An interview with Nathalie Fallaha, founder and design principal of Vit-e Design Studio, tackling her featuring in the book "Women in Graphic Design 1890-2012", her passion for typography and specifically expressive, multilingual typographic expressions, and the creation and expansion of Vit-e in the Lebanese design market.
"MOST NOTABLE DOMAINS, FROM NEUROSCIENCE TO GASTRONOMY, REMAIN STRICTLY MALE-DOMINATED. AND THE ART WORLD IS NO EXCEPTION. WOMEN HAVE HISTORICALLY BEEN CELEBRATED AS PORTRAITURE SUBJECTS BUT NOT AS ARTISTS. FRIDA KHALO, FOR INSTANCE, AS GREAT AN ARTIST AS SHE WAS, IS MORE FAMED FOR HER UNIBROW AND PROMISCUOUS AFFAIRS THAN HER SHEER TALENT. LUCKILY, GERDA BREUER AND JULIA MEERS NEW BOOK, "WOMEN IN GRAPHIC DESIGN 1890-2012", BREAKS THAT MOLD, DETAILING THE HISTORY OF WOMEN IN THE GRAPHIC DESIGN FIELD FROM 1890-2012. AND THE BOOK FEATURES LEBANON'S OWN NATHALIE FALLAHA, A TYPOGRAPHER AND DESIGNER WHO HAS BEEN MAKING RIPPLES IN THIS FIELD THROUGH HER EXPLORATION OF THE EXPRESSIVE POWER OF LETTERFORMS ON DIFFERENT SUBSTRATES.
While pursuing her undergraduate studies in the late '90s, Fallaha realized that successful attempts at making both Latin typography and Arabic calligraphy live together on the page were few and far between. So she made it her lifelong mission to change that, bringing forth a rare energy and a new spirit to multilingual typography. The founder and catalyst behind multidisciplinary design studio vit-e, she is the recipient of the British Council's Lebanese Design Entrepreneur Award. She has also shaped bright young minds at the Lebanese American University with her eclectic approach to graphic design and typography. Curve talks to Fallaha, whose experience and accomplishments belie her years.
How do you feel about your inclusion in "Women in Graphic Design 1890-2012" and why do you think you were featured in this book?
I am very proud about the inclusion in a book recognizing women in the field of graphic design, a field usually controlled by men. This international publication covering the history of graphic design since the term was coined until today is an exhaustive compendium of women designers and their contribution to the field at large. And it's a first.
What do you think has been your greatest contribution to the design world?
Bridging between vit-e as a reallife practice and LAU as a studio environment has been a highly enriching experience for both vit-e and my students.
What are the personal achievements you're proudest of?
I am grateful for the many published projects in international books and magazines, for being invited to conferences across the world to talk about my work and the synergy between teaching design and doing design, and for my two adorable daughters.
How did you nurture your passion for typography?
In 1998, while pursuing my graduate studies at Central Saint Martins, the thesis project I engaged in had as a main undertake visualizing the different linguistic trends practiced in Beirut and what better medium than typography to relay that. The outcome of it all, 'roundtable', is a typographic journey into multilingual Beirut, as seen by the experts who were answering my question: How one correlates use of languages (functional and/or identitarian) to confessional identity and to national identity. Through a series of interviews, I was able to collect various views on the subject... The resulting output, a series of typographic tableaux, fell under the realm of visual journalism, whereby each interview was visually transcribed making use of composition, color, and typographic codes. You are lauded for your multilingual typography work.
How do you think you've pushed the envelope in this field?
I believe 'Beyrouth ville multiple' and 'roundtable', both non-commissioned works, embody what I have been pursuing in terms of expressive multilingual typographic expression. Initiated by an admiration of Hassan Massoudy's calligraphic work, I translated his visual poetry into a more rational typographic expression, onto visual journalism.
What does vit-e offer and how is it different from other design studios in Lebanon?
Vit-e is a multidisciplinary design studio working in many facets of branding, print, and digital media. At the heart of this studio is visual communication. We create, elevate, and reinvigorate brands... Vit-e will take a brand from where it is to where it needs to be... We are a group of dreamers, designers, and doers. Vit-e offers a powerful mix of industry experience, working with clients of different sizes and types, from startups to grown-up brands. Although based in Beirut, we have served clients in 23 countries to date.
How has vit-e grown over the last dozen years?
I started vit-e as a freelance platform on my own back in 2000, while teaching at LAU. A first, I singlehandedly took care of everything, from getting business deals, to design, production, to accounting...; the studio has welcomed and nurtured many young design professionals to date, most of whom used to be my students. The dynamic created by this dual relation, from teacher-student to employeremployee, has been very rewarding for all parties. In 2006, vit-e officially grew to include Dania Dalloul and Tarek Naaman, who brought to the studio their experience and zest. There are seven of us today and growing.
And in terms of market development?
Twelve years ago, customers used to approach us when they had the company and project ready and just needed to do some touchups. Now they come to help create the concept and at most times leave our office with a modified business plan. We are now in a market of want, not only need.
What do you think are the weaknesses and the strengths of the communication design field in Lebanon?
I think the communication field in Lebanon is suffering from a lack of ethics, namely through a hardcore practice of plagiarism. And poor design education is very often at the center of this major problem, whereby many programs lack vision, focusing on only delivering skills at the expense of design thought. Another problem is the tendency to be driven by profitmaking as opposed to really addressing the core of communication, and working on exploring those boundaries. However, there are several agencies and individuals who did not fall into this trap and they are the ones who are putting Lebanon on the worldwide design map."