Last year, curious to discover what foreign designers create around the world, we launched a series of design-related interviews. We selected designers we loved, in various countries, and sent them a list of questions to discover their design inspiration, work, or the degree of influence of their homeland culture.
Our goal is to understand better how and where the graphic design community seeks inspiration, if it tackles censorship or limits in some countries, and if the design results tends to standardise.
This investigation is still open, so if you want to participate, you can download this form: designers-world-questions, answer the questions and send us your answers + HD images to tiphaine[at]grapheine.com.
The first country we'll be looking at is Turkey. We've interviewed 2 graphic designers : Ozan Akkoyun and Volkan Ölmez.
We'll first draw a panorama of the country's design situation, and then draw a closer attention to these 2 particular designers.
Being a cornerstone upon two continents, Turkey mixed populations, cultures and crafts from Asia, Africa and Europe through travels or conquests. Its tumultuous history goes through more than 600 years under the flag of the Ottoman Empire, enriched by exquisite skills in architecture, miniature painting, stone carving, calligraphy or tile-making.
The Ottoman Empire comes to an end in 1923, after 4 years of National War of Independence, giving birth to the Turkish Republic. This new country then progressively shifts to a liberal system and towards modernity, economically and morally speaking. Advertising and graphic design gradually take part in this new society, led by a few remarkable figures.
Today, the lack of support from the government and the influence of Europe have made it difficult to define Turkish design, as it is still building its own identity and fighting against advertisement's reign. As Christopher Çolak, local designer and typographer, notes "If nobody knows about history of Turkish graphic design, it's because it hasn't been written yet". We'll try our best to underline its significant events.
From the series of interviews and from our own researches, the most famous and first designer who contributed to give a visual identity to Turkey is İhap Hulusi Görey (1898 - 1986). Born in Egypt, he studied in Germany, came back to Istanbul in 1925 and participated in the liberalisation of his new country. He developed a series of posters, bank notes and packaging for daily products and devoted 45 years of his life to illustrate and advertise the Turkish State Lottery tickets.
Its Germanic graphic style nonetheless owed him the title of father of Turkish graphic arts and advertising as he contributed to launch and develop the disciplines, and design the country's new face.
In 1928 the government intended to "purify" the vocabulary and changed characters from Arabic to Latin, shaking up the Turkish society, during what was called the sign revolution (Dil Devrimi). No need to precise that forbidding the arabic letters was quite a shock. In 1934, in an attempt to smooth things down and promote the new alphabet, Görey's illustrative talents were called upon to develop posters.
Supported and followed by other graphic designers such as Mengü Erkel, Yurdaer Altıntaş or Bülent Erkmen... İhap mostly played a part in teaching the discipline and enhancing graphic design's crucial role, nationally. Today, İhap Hulusi Görey is known as the "man who illustrated the republic".
Following İhap Hulusi Görey's lead, others contributed to develop graphic design and arts in the country.
Emin Barin (1913-1987) is famous for his calligraphic compositions, mixing Arabic and Latin characters. Trained in Germany as Görey, he designed Turkish coins for the government. His work contributed to maintain the legacy of kufic characters as a Turkish influence.
Yurdaer Altıntaş (1935-) spread Turkish graphic design abroad, and led to the creation of the Association of Graphic Artist. In the 70s', he contributed to create a graphic art department in Industrial Arts school. The teaching method was inspired by European schools, in France or Germany. This didn't particularly help to develop a typical Turkish graphic design.
The 70s' also saw the rise of advertisement and marketing, transforming graphic design into a recognised occupation. Bülent Erkmen and Sadik Karamustafa helped to understand and develop this new activity. Along with adopting ideas from Occident, they created visual identities for private companies. Known as the first graphic designers of the country, they became communication consultants for public institutions such as museums, theatres or city councils. In this cultural domain, Savaş Çekiç (1960-) is also famous for the role he played in cultural Turkish design, as a consultant for national Theatres:
In 2014, for Graphisme en France event, we could see Erkmen's posters in the streets of Paris (illustration "Paris / Istanbul" below). He is nowadays considered as the godfather of Turkish design, still influent and independent. Keeping such a position is not an easy thing to do in Turkey where independent designers mainly have to work for advertising companies to survive, and tend to loose their creativity in favour of sales mechanisms.
Illustrations: Yurdaer Altıntaş and below, Bülent Erkmen.
In the early 80s' a bunch of designers created the Turkish Graphic Designer Association (GMK) in order to bring together graphic designer, connect them with companies, and organise events and exhibitions to promote their creations. A few specialized zines were published back in the 80s and reborn in the 2000's but progressively lost their editorial coherence, becoming more and more influenced by advertising and less by cultural and graphic production.
