Characterful modernism by graphic designer Saad Khurshid
Influenced by graphic design studios such as The Designers Republic and modernist movements such as Bauhaus and International Style, it’s no surprise that Karachi-based graphic designer Saad Khurshid’s work is timeless and often, playful. Heavily influenced by simple geometric shapes and the modernist grid, Saad’s typographic work and illustrations show design sensibilities that have been crafted over a long period of time.
From the bold yet cute characters from his type-design project ‘36 days of type’ to his inspiringly emotive illustrative work for his thesis, ‘"KTF", from the 1920s—80s’, depicting the tragic story of Karachi’s first type foundry, it’s evident that Saad’s ultimate aim is communicating stories effectively whilst transcending style and trends.
Tell us a little about your background, how did you get into design?
I’m from Karachi, Pakistan, where I’ve lived all my life. I studied Communication Design at Indus Valley School of Art and I’ve been working as a graphic designer since about 2004.
As a kid, I was inclined towards art in one way or the other. Boys in my neighbourhood would go out and play cricket or whatever, but I liked to sit with my mum and do things like cross-stitch embroidery. I was mesmerised by all the colours of thread and the square, pixel-like patterns. Before I even knew what design was, I would make these (badly) embroidered sports logos or film titles and sell them to my class fellows (for ten rupees) to buy chips from the school canteen.
I was also very fascinated with computers and printing. My family used to run a type foundry/ press in Karachi. It was many generations old and originally existed in Delhi before the partition (for more info see my thesis project). I would sometimes skip school and my father would (have no other choice but to) take me to work with him. I liked being around the sound of machines and the smell of ink. Here I could also dabble on a spare computer, just play around in QuarkXpress or (Aldus) Freehand.
Are you influenced by any designers/artists? Who are your heroes?
I discovered the Designer’s Republic (tDR) in the early 2000s. Their work exposed me to a lot new ideas and methods. I was obsessed and tried to figure out where they were coming from. In the process, I learned about Bauhaus, International Style and other modernist movements which heavily influenced my work.
Living in Pakistan, I’ve often felt disconnected with its culture. So, I was very drawn to the idea of abandoning tradition; to start from nothing; to have no history; no background. This is probably why I’m happiest doing grid-based / geometrical design, as it allows me to make things that aren’t constrained to a place or time.
What is your opinion about the current state of design in India/Pakistan?
There’s a lot of good design happening these days in the subcontinent. I’ve noticed that Indian designers do really well in maintaining their identity, while also bringing in some innovation. A great example is the Indian Type Foundry (ITF). Type is nearly always overlooked, and it is something that can really make or break a design. So I’m glad they are spreading awareness of its importance.
I’m not sure if it is the same in India, but the role of designers in Pakistan (especially in the commercial realm) has been greatly devalued. Designers are sometimes mistaken as lowly computer operators, who can make something that the client has in their head. What results from this sort of collaboration is really embarrassing. Some just end up doing it because it pays the bills. Saving the “good design” for their self-initiated projects. But the thing about commercial work is that it is public. So the bad design ends up being everywhere, creating visual chaos.
What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished working on an album cover for a local indie musician, which will be out in a couple of days. The music is great, so I’m very excited about its release. There will also be more Type, Print & Bind workshops this year, that I conduct with my partner, Muniba Rasheed, where we teach experimental type design, printmaking and bookbinding. We are going to try some new things this year, so it’ll be a lot of fun.