Many of us believe that good design can change the world. Hussein Alazaat and Ali Almasri are in that camp, having applying their experience in branding and crafting corporate identities to a unique kind of creative philanthropy. Wajha is their Amman, Jordan-based crusade to improve communities on a hyper-local scale, by offering pro-bono graphic design services to small businesses in need of a bit of polish and a brand new look. “Our belief in the power of design to improve and revolutionize bad conditions is continuously pushing us to make it available for everyone and accessible in every place,” they tell Co.Design.
The pair launched Wajha (meaning facade or interface in Arabic) last year, with an emphasis on transforming small storefronts, thereby helping businesses in less affluent parts of town and stamping out visual pollution. “Transparency and the interaction through lettering and illustrations between the inside and outside is a key pillar of our initiative,” they say. “We have a great passion for typography, with a specific interest in signage, which we think is playing a vital role in shaping the face of the city. One of our main concerns is commercial production where any understanding of design, typography and Arabic calligraphy is completely absent. New technologies are giving dangerous access to outsiders in the field to play–and miss–with signage systems, causing visual pollution to spread everywhere.”
They’ve completed two projects thus far, each personalized to the individual proprietor’s needs, determined after meeting, chatting, and a bit of good old-fashioned getting-to-know-you–a process that, from start to finish, takes anywhere from two to five months. And it all began with Khaled, an “inspiring” tailor in Alazaat’s neighborhood. “Khaled is deaf and mute, with a cool hat and funky outfits, but he was barely managing to earn the rent,” they say. “We wanted to give him some hope to keep going on; we wanted him to feel appreciated; and we wanted to integrate a new visual culture in that poor area, all through an unexpected and unknown way–design.”
To call Khaled’s shop cluttered is an understatement; it’s strewn with fabrics, threads, and tools of the trade that build up after years of dedication to the craft. Alazaat and Almasri created for him a kind of modern coat of arms, complete with a scissors and a dapper line-drawn caricature reminiscent of the man himself. “The community’s interaction has been fantastic,” they say. “The kids were laughing about the black mustache!”
Their second project was a family-owned bookshop in downtown Amman, started over 60 years ago, then passed down from father to son. “We love to work with shops that have some heritage and history,” they say. Here, they wanted to create a cohesive aesthetic, efficiently applied at the lowest possible cost. Their solution was a single stamp that could be used for a mix of collateral, including business cards, letterheads, and envelopes. They also developed an internal wayfinding system to guide customers through the myriad shelves, and the bilingual sign out front has brought in new, non-native customers. The final flourish were handmade bookmarks emblazoned with the custom logo–a nice touch that effortlessly unites function with feeling. “These strengthen the relationship between the shop and its customers,” they say.
Some suppliers and printers have offered discounts due to the nature of the work, but otherwise, Alazaat and Almasri have funded each project from their own pockets in order to maintain the level of integrity they see as imperative. “We don’t want the projects to be affected by any commercial third party in any way.” The pair have plans to expand Wajha’s reach beyond Amman as well. Up next is a barber shop in Almasri’s neighborhood in Zarqua–then, the world awaits. “We’d like to collaborate with other designers and artists from other countries to reach many areas as we can.”