Just a few months ago, going through SYNTAX’s door, you’ll walk straight into a flurry of activity; heated conversations discussing a webpage or an app interface, a group reviewing logo sketches hung all over the wall are posing as art critiques, our COO stands at the edge of the designers’ space and jokes around with the juniors in a startling tenor that frankly makes you jump a little. Our CEO broods over a particularly challenging project in the meeting room with another group arguing strategy or naming or experience, while project coordinators run around between phone calls to get on someone’s case about something or another, and a few designers stare at their screen with their headphones on, humming happily along and oblivious to the hubbub. Lunch time comes around and everyone gathers around our communal table for a bite and a laugh. We have our rough spots, like any other office out there, but, good vibes, all around.
Half the team is working from home, probably spending days on end in their PJs, beards unshaven, hair uncombed. The other half mopes around the office, with a sad looking apple or sandwich sitting on their desk. You’re out of touch with family, friends, colleagues, clients, and you make do. Everybody is on Zoom or Skype or Teams or whatever app that passes for real human connection, (which is when the PJ clad designers hurry to slap on a t-shirt to present some sense of normalcy). Work-from-home methods are discussed and debated and discarded. Disinfectants are distributed throughout the offices, masks are tucked in pockets… you know the drill.
You don’t know what to worry about, the economy or family or do you have enough supplies if the country goes into lockdown, do we have enough toilet paper? What is the deal with toilet paper? No one seems to have a clear handle on the proper protocols; Masks on or off? Schools open or closed? Go out or lock yourself in? Visit family or Skype (again)? Can I hug my mother? Life as usual? No.
And the memes, my God, the memes. As a country we do have an uncanny ability to laugh at just about everything, don’t we? But in all honesty, if I see one more ‘this year doesn’t count’ meme I might just pack it in and call it a day.
It has been quite a year, painful, frightening, heartbreaking, yes, but a few tiny bright spots (we did say goodbye to a certain orange president of a faraway country, or will soon). What you realize is that across the globe, across race and faith and social status, under the threat of a global pandemic we are all human, we are all afraid, yes, but we are tenacious, resilient, and hopeful.
Through it all the SYNTAX team has not lain dormant, we’ve kept busy, thankfully, though just like everyone else, it was tricky for a while. And just like everyone else we dug our heels in and got to work, because, well, that’s what you do.
Traveling through time
Looking back at those past 12 months, we’ve managed to work on quite a few projects, and it is always interesting to see what happens to the work once it’s been released into the wild. One project we had worked tirelessly on and we had been excited to launch this year is the new Jordan Tourism brand. We partnered up with the Jordan Tourism Board to work on an innovative new tourism brand that puts Jordan on the modern stage of global tourism. Crystalizing an entire country and its appeal to a wide range of tourists is no easy task, but months of toil paid off with a new tourism brand that we’re proud of, and with new memories and friendships that we will always treasure. A big shout out to our friends at London-based firm Something More Near, who collaborated with us on the project, bringing in their unique point of view from the other side of the globe.
Sadly, COVID had other plans for tourism.
Tourism halted to a stop as travel became restricted to necessity only, and we ended up looking fondly back on beach memories as we coop up in our homes in anticipation of a long, cold winter, with no escape to sunny locales in the foreseeable future. It made us realize how freeing it is to jump on a plane, train or car, to a place that is not here, wherever here is (at this point to just to head out of Amman would be a vacation). An Ironic twist of fate, it would seem, as we had only finalized a travel startup brand just before COVID came knocking. A brand around a community of travelers with a shared interest in exploration, The School of Travel was the result of our Venture DNA process. The team worked collaboratively with the founders to fine-tune the business strategy, developing scenarios to imagine the future possibilities of the venture.
Travel and tourism have always held a special appeal to us; weaving the threads of archeology, history, adventure and art into the tapestry of contemporary urban life and presenting it to the modern world. We particularly enjoyed a voyage into Nabatean history with our work on the Petra Museum, where we created a series of videos and panels on the ancient Nabatean history; the daily lives of the people of Petra, the magnificence of their art and architecture, and the genius of their engineering.
Ice cream coming to the rescue
During the early months of the pandemic, after the two months of curfew, the entire country emerged scrambling to make sense of a new world, the most surprising thing came to our rescue at SYNTAX; a new ice cream brand. This simple sweet concoction was just the thing to kick us back into high gear. Our old friends at The Cakery decided to launch their ice cream with a new brand and a social media campaign. Excited about working with The Cakery again, and not just because they always pamper us with sweet treats (yours truly has a helluva sweet tooth), but The Cakery On Ice promised to be a fun and joyful project to work on, and a great way to let everyone forget about viruses and social distancing for a just a bit (everyone kept their masks on, don’t worry). We created the On Ice brand, came up with ice cream flavor names, and developed the campaign and brand video with the help of Eyad Shamieh behind the camera, skillfully manipulating light and motion (and food styling) to produce fantastic visuals for us.
