats supposed to welcome many potential designers out there.

Oh! Just before moving along.. Note that the english side of this booklet has different information than the Arabic side. Confusing? Yes. On the English side "the mission and vision" pages don't exist. You jump straight into the programmes or is it programs or wait! it also could be programe!! According to this fascinating booklet (yes! I'm being sarcastic) there are many ways to spell the word and to impress everyone, they couldn't make up their minds, so, they just left it for you -the reader- to decide! 

Did I also mention there is no dean's welcome message? not that its important, right?!

Just count with me; how many different ways of spellings the word "programme" are there?
American, British, French???
Talk about the English course they provide, huh?! useful much?
Students work at the back of the booklet.

Alright.. So, the far left ad created by some graphic design student says "The best juice you can TEST." Do you mean taste? Ok, so obviously the student made a mistake, fair enough. But the question is, with this mistake, is it the best piece of work to feature in the booklet? If the design teachers english isn't so good, where's the proof reader? Didn't they acknowledge the fact that this mistake could jeopardies their marketing strategy (if they had one) or reputation?

Lets not talk about the fonts chosen, because as we've already established, typography is not in the Graphic Design major curriculum because it's only the MOST important design element (sarcastic, again!)

Lets have a look at the bottom ad here. It's by a student created for ROP (Royal Oman Police). It says "Don't cut it unless it's green"Ok i get it. Don't GO unless the traffic light is green, but why apples? (I'm getting into concepts now) just because apples were created in 3 different colours that match traffic lights, it doesn't mean I can use them for this purpose. 
Why can't I can't cut the apple when it's red? why not when its yellow? why only green?! It tastes good when its red. It also tastes good when its yellow! 
See, its just not related. The only connection is colour. Effective? No. Creative? No. Convincing? No. Concept? Zero.

I can go on about this 8 pages booklet for hours. However, I'll end it here for my health sake to start with!
Secondly, I would like to advise parents out there to check what you're paying for. If you have no background in design, it is ok, ask around, get opinions, compare college booklets, but don't let these colleges rip you off, because honestly they are not giving your children back the proper international education standard/quality you're paying/hoping for. 

I, personally, have worked with many graduates from this college and another, it has been a struggle. They don't know the basics of design such as kerning, leading, image resolution, difference between RGB and CMYK... etc. I DO NOT BLAME THEM, but for whoever is responsible, I say "3aib".

With design, SF.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

AMBIENT... Welcome to Oman!


Putting my 'ambient advertising' hat on for a change. We don't see much of ambients in the GCC as much as we do overseas, maybe 'cause we have alot of restrictions or maybe 'cause Arabs don't interact as much. People are not exposed to such things, and are a bit hesitant to go and ask or be part of, but nevertheless, this ambient idea kicks ends!

So, What's Ambient advertising? Ambient advertising slowly started making itself known towards the late 90's. It refers to all advertising that is out of home and non-tradtional - it is exciting, fun, targeted and engaging. 

Alright, moving along.. This ad is for General's New Super Cooling (Super Wave/Super Power/ Super Quiet)
5 speed control
30% improved powerful airflow
15m Long-reach airflow.

(Excuse the quality of the pictures.. I only have those two crappy ones. I got caught by security. No pictures are allowed to be taken inside the mall - MCC)

So anyway. At the main foyer area of the mall there is this huge transparent tent (10m long) that has an air conditioner at the end of it. As you can see, there are those coloured ribbons hanging from the tents ceiling. The long-reach airflow reaches all the ribbons across the 10m, which makes them move/flow.

So it's a really simple concept. You basically go in, feel the breeze, the power and the quietness, then just leave. You can stand as far as 9m away from the A/C. You don't have to go all the way in unless you want to see the A/C upclose.

The most important thing in the tent is the ribbons part. Without those ribbons you can't really tell how strong General air conditioner air-flow is compared to other brands. 

I like the colours of the ribbons. They stand out and you can clearly see the motion from far away since the tent is transparent and the back is white x white.

I asked the promoter, if this has been working well for them,
- Yes! we are selling. People come to me and ask what's it all about, but unfortunately, they don't go inside the tent for the experience. They just let their kids run back and forth not knowing the concept behind this whole thing.
= So it says on the leaflet that the airflow reaches 15m, but your tent here is only 10m long. Why?
- Well, it was hard getting a permission from MCC in the first place to put up a tent here. So we are happy with the 10m space we got. Something is better than nothing :)
= I love the concept. Is this done locally?
- Oh yes! A company called Imagine Technologies owned by Warith Al Kharusi, they came up with the idea and executed it for us. We are surprised ourselves that such idea came from a local company! 
= For how long will the tent be here?
- Until the 18th of Sept.

That's all from my side. I'm happy to see ambient taking place in Muscat. Things are taking time, going extremely slow, but they'll get there eventually. (Inshallah)

See! the security man is coming towards me! ahhhh,
 but the tent is right behind the kids there. Can you spot that transparent thing?

With design, SF.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Arabic Laziness!


Went to Carrefour the other day for some grocery shopping. Found this roll-up banner on the way out.
Not bad. The msg is clear. The design is simple. The font is....... WHAT?!

Ok guys, I gave you credits for the design, clarity, legibility, and concept overall, but why isn't the Arabic font matching the English?
The English and Arabic copy are acting as a unit, which is great! Shouldn't the English and the Arabic fonts be the same in design since they both convey the same msg?

The English font is fantastic! You used some handwriting font on a post it, BRILLIANT and makes complete sense, but couldn't you copy the same for Arabic? It's easy to do on Illustrator; outlines the selected font, then start drawing those 1/4 hatches!

Nothing else to say. Obviously the main design concept was executed in English then the Arabic translation was added to it. "Call us we'll answer" is another example at the bottom of this same banner! The Arabic is just a passive font. Not as friendly and inviting as the english active font.

Bottom line, DETAILS MATTER.

With design, SF.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Salam and Happy Eid to all,

Right! So, went Eid shopping with my sister and entered a shop called Jeans West
She started trying on some jeans, while I was seated on the chair besides the changing room handling her different sizes, and so, I noticed this...

While the door was locked, she had her Denim Off

And while the door was unlocked; she had her Denim on, so it was fine to open the door.

Now seriously, how cool is this idea?! I absolutely LOVE IT! Although the production was cheap; it was printed on some home A4 paper and Impact was the font used, but who cares right now!? I'm fascinated by the idea and the way it was delivered; simple, clear, creative. 

Sometimes you don't need all the extra graphics and bits. Using your guideline's colours with some simple smart copy, makes a great attention grabbing design. 

Enough said. This made my day. I'm happy!

With design, SF.