In 2006, BAK magazine published its first issue. It was one of the first magazines to promote graphic design in Turkey. Bilingual, "its main objective was to build a bridge among young artists, artist candidates, and masters from all around the world." Free and available online, its founder Ozan Karakoc had the opportunity to interview and promote artists from all around the globe, during 6,5 years.
Unlike product design or architecture which are quite successful and renowned in Turkey, graphic design is still building its own identity, stuck between European heritage and a forgotten Ottoman past. A few Turkish actors are confident in the rising of a local style and put efforts into building a community. Nowadays, the effort is mainly held on trying to emphasise both a connection amongst local designers and a Turkish graphic identity. Mostly because it remains difficult for young designers to express their creativity in a country where advertising massively influences and steers the graphic culture.
Mehmet Ali Türkmen (below) and Esen Karol have made an impression on many young designers in Turkey, and are always named as references by students and local graphic designers, including Ozan and Volcan that we interviewed. Tükrkmen and Karol still play a role in the graphic scene worldwide.
For instance, Esen Karol managed to create, on her own, a platform to connect designers together, through conferences and collaborations. Another influent actor is Christopher Çolak, who is, on his side, developing a special font "for the city, inspired by the city" (of Istanbul) : Istambulin. "All the letters in the posters are taken from the vernacular signs of various locations in Istanbul..." He also organises typography workshops which brings graphic designers together to collaborate and exchange.
In 2014, Slanted Magazine released issue #24 on Istanbul, along with a series of video interviews.
A great issue which managed to gather the latest trends and works of contemporary Turkish graphic design.
Knowing this, we can now compare this design panorama with the point of view of the 2 young designers we interviewed.
Ozan: Unfortunately, the visual impression is pretty careless out here. Especially the public signage systems, store or governmental building identities. You mostly see terrible applications in your daily routine. There are some nice oriental patterns, Islamic motives or Kufic typography, though. You can barely witness modernist, post-modernist applications. Even as a designer you need visual problems to solve but I guess after a point, having that much of a communication problem around is a bit overwhelming.
Volkan: It seems like the main influence is Turkish traditional patterns. But these kind of designs are mostly minorities. The biggest influence is international design.
Below, examples show traditional patterns and street signs in Turkey.
Ozan: The whole design industry is almost collected in one city: Istanbul. So if you want to be recognized, you have to live in Istanbul. Since it is an expensive and chaotic city, I would say that it is a bit challenging. Also I do not believe that designers are getting enough support locally.
Volkan: Honestly, Turkish government doesn't give much interest in design. Design is very connected with the political situation. Most of the designers want to work in a calm and peaceful environment. But in Turkey its hard to find such an environment recently... Of course these conflicts might be useful for many other designers because sometimes we are influenced by political events. In Turkey, political poster designs are a good example for that.
Ozan: Perhaps the project called “mülksüzleştirme”
It's an open-source series of maps which highlight the influence and control of politics and companies on media, energy or real estate in Turkey.
Ozan: Advertising industry, political agenda and tough economical conditions dominate the design field in our country. People mostly work in agencies. That means you may find yourself designing only what the mainstream media / clients want. At the end, the design community here is facing a limited creativity process.
Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University,
Istanbul - Turkey
Hochschule Augsburg - Germany
Designer and co-founder of Paleworks
Design blogs - portfolio platforms - exhibitions - books
I studied engineering before design. I was so into math, science etc. Then I found out that in Turkey, it is not the most exciting thing to do. Working in design field forces you to stay up to date and try new stuff. Especially if you are a graphic designer, you can stick your nose into everything. You can work with / for almost every type of client from different fields.
In my opinion, it is not possible to standardise design but on the other hand, globalisation is forcing us to consume trends quickly and apply them into our works without even questioning. I am trying to avoid doing that.
Modern art - architecture design
I don't know if the other designers have auto-censor. Im so happy that we don't have any limits or censor in our designs. We are using political stuff as a reference for our designs.
Designers are famous and recognised for their designs. Famous brands seek specific designers for specific works. For example in Turkey, cultural events’ designs are designed by more specific selected designers. Advertisement is the biggest pie in the Turkish design area. We have many personal and small design studios. Cultural and artistic events are more keen to choose these kind of studios rather than big mass production agencies. So young designers usually choose to work in small studios. It helps them to create unique designs and more recognisable works.
Documentarist, a political series of posters for a film festival.
We hope that this overview of Turkish graphic design will inspire you to know some more and to visit Istanbul and Turkey. Many thanks again Ozan and Volkan for your help.
If you're a Turkish designer yourself or know someone whose work and opinion is worth sharing, feel free to write to us. If you're from anywhere else on the planet and you want to participate, you can download this form: designers-world-questions, answer the questions and send us your answers + HD images to tiphaine[at]grapheine.com.
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