x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A brand new take on branding for Arab businesses

The Life: Designer Hani Baghdan says regional firms are looking to present themselves in a more modern way to help boost their appeal among savvy consumers.

Hani Baghdan tries to avoid clichés and instead come up with a fresh take in his work as a freelance brand designer. Lee Hoagland / The National
Hani Baghdan tries to avoid clichés and instead come up with a fresh take in his work as a freelance brand designer. Lee Hoagland / The National

Hani Baghdan started freelancing as a brand designer just over 18 months ago, when he was laid off from his job at Wolff Olins, a branding agency in Dubai that is headquartered in the United Kingdom. Mr Baghdan, 29, from Lebanon, did not plan on being a freelancer for so long, but is yet to consider a full-time job.


It must be expensive to work as a freelance brand designer.

You do have to get health insurance and a freelance visa, but at the same time you do charge more. Full-fledged companies may charge less, but clients who are looking for freelancer services do not see [employing companies] is an option. As a freelancer, you end up taking up much more work and I am standing by my fees because of the high-quality work. I work both as an independent freelancer for private clients and companies and as a consultant when needed.

How has branding Arabic companies changed over the past few years?

There has been a lot of positive changes. When I started, companies were scared to do anything new. Most would use gold, silver, black, purple or green, and Arabic calligraphy.

Al Jazeera started using Arabic calligraphy, it did good for their brand. Burj Al Arab and Nakheel have used calligraphy [too]. The Pavilion Downtown calligraphy is done in a very modern Kufi style. But we still need to go a long way. The main emerging trend in branding of Arabic companies is trying to achieve the "modern Arabic", a term which needs time to define it. People are finally breaking away from the traditional Arabic-looking brand marks and are looking to present themselves in a progressive and new way, appealing to a more savvy audience.

What are you working on currently?

Branding of IDAM Restaurant in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. The most memorable branding work is still to come. I have been working very hard since the beginning of the year on the same few projects with the Qatar Museum Authority.

What are the challenges in working in this field as a freelancer?

It is challenging to get clients and do something new. We just need clients brave enough to try something new. It is competitive money-wise and advertisement companies have started branding, too. Clients have become demanding and companies are getting more creative and brave.

How do you differentiate your work?

I try to get away from clichés. Arabic style is connected to Islamic motifs, but it is about doing something new. Also, I try to engage the whole team at a company. I work with the company's strategist and go and work at their offices.

What are your plans to quit as a freelancer?

I want to stay a freelancer for the next year. And then I want to take a road trip to India, Nepal and Bhutan. That will be for travel as well as to get inspiration.