The Cakery On Ice brought into focus the global community’s heightened shift to digital. Or rather, it accelerated a trend that has already taken the world by storm. Online solutions made the loneliness a little easier to bear. Economically it makes sense, social media campaigns are much more feasible for businesses on a budget. And socially, how else will you make your brand speak to each individual person from the comfort of their own screen? Which made our next new adventure just basic common sense. We had worked with Khaldoon Tabbaza previously on several projects, the latest of which was Imena. As one of the first digital pioneers of the region, Khaldoun decided to launch the Venture Oasis Podcast, which delves into the tech/digital startup ecosystem of the Arab World. And of course we jumped at the chance to create a brand experience about digital! In typical SYNTAX fashion we got a little carried away, and our CEO and team spent hours testing out mics, lighting, and software and developing visual toolkits to help our client set up a sustainable process to create branded video content.
Also recently our team has been busy with an exceptional brand that hails from KSA. Sukna Ventures is a venture studio and fund that partners with entrepreneurs and startups to help build and grow businesses with meaningful interventions in the way we live, play, and work. Working from the ground up, SV has a hands on approach, working with startups from the early stages of their development to help them get started the right way, leveraging market knowledge and aligning businesses with KSA’s long term economic goals.
Little Thinking Minds soon came into play to push the point further. Schools have been inconsistent at best for months, and parents need a reliable app to help stabilize learning at home. LTM’s I Read Arabic app, popular amongst schools, was brought to the parents in the Arab Region and anywhere else really where parents wanted to help their kids master Arabic. Harnessing our love of communication and conceptualisation on social media, we collaborated with LTM on producing several campaigns, with more to come in the coming few months.
Social doesn’t mean only social media
Although years from now we will probably look back at 2020 and think only of the pandemic, there were many other global and regional issues that arose; Trump’s administration wreaked havoc as it moved its embassy to occupied Jerusalem. Lebanon’s economy and capital literally went up in flames, and the Lebanese took to the streets for months on end. Greta Thunberg captured our hearts and became an icon for environmental activists, and social justice and equality remain a pressing humanitarian cause, brought into sharper relief today with the pandemic rearing its ugly head, baring its teeth at community’s most vulnerable.
It’s easy for us as designers to lose ourselves in interface design, beautifully rendered typography and visuals, but we aren’t living in a bubble of our own making, and sometimes a client helps us to fully engage in conversations around issues of civil rights and social justice.
Enter Barlaman Sha3b (the people’s parliament). SYNTAX designed a web portal for the interactive, inclusive civil rights initiative that revolves around a virtual parliament elected freely by the people of the Arab world. The parliament discusses critical and contemporary issues of Arabia, raising awareness and promoting free expression. We had a responsibility to design a transparent and fair election process through a simple and informative interface. After the election concluded the interface transformed to deliver virtual video sessions of the parliament, engaging the public with discussions on everything from Palestinian identity, to civilian rights, to fighting unemployment.
Shifting gears a bit! What favorite past time remained true to its fans throughout the pandemic? There is nothing quite like sports to get a group of people to light up and discuss strategy, players and teams, no matter what they do for a living or how they spend their time. Dismayed at the state of Arabic sports websites, our client opted to launch WinWin, a new Arab sports portal, with a user-centric digital experience offering game analysis, scores leaderboards, videos and news for the avid sports fan.
We just have to pause for a moment here to say farewell to the sports world favorite footballer and inspiration to thousands of young boys and girls, Argentinian legend Maradona.
We can go on and on about digital, but there’s not enough room! Here are a few other digital projects we’ve worked on this year to keep an eye out for.
Branding for the here and now
Education is a recurring theme for SYNTAX, especially true in 2020. The Manhajiat brand was launched earlier this year, addressing educators from the Arab world. The Arabic-speaking online magazine was created to discuss methods and best practices of pedagogy, as well as policies and networking, for the modern Arab educator.
Perhaps a sobering symptom of these times, an early project that arose straight out of this pandemic is a new hand sanitizer brand, Humetec that was launched in the US. Our client intuitively recognized a need for a sanitizer that is mild on the skin and strong enough to give customers, whether medical professionals or the general public, the confidence to go out into the world.
This crisis, this blockbuster of a Hollywood-movie-IRL (‘in real life’ in actual english) has left us all with our heads spinning. But it also spoke volumes about the human condition, and what it is to be human, what we really need as individuals and as a community. We saw the emergence of prominent themes; education technology, locally sourced food, digital adoption, and social development, all vital for the survival of any society in 2020 and onward. After the pandemic, we will all have a role to play in the economic rebuilding our countries, starting from the same premise; education, food, security, digital, amongst others. Tourism will also be key to the economic rebuilding, and we hope that 2021 will see the return of tourism to the country, and that Jordan will be ready with a new brand to welcome tourists.
Looking forward, branding, authentic communication and original content will be called for to rise above the clamor, to get a fighting chance to thrive, and do some actual good in the days to come. At SYNTAX, we will do our part in enabling businesses and organizations with branding and design, and social and digital tools and communication, to help our community get back on its feet.
All in all, I’m sure everyone will agree that we’re glad to be rid of 2020. And we’re hopeful and optimistic about tomorrow. So happy new year world! And may 2021 bring you all joy, peace of mind, and a return to normal.
Stay safe, healthy and strong, everyone.
How has life in your office adapted to Covid? We’d love to compare notes!