Staying at the cutting edge of technology without losing sight of their cultural roots is a constant challenge that young Israelis face in every walk of life. This is especially true for the field of design, technically a modern vocation but one that traces the genesis of its core pursuits to the earliest of human societies. The need to create and communicate is as old as man but it must also evolve with him. Creating new traditions for the modern is a duty of the designer and in order to do so, he or she must be aware of and embrace both worlds.

Design education in Israel has clearly taken cognizance of this fact. While some commentators are disturbed by the
proliferation of design schools in the country, seeing them as out to make a quick buck without a substantial base in research and critical thinking, others see this as a sign of vitality and growth. The history of design pedagogy in Israel begins with the venerated Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem which drew much of its philosophy from European design movements that advocated a return to the roots in the wake of industrialisation. Over time, Israeli design has also imbibed influences from more diverse sources such as the German modernist tradition and American consumerist design. For a time, the industry moved in the direction of specialisation and super-specialisation in line with international trends. However, experience and the work of design theorists has shown that in order to remain relevant, design must become aware of its own ability to effect change and influence society. The only way to do this is to expand one’s skill base and not just deepen it in one super-specific area.

Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, a relatively new entrant into the field of design education, has been proactive in ensuring that visual communication keeps pace with the times by positioning it at the
interface of multiple disciplines. The programme is designed in such a way as to expose students, not just superficially but in a more engaged manner, to skills traditionally confined to other design and engineering disciplines. At Bezalel as well, students are given the freedom to create their own personalised curriculum plan after undergoing a common foundational programme. This gives graduates a well-rounded knowledge base and the flexibility to handle a variety of projects.

As industry veterans have learned, Israeli designers must remain on their toes, keeping in touch with the latest advances in technology while cultivating the tenacity to adapt to economic conditions that push already discerning customers to demand more at competitive costs. As graphic design gains popularity as a profession in this small middle-eastern nation, observers notice a healthy pattern of innovation emerging. Such ‘selective pressures’, as Darwin would call them, are only serving to push Israeli design to new heights, as attested by the curated collections
here and here.

Equipped with a diverse toolkit of skills and a drive for innovation, companies need no longer hire large teams of designers and tend to be smaller and more manageable. A similar situation has emerged in India, particularly in cosmopolitan centres such as Bangalore where there exists a good mix of technical as well as creative skills. This has led to the proliferation of energetic startups like
Hashtag17 offering services particularly in the domain of website design and visual communication. With their dynamic multicultural edge such companies are fully capable of handling domestic projects as well international ones.

In Israel, as in India, designers must contend with a
low index of awareness on the part of clients regarding the nature of effort that goes into their work. As per the modern functionalist idiom, design is successful when it appears so seamless as to feel absolutely natural and effortless. However, achieving this takes a lot of hard work. Much of the actual architecture of visual communication remains hidden in the final product, causing clients to undervalue