Being Arab and British, designer Samar Maakaroun says she exists in the space between the two through work that embraces nuance, complexity, interaction, and play. Forever in search of opportunity and information, Samar’s designs explore the intersections, integrations, alignments, and divergences that can be found in between language, culture, aesthetics, and visual approaches.
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The design world is somewhere Samar has known she belongs for quite some time. “I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, my siblings were playing outdoors, but I had decided that I will make a three dimensional house out of paper inside my french literature sketchbook. I do not remember the book I was trying to design for, nor did I know what paper art was at that age, but what stayed vividly with me was the satisfaction of making an idea in my head materialize into real life,” she shared. “The enjoyment I got once I managed to achieve this abstract idea despite all the creative blocks, not knowing much, and the stacks of paper I worked through … I was totally immersed, in full flow, oblivious to what my siblings were doing and anything outside the pages of my sketchbook.”
At one point, Samar experienced a show by Xavier le Roi — “Product of Circumstances” (1999) – at the Ayloul festival in Beirut. It left an impression, and also happens to be a wonderful example of crossover. “It was a sort of lecture performance about the artist’s double life as a choreographer as well as a molecular biologist,” she said. “The story in a nutshell drew parallels between the controlled environments of scientific labs and his inability or ability to control his body. I remember being fascinated by his humor, how we turned such a simple dichotomy into a very engaging performance, while raising philosophical questions about structures of control and hierarchies of power. The actor was moving in space between the two sides of the stage, one dedicated to the science, and one to the dance, simple and effective spacial alignment with the subject matter.”
With over two decades of experience, Samar has had the chance to work on landmark identities with some of the world’s biggest design studios, including Pentagram, M&C Saatchi, and Apple. She’s helped M&C Saatchi coin the first ever integrated destination Brand – Brand Dubai – which launched in 2014 and is still going strong. In 2015, Samar assisted Apple in building their brand in Arabic with their digital, retail, and print teams. And she’s worked with Pentagram to rebrand the Abu Dhabi Media portfolio, and later brought the Diriyah City brand to life.
Then in 2022, Samar and a team of four designers, spanning three generations and speaking seven languages between them, formed Right to Left. The studio introduced a fresh approach to the London design industry by bringing together designers who cover every aspect of brand design – from naming and strategy, brand identity, motion design, signage, and way finding to digital-content development, cultural consultancy, and editorial design. In short, Right to Left specializes in designing for hybrid brands by integrating worlds, cultures, and languages.
When not designing, she enjoys cooking or taking a walk to make the switch from work mode to personal life. Today, Samar Maakaroun is joining us for Friday Five!
1. Samir Sayegh
Samir Sayegh is an incredible artist whose body of work in modernizing the Arabic script spans decades. He was my Arabic typography teacher during my BA years, and he is now a friend and mentor. Samir taught me, and all the designers of my generation, so much about typography, life, and the art of the script. His work has inspired everyone working with Arabic typography today. Samir is one of those artists who are ahead of their time, and I do hope one day that I would get to see a retrospective of his work, hopefully soon, in one of the design museums in London.
2. The Arabic Design Archive
The Arabic Design Archive is an open platform digitizing documents from the history of design in the Arab world, including book covers, posters, stamps, invitations, and other ephemera. It aims to address the absence of open source archival material, the scarcity of history books on design, as well as the lack of local governmental initiatives to write and safeguard their creative histories. Our histories inform our present and future and are essential to any practicing designer today. I chose to include this pick as it is a huge ambitious effort worth celebrating.
3. 600 Black Spots: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David A. Carter
Although this book is designed for children, I find a lot of joy flicking through its pages. The shapes and structures created with colored paper of varying thicknesses are just delightful. It’s a fantastic sculptural object featuring a different surprise on every page. Perhaps this book, to me, is one possible iteration of good design: mixing color and science, playing with form and texture, removing all excess, crafting beautifully to end up with something that surprises and delights. All the while making it look seemingly effortless.
4. Hegra National Heritage Site (AlUla), Saudi Arabia
I recently had the opportunity to visit AlUla to run a workshop with local people as part of a program directed by Arts AlUla, in Saudi Arabia. During my stay I had the opportunity to join a guided tour of the stunning heritage site, Hegra, pictured above. It is rare these days to find a destination so arresting, and yet so hidden from travel books and blogs. What was most striking in this place was the contrast of opposites, desert and oasis, heat of the day and cold of the night, flat sand and utterly ragged textured mountains, old town and new architecture, traditional farmers mingling with contemporary artists. The energy of a place transforming in tune with its context was palpable and invigorating; it was fantastic to experience this discovery in the middle of the desert out of all places.
5. My Studio + Team at Right to Left
I recently came across a stat from 2019 that I found hard to believe, only 01.% of creative agencies are founded by women. I am not entirely sure of the accuracy of this number, but I sure hope that figure has improved today. No matters the odds, I thought it would be fitting to have as my fifth pick my team, especially Liz and Jacob who have been with me since the start and who trust my leadership and show up as their best selves everyday.
Work by Samar Maakaroun + Right to Left: