The power of design to touch minds and hearts

* VCUarts Qatar student demonstrates how the word “mind blowing” has a different connotation when discussing conflict

“What is the tangible difference between the living and the dead? asks Abdulrahman Alkhatib.

“It’s a breath; that involuntary, unconscious process of inhaling and exhaling that we all take for granted. Take it away, and a living person becomes a statistic.
During his third year at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), Alkhatib, who will obtain a BFA in graphic design this year, wanted to develop a project that would combine design, coding while speaking to each viewer. . on a personal level.
Thus, ‘A Pixel for Your Soul’ was born.
“The idea behind ‘A Pixel for Your Soul’ came from wanting to transform the number of victims of the war in Syria, into something more relatable and human”, explains the university student partner of the Qatar Foundation (QF) . “But that applies to everyone trapped in conflict zones around the world.
“The public tends to ignore repetitive information, even if it’s about people killed. While the first reports of murders horrify listeners, the deaths soon become data, statistics – 140 deaths, 23 deaths, 57 deaths, 62 deaths. My question was, “How can I make these numbers relevant?”
“I took two essential characteristics of a living person – a name and the natural breathing process – to form the concept. My idea was to show the name of each person who was killed, for a symbolic length of time that it takes for a breathing cycle in a human being.
Alkhatib discussed the idea with Levi Hammett, Associate Professor of Graphic Design at VCUarts Qatar. Hammett suggested looking for ways to visualize the information and choosing the best approach that can establish an emotional connection with the audience.
“I decided to show the names of people who died in combat in Syria,” he explained. “Each name would be a pixel, which would be remapped to 4 pixels on the screen. The screen gives each name the time and location. Each name would be displayed for 8 seconds, 8 seconds being symbolic of the approximate time of a relaxed cycle of inspiration and expiration in a human being.
With the help of faculty members, Alkhatib loaded the dataset into his laptop and built a counter that changes pixels after 8 seconds. For the typeface, he chose ‘Unibody 8-Regular’ which responds well to pixilation.
The project itself evoked memories for Alkhatib. In early 2012, when he was 12 years old, he and his family left Syria for Egypt. Alkhatib has vivid memories of that time.
“I still remember the day before we flew from Damascus to Cairo,” he recalls. “We were packing our bags and I asked my mother if I could take my sketchbook, pens, pencils and tools. She then told me that it was not necessary, as our plans were to return in two months, before the start of our new academic year. I took it anyway. It’s been over 10 years now. I filled this sketchbook, and many others, not realizing then that what was an activity that comforted me, would also lead me to get into graphic design later in life.
Alkhatib and his family eventually moved to Qatar in 2014, where he attended high school. There he began to develop his skills in design and art through multiple personal projects. He was part of TEDx Aldafna 2017, which he says was a turning point that made him think about studying design in college, and later, as a career. It was a path that eventually led him to VCUarts Qatar.
As he graduates this year, Alkhatib feels he has been blessed to express himself, his people and his country through design in a supportive environment.
“Personally, I think everyone should have a purpose and a cause to fight for,” says Alkhatib. “As a designer, I felt it was my responsibility to support my people and educate the world and the community I live in about the crimes that are happening in my home, and more importantly, to make realize that those killed in conflict are more than just Numbers.”
He adds: “It’s the power of design. Design can do what no other field can: connect, stir an emotion, plant an idea, touch minds and hearts, and inspire change. That’s why I’m proud to be a designer; for me it is a vocation. I am blessed that VCUarts Qatar has given me the opportunity to do so, and I am happy to currently live in a country where design and designers are respected and celebrated for the value they bring to society.


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