08 November 2006
Demetrios Fakinos
Demetrios Fakinos

When you hear the word Greece, what comes to mind immediately? Sea, sun, white cubic houses with blue doors and windows, the Parthenon, philosophy, theatre, the Olympic Games or your last holiday on the islands...

How many of you thought of design? I wouldn't be surprised if no one did. The Greeks may well boast about forming 99% of the roots of western culture, but design is a field that isn't well represented in Greece. Why? There are several theories about this.

Firstly, Greece never was a highly industrialised country. And it is a well-known fact that all disciplines of design flourish in an industrialised context. If there is no development of commercial industries, there can be no development of the design industry.

The second reason, equally important, is the Greek alphabet. It is used by a very limited number of people and, as a result, Greek typography had little chance to develop. Leaving the past behind, we should look at what is happening in the design industry in Greece right now.

The design industry
The Greek market is a relatively small one. With a population of less than 11 million and a GNP (Gross National Product) that is one of the lowest in the EU, it seems that there is not enough scope for the development of the design industry. Yet, in the last few years Greece has shown high rates of economic growth. Now the country is preparing for the 2004 Olympic Games.

Breakdown of the graphic design market
Freelance and self-employed designers: The majority of Greek designers are part of this group. They take on the smaller jobs in the country. Even though they do the majority of the work in the design field, their total income is the lowest. The quality of their work varies from awful to excellent. However, some manage to increase their businesses, secure a couple of good clients, hire people and move to the next group.

Small or medium-sized creative bureaux: They are the smallest group competing in the commercial sector, but they are probably the most creative. It is more common to find good design products created by this group, compared to the other three groups.

Big advertising agencies: This group attracts the big budget clients. All major international advertising agencies are represented in Greece. In fact, they have actually taken over the big local agencies that were market leaders until the late eighties.

Publishing sector and in-house designers: This group doesn't account for a large number of designers - magazine publishers employ the majority. It provides a few designers room for experimentation and growth.

Until 1977, people interested in pursuing a career in graphic design in Greece either studied Fine Arts or went to a school abroad. The School of Graphic Design was established in the Technological Educational Institute of Athens in 1977. Offering a four-year design course, the School of Graphic Design is the only state school in this field. There are many private schools and colleges that offer one- to four-year courses, but only three of them that offer a major in graphic design have more than 100 students. According to students, teachers and professionals, the quality of design education in Greece is highly problematic.

Professional association
About ten years ago, the Greek Graphic Designers Association was very active. At its peak the association had 250 members and was a member of Icograda. In the last few years this association became very inactive mainly due to lack of interest from the designers, the community and the board itself. While design is a highly competitive and growing field in Greece, there is no representative body for graphic designers in the country today.

Other professional organisations
Some design events driven by the private sector have managed to flourish. Greece hosts one of the ten Design Museums in Europe. Unfortunately, for the last four years no permanent exhibition could be arranged due to lack of space. Despite that, the Design Museum of Thessalonica manages to present at least two exhibitions every year, attracting a satisfactory number of visitors.

The bimonthly magazine, Delta D, is the only magazine in Greece that focuses on design creativity. Since the magazine was founded about four years ago, the publishers organised two exhibitions, two small conferences, various delegations for conferences and exhibitions abroad, and (most importantly) the first Greek Graphic Design and Illustration Awards, and its subsequent publication. The Greek Graphic Design and Illustration Awards were launched last year with the endorsement of Icograda. About 200 designers and design firms from all over the country participated. Its success confirms that there is a need for such an annual event. Consequently, there will be more events to come.

Alter Vision is an award-winning team of designers from Thessalonica. They are the creators of Hyphen, an academic typographic publication that is published twice a year. In June 2002 they organised an international conference on typography and visual communication, in which about 400 attendees and 80 speakers from all over the world participated.

Over the last few years, graphic design has been growing along with the Greek economy (or maybe because of it). Most of us working as designers in Greece are quite optimistic about the future of design in the country. The other day I was looking at the beautiful Phaistos disc dating back some time between 1700 and 1400 BC and it hit me! Maybe we did lay the foundations of design after all.

About the Author
Demetrios Fakinos, born in Athens Greece in 1973, is a designer wannabe who studied Business Administration in the University of Piraeus and got an MSc in Human Resources Management from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. In the past four years, he has organised numerous events for the Greek design community, including conferences, exhibitions and the Greek Graphic Design and Illustration Awards (GGDIA). He published the first Greek Design Annual, which contains all winning entries from the GGDIA.

About Delta D
In November 1998 Demetrios first published Delta D, a Greek, bimonthly, award-winning publication dedicated to the field of visual arts. Its 3,500 copies have sold out already nine times in the magazine's 25-issue history. The magazine exhibits works created for the Greek market, contains interviews with leading designers, and includes articles on design around the world.