Imad Gebrayel

Imad is a Lebanese designer and illustrator specializing in research-led design with a focus on sociology, politics, and investigative fieldwork. His process is centered on fusing journalistic reporting with visual design skills to communicate key insights with a toolkit that draws from Arabic writing, bilingual design, data visualization, illustration, and a variety of research techniques.

After holding the Creative Director position at Mojo Ink – Beirut and Abu Dhabi – for 2 years, Imad decided to pursue a Masters in Graphic Design at AKV|St.Joost, The Netherlands. Moreover, he collaborated with various Design studios and held a teaching assistant position at the American University of Science and Technology (AUST) in Beirut, Lebanon.

His early commercial endeavors include creating and developing works for brands across Lebanon and the UAE. He is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

What was the impact of your experience as a design student and practitioner on the way you do research and the way you teach?

I was taught by a highly diverse pool of educators. The courses were not thought of as a complete system, and their quality was always relative to the teacher himself/herself. I studied at one of the American-system universities in Beirut, and courses were a combination of credits: make your own puzzle! That was difficult as it does not function like a typical art academy in Europe and takes much more planning from the student’s perspective. This planning made us more responsible and more accountable. We had control over what courses to take and with whom. I was lucky enough to have encountered influentially political teachers in my senior year, such as Daniel Drennan, who enabled me to do politicized research on design and capitalism for my graduation. This process heavily impacted my research methods, it helped me to embrace my political bias and understand design critically. Design is always political, and that's the stance I take in my practice and academic career.

In terms of teaching, I learned that a teacher can/should never create copies of his/her own design views. I believe that teaching is exposing students to as many possibilities as possible and allowing them to seek their own research methods and references. Studying and teaching in Beirut needed a lot more effort compared to my European experience. There, you have to work very hard to seek references, to find resources, and to take part in events - in combination with working full time to cover the costly tuition fees. This precarious context taught me resilience and shaped my teaching methods. I am now less inclined to give privileged European students an excuse, and I expect much more from them.

Also, note that design education in Lebanon is highly westernized. We learn Eurocentric art and design history and are trained with Latin script. This hegemonic relationship built my disassociation and interest in decolonizing design and understanding it as a capitalist, political, and hegemonic practice in need of re-iteration.

As an educator, what are your main concerns regarding the construction of a curriculum?

I am not currently teaching, but my concerns are:

- The curriculum being overly focused on aesthetics and technical courses;

- The curriculum being overly focused on design as a problem-solving practice void of criticality;

- The curriculum not allowing for theory;

- The curriculum not considering theoretical research a design outcome;

- The curriculum not including material covering feminist, queer, and decolonial material and not referencing people of color;

- The curriculum being strictly Eurocentric;

- The curriculum not being open to interdisciplinary collaborations (with university-based scientific research programs);

- The curriculum not being ethnographic (never involving students in field research).

How do you balance between what you bring as an educator and what is built collectively from the experiences in the classroom?

I see it as a complementary approach. An educator is only as good as the experiences he/she incubates in the classroom. Education is a process completed 'with' the students and not designed 'at' them. However, that does not mean that 'anything goes.' I find subjective artistic contributions in design education to be harming the potential and credibility of design research. As a result, I call for taking design out of the art academies and opening it for scientific research. 'The collective' in a classroom should be exposed to the educator's feedback but will eventually form its own process in the research/practice field. I can only expose, challenge, and introduce them to new methods, people, and references. It is for them to take it, transform it, or leave it.

What is your process to construct a more diverse bibliography for your class? Is this effort something you make explicit to the students?

This is a prerequisite. The class should be founded on a diverse and political bibliography. Sometimes it's hard for design students to understand the need to read sociological or anthropological material while studying design - That's a work in progress. It's also hard for them to understand why Eurocentrism is a negative and highly colonial attribute of design education, being European themselves. The diversity comes from within then reflects on the class bibliography. There are multiple ways to activate their critical thinking, starting with how they identify as individuals: queer, colored, colonized, oppressed, misunderstood, and othered. There's probably a plethora of ways to challenge a class, starting from one's own personal struggles.

And finally, what references, literature, or resources have inspired you or were fundamental in your learning and teaching experience?

In my own journey, the most influential literature came from readings on Orientalism (Edward Said), then followed by contributions from Hamid Dabashi (Post-Orientalism). I also read a lot of decolonial texts by Gayatri Spivak, Franz Fanon, as well as more contemporary contributions to criticality like 'Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture' by Gregory Sholette and 'Ruined by Design' by Mike Monteiro. I also closely follow contributions by the Decolonizing Design Group, especially those by Danah Abdullah and Ahmed Ansari.