PERSPECTIVES ON ICOGRADA DESIGN WEEK IN QATAR: PART 2

25 February 2009
Claudia Meyer-Newman and Nicholas Vanderschantz, Educational Symposium Speakers at the Icograda Design Week in Qatar 2009. Compiled and edited by Samara Watkiss.
Interviews compiled and edited by Samara Watkiss

Taking place next week, Mousharaka: Icograda Design Week in Qatar, will bring together a palette of renowned designers from around the globe to present their experience and knowledge of innovative design education within their own areas of expertise. Claudia Meyer-Newman and Nicholas (Nic) Vanderschantz, both attending as Educational Symposium Speakers, were kind enough to share their thoughts and curiosities about the upcoming conference.



Claudia Meyer-Newman (left) is a designer, creative director, fine art photographer, and educator who lives and works in Seattle, USA. Nic Vanderschantz (right) is a lecturer in Computer Graphic Design in the Computer Science Department at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand whose research focuses on children's on-screen reading.



What are your expectations for your upcoming trip to Qatar, what images you associate with Qatar and the Gulf Region?

CM-N: My images of Qatar are based on the stories and pictures from my students and peers. I am looking forward to recording my own impressions of the Gulf Region.  It is interesting to be so geographically close to countries experiencing so much political strife. The media images create an impression that is hard to ignore. I am looking forward to meeting and working with the students for the education workshop. Not knowing what to expect - I am open to the moment for discovery and new insights. Travelling has taught me to be open to new experiences and culture.

I am very much looking forward to engaging with the culture, beauty, imagery and aesthetic of the region. From a professional perspective I hope to learn more about the language and the written word. I am very interested in typographic forms and communication through written word. I hope to experience and learn more about Naskh script, which is a very different typographic form than I am familiar with, and has a characteristic that I would like to explore.

As an educator, what are your thoughts or expectation for Education City and in particular the Virginia Commonwealth University Satellite in Qatar as a predominantly American faculty educating Qatari students? What impact does it have on indigenous culture, and what are the responsibilities of the design faculty at VCU to the local culture?

CM-N: I think that Education City offers great opportunity for cultural collaboration. It is a microcosm of the emergence of vibrant educational opportunities in the Gulf Nations. I would hope that the conclusions taken from this conference will provide further opportunities for continued dialog amongst the educators and their students.

In regard to [the] question about American Universities educating Qatari students; I am hopeful that education and practice is a catalyst for change based on knowledge and experience. I think, the more we (educators and students) practice cross-cultural collaboration, without losing our identity and voice, the world can become a better place to live.

NV: I am very interested to discuss the working methodologies and pedagogical traditions of VCU and VCU Qatar. I have only recently begun exploring the different practices of institutes locally and worldwide. I think that there is a lot that I can learn from the many experienced educators who we will meet during Design Week. The opportunity to share [...] experiences and learn from others is something that I am sure we will all benefit from. Exploring the facilities of Education City will also prove educational for us all.

What does collaboration mean to you in a cross-cultural context? What responsibility do designers have to local culture?

CM-N: As educators, our role in cross-cultural collaboration is to facilitate. Collaboration is an organic process based on human behavior and cultural background. This is a balancing act. It requires the facilitator to stand back and [allow] the authentic ‘experience' to unfold.

Regardless, of working internationally or within your own community, designers need to investigate the cultural background of their audience. Understanding history, politics, religion, economy, and viewpoint, provides the foundation of how unique and diverse our audience can be. This is our responsibility in design practice.

NV: I think cross-cultural collaboration is something that many of us have come to take for granted. I feel that we increasingly live in a very cosmopolitan and multi-cultural society and that borders around the world are being broken down. With technology, including transport and telecommunication, we have the opportunity, if we choose to take it, to work with many different societies, cultures, religions, and personalities in our day-to-day professional and personal lives. Excitingly, as researchers we are at an advantage and often find ourselves collaborating across continents, time zones and cultural barriers.

The resolution for the Design Debate Doha is: Globalisation harmfully subverts culturally unique sensibilities.  What image or images speaks to this issue for you? Is design a globalising force?  How so? Do you agree with this resolution?

CM-N: I believe that literacy and critical thinking can provide the foundation for redefining "globalisation." Supporting economic success based on sustaining culture and uniqueness, respect and ethical practice is the essences of the issue. Perhaps, we need to redefine or invent a new word for globalisation.

NV: I think that globalisation can be harmful if used unprofessionally or unethically. But I hope, perhaps naively, that globalisation can also broaden our horizons and facilitate communication, learning and sharing on many levels. Many times I have observed careless and thoughtless use of cultural identity and cultural visual metaphor by Big Advertising. This has been evident in my local context by the abuse of traditional Maori motifs and customs over the years by international agencies that do not understand their significance. However, often times, through collaboration and understanding these same cultural and traditional motifs have and can be used with due respect and reverence.



For more information about the upcoming Icograda Design Week in Qatar, from 28 February - 5 March 2009, visit the Mousharaka website.


About Samara Watkiss
Samara is a student, designer and avid traveler. She is completing her final year of a combined B.A./B.F.A. degree studying International Letters and Visual Studies with a focus on Spanish and Arabic and Graphic Design in Boston.

In 2007, Samara served as an intern at the Icograda World Design Congress in La Habana, Cuba. She has conducted the above interviews as part of her education and will be joining the Icograda Secretariat team at the Design Week in Qatar to expand on this project.