Award-winning Egyptian designer Ghada Wali speaks to the British Council about her work with toy bricks, and the links between play, human connection and innovation.
What role does creative play have in bringing communities together and facilitating intercultural understanding? For Ghada Wali, an award winning Egyptian graphic designer, play is inseparable from human connection.
In her Let’s Play! project, Ghada deploys the ‘worldwide established language’ of toy bricks to make a complex foreign language simple to learn.
Let’s Play! used images of toy bricks to simplify the Arabic language, in line with Ghada’s belief that effective communication and education is crucial to building more tolerant and understanding global communities.
Ghada firmly believes in the power of design to shape and change the world, and she has used her platform to raise important social issues – for instance, by working closely with UN Women Egypt and featuring in a campaign for the Egyptian Women’s Council.
Creativity, for her, means identifying original solutions and having an impact on day-to-day life.
In her work, Ghada focuses on people and consumers. As she notes, ‘People for me constitute the main drive and cause of any design project I’m about to embark. I chose to spend time to study and explore their behavior, where they talk about their experience in the place and their real stories. Observing, recording, taking notes, taking pictures, running surveys, interviews etc.’ She spends time studying and understanding experiences, in order to produce ‘real, relevant and honest designs that tell clear stories’.
Her own identity and background has always provided her with the strongest inspiration – her most celebrated projects are those that explicitly draw on her own experiences. Ghada Wali was featured in Forbes Europe 30 under 30 in 2017, and on OKAYAFRICA’s 100 Women list in 2018. A TED Global Speaker in 2017, she was the youngest woman to ever represent the MENA region.
Ghada’s desire to bring global communities closer together whilst creating work that is relevant to her own worldview has allowed her to push the boundaries of design, and explore how play can serve as a disruptive force.
Play is crucial, she says, as it connects you to your deepest and most important emotions. ‘A sense of play stimulates your imagination and helps you to adapt to life’s toughest conditions. Our memories are stimulated by activities that trigger emotion’.
Ghada ‘gamified’ the Arabic-learning process by making her typeface into a game focused on connecting play bricks together. By incorporating notions of creative play and critical thinking, she challenged traditional educational paradigms and made Arabic learning more approachable.
As part of the project, she created a dictionary, a 3D Letters book, an online game and app, wearable garments, sculptures and a website.
The success of Let’s Play! speaks for itself. It was named one of the 100 best graphic design projects of 2016 by the Society of Typographic Arts in Chicago, and won the Gransham competition in Munich. It was also featured at the World Economic Forum and in many leading design magazines.
According to Ghada, approaches grounded in ‘edu-tainment’ and gamification are certain to increase in popularity in coming years: ‘the success and effectiveness of information communicated through gamification and play is clear: [...] Play is for people of all age groups’.
She notes that innovation in the sciences is always linked to human experience, directly or indirectly, and stresses that people seek experiences and not just technologies. As she notes ‘VR and augmented [reality] are all about enhancing existing human behaviours; the possibility of human immersion inside different worlds’.
Creativity is not only about making use of tools, but also about the cognitive processes and theories behind design decisions.
Through her designs, Ghada creates pieces that bring together digital possibilities with a playful approach, grounding them in genuine human emotion, interaction and communication. ‘I work with my full heart and emotion, and I believe that it reaches the cores of people when it is true and genuine.’
By starting from a human-based focus, she ensures that her work can bring disparate groups together. For Ghada, the best way to develop creativity is to be a ‘good observer, researcher, wanderer – human.’