Interview with Halim Choueiry

Originally from Lebanon, Halim Choueiry is the Vice President of ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations), a design educator and practitioner based in Qatar, where culture and education as become a priority. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University. Having obtained a Bachelor’s and two Master’s degrees, he is undertaking a PhD in Design at Brighton University in the United Kingdom. He also runs his own design studio, CINNAMON and publishes Comma, a quarterly pan-Arab graphic design magazine.
Interview by Karol de Rueda.
Why graphic design?
This kind of things just happens to you. In fact I did a BA in Interior design because that was the closest career I could find related with art…

Lebanon had a civil war between Christians and Muslims for many years and that was a very hard time, we didn’t have orientation sessions. I was drawing sketches on my books all the time and I was very interested in everything related with art. I finished the university as an interior designer but because of the people’s ignorance about the kind of design you do and your responsibilities, they started asking me for graphic design related work. Then I started working with type and I was fascinated with it; type is all about details, and I am a very detail person. Later on I got a masters degree on typographic studies. Typography is very specific to graphic design, while wall pain is very specific to interior design, but both are design. I was open and following my intuition and I am here now, designing typefaces and bilingual logos but I am not drawing houses any more. I am done with that.
Environmentally and philosophically, how did growing up in such place as the Lebanon affect your work?
This is the package that every human been carries with him, this is the process in how cultural pattern becomes acquired knowledge and how we use it in every day of our life. All the things that we see affect us somehow; is inside our brain somewhere, it melts, face out with different experiences and then we create something new inside us, but all depends in how we deal with this. I don’t know if is possible to trace it back, but growing in a culture such as Lebanon is very controversial, very open. We have our own traditions and we learn from different cultures because Lebanon is a tourist place. You learn how to respect the others and work with them, feed them in your homes and treat them with the very renowned Arabic hospitality. Growing up with all this mix of things really shaped you in a different way. You become tolerant accepting people the way they are, you don’t judge them, because different cultures play different roles. Is a package, is a luggage; like traveling around the world with a suitcase, putting experiences on it, forming different shapes.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everything, mainly people, I like to absorb people. I like to see what they do and how they do it. Every person has a different luggage full of culture and information; they interact with things differently according with what they know and their cultural background; this is the base to start tracing a behavioral pattern. I am inspired basically by everything and anything. I look at things and I am open for them; I try to understand why things happen and the cultural layers that are behind those achievements or human behavioral. This is a fascinating world, you can learn a lot from it.
In another words, my inspiration is life itself.
What is the key of your success?
It’s all about observation. We all learn according to our patterns; all what we collected and we have in our brains and our minds. Observing this patterns help us to know how to approach people because when I do a design for a client whether is a logo or an identity, magazine, brochure, etc. I do a study first; who is part of the group, to who this product is being addressed using observation and research. I work in a bilingual, sometimes trilingual society, Arabic, French, English, and they have complete different behavioral patterns. I try to combine as much information as I can; the final project needs to be functional, successful and finally talk to the large audience where people can relate to it and get close to their own thinking pattern. This is the key of our success.
Is there any border that stops you from being creative?
No, but I am careful, because I do not want to hurt anyone or I don’t want to rush into things because I am a very impatient person. If I rush I can hurt myself or unintentionally hurt the others. I try to be really careful. I don’t like to have borders, but sometimes is good to have them; they help you to avoid mistakes. I respect other’s space and their world. I fell myself many times; some people fell because of me, but the most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes, it takes time an effort because our character is very unique, very personal, we have our own luggage. We have to be respectful, tolerant, and open to learn from our mistakes. Borders can be good; they help you to have the wisdom to pull or to push, or to do both so you can finally make the necessary adjustments as you go on life.
You wear black all the time, is this a statement?
No really, it’s just easier. Practical.