The Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity may sound like something from a David Foster Wallace novel, but the newest project from Saudi Arabian part-time scientist, part-time superhero Hayat Sindi has more idealistic ambitions. Known simply as the I2 Institute, the organization is trying to develop a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Middle East by teaching promising candidates how to collaborate with mentors, identify networking potential, and pitch ideas to both potential investors and the public at large.
The problem isn’t really connected to education, Sindi tells Co.Design. It’s that there’s no infrastructure in the Middle East that allows young people to apply the education that they already have. “I meet hundreds of young people and they get good university educations in the West. They just need an environment to flourish.”
Enter PopTech, the nonprofit innovation laboratory, which had named Sindi as one of its Social Innovation Fellows in 2009. The team invited Wolff Olins to develop a name, identity, branding–everything, basically. Todd Simmons, executive creative director of Wolff Olins New York, was already familiar with Diagnostics for All, the revolutionary paper-based diagnostics kit that Sindi cofounded in 2008. And the potential for such a cultural game-changer was intriguing. “It answers an important question about what comes after the Arab Spring: a job fair,” he says.
Co.Design spoke with Simmons and Sindi about the experience of branding such a specifically social organization, and we came away with four practical pieces of advice when designing for a broader social context.
Weigh the consequences
It wasn’t so much the opportunity to do it, Simmons says, as the consequences for not doing it. “These are very well educated, mostly men, but there’s not a lot of opportunity–even less if you don’t have a degree, even less if you’re a woman. Most of them just stay in the educational world getting degree after degree because there’s no way to apply what they’ve learned back home. Imagine you’ve got a population with the passion to get the most difficult degrees in science, engineering, or technology, and there’s no way to apply it. Where do you find your outlet?”
Identify the exceptional
“One of the first things we did was ask what made Hayat exceptional,” says Simmons. And they found? “She’s a combiner. She’s got all these degrees across disciplines. The institute was similar–it was science and social good.” Sindi says the name I2 represents the duality at the heart of the organization: “ideas and impact, thought and action, imagination and ingenuity.”
Embrace the audience
The logo is set in Graphik, with the number 2 turned sideways so it reads right to left, a nod toward Arabic writing, and with a curve that hints at calligraphy. But it also could be an image of a figure leaping forward, says Simmons. “We were very sensitive about being too American about it. You’re talking about people’s pride and we didn’t want to be too rah-rah-rah about the issue. What people do with their lives is very sensitive subject. We didn’t want to make a spectacle of that. We just wanted to be very frank, very clear, and very clean.” Sindi wasn’t concerned about the name sounding too American, but Simmons says they tried to avoid anything that could have been too political. They even discarded a name he liked, “The Well,” because of potentially negative oil-based connotations.
Finish the job
One of the biggest issues was identify the end of the process, says Simmons. “If I have one gripe with the design community it’s that we stop about halfway through and celebrate the design: ‘Look at this thing I made.’ But what was its intent and was that achieved? Because that’s the finished design.” It’s a sentiment that applies to Middle Eastern job hunters as much as practicing designers. “You can’t have innovation without imagination,” says Sindi. “But you also need the practical side–the ingenuity.”