Early da’wah material (here meaning: general any publicity that represents Muslims/Islam in some way) in the west consisted of poorly designed leaflets, often consisting of text and the odd single, haphazardly thrown in, generic image of...(take a guess, go on...) a mosque! (if not the crescent, that is). Most religious leaflets or books took on a text heavy approach, mainly due to the lack of a budget, but really it was more to do with a lack of vision.
Lack of vision means, there was no concept or idea of the need for any design or aesthetic improvement to the product or material.
On the other hand, what budget usually means is that there is no money to acquire the services of a designer.
If there was any vision it meant that it could be done at home, with a home printer of course. With MS Publisher, PowerPoint or Word at their disposal the computer-savvy nephew can take on the world of designers and beat them, and only at the tender age of 11. He rolls up his sleeves, copies and pastes images off the internet, blows them up in paint and slaps them into publisher and voila you have a stunning flyer design for the local masjid, in full Technicolor.
This began to change as the newer generations of fashion-conscious, style-driven western Muslims grew up with (M)TV to feast their eyes on, acquiring a taste for the expensive, the designer label and the ergonomi-cool products. They knew that good design meant a good image. It meant to give a good impression, reflect a sense of direction, confidence and be recognised as modern and mainstream. But what this energy and vitality still lacks is budget, yes, the empty money pot that simply never gets a fill (mainly due to the fact that everyone forgets to budget for design) – or the pot does not exist at all in the first place.
So we go back to publisher and the wonderful world of clipart.
Or worse, we encounter the do-it-yourself dude. This is the really scary one, he has acquired Photoshop or Corel Draw from his nephew and now has decided to conquer the world of designers by pulling together a fantastic piece of flyer design, that makes Joseph’s Technicolor dream coat look like an old longhi.
Where are we going?
The Muslim community needs to realise the importance of design and aesthetics in all its publicity. It is crucial that da’wah material looks professional, up to standards people are use to and on-par with mainstream material. We are lagging behind in realising the need for good, clean presentation that communicates to the wider audience that we care about ourselves and our image. It shows we take pride in our work, in our efforts and in our da’wah.
What does it cost?
Nothing really. Yes you may need to employ the talents of qualified (someone who has had extensive experience and with a portfolio of work) designer, but the first step is realising that the need for high quality presentation – and that doesn’t cost anything. So next time you do your budgeting for programmes, seminars, events and tajweed classes, factor in some basic publicity. Even if you give the opportunity to a young design student, then maybe that would be enough to get things moving. There are tons of young Muslim design students waiting to take up any small chance to show off their creativity.
What are the standards?
Muslim da’wah publicity does not need to be tacky and home-printer output; it should be professionally printed with the end-recipient in mind. Every day we see advertising and quality publicity from mainstream products and companies, maybe we should employ their proven approach and take a little more time in our presentation.
Standards are applied and maintained by professionals, be that designers, web developers, video artists etc. They know what required do the job is and keep the publicity on-par with mainstream design styles, guidelines and quality.
I personally believe all publicity or material should be cutting edge, innovative, above ‘western’ standards, if not on-par with it. But ultimately utilising the best of technology, publicity mediums and engaging with all senses.
Designate the work to professionals
Sometimes you have organisations or projects that do have a budget, yet they insist on delegating the design work to non-designers. Far worse is the fact that they may delegate different work to volunteers or workers who have no experience in those respective areas at all. So you end up having a lawyer doing marketing, or a doctor doing public speeches. We need to move away from this mentality and utilise the growing professionals within the Muslim community who are vying for the slightest of chances. I know many professionals who have decided to not work in da’wah simply for being pushed away when they offered their professional services for free.
We have seen improvements made by Muslim owned companies/organisations who are putting (applause) efforts into presentation and I could name quite a few easily. But we need more widespread effort and recognition that our image is represented through these leaflets, posters, websites and videos. A messy cluttered website reflects a poor effort on the part of the owners, who seem to not show much care in their work. Or a badly designed leaflet gives the impression of cheap, untrustworthy and unprofessional.
We need to be seen as a community that takes pride and care in the smallest of details. It is ultimately what Islamic art is famous for. It is a show of love that we have for our effort and beliefs. We need to broaden our vision, recognise the need for professionalism in everything we do and ultimately, this cannot be stressed enough, respect each other’s copyright.
Wa Allahu ’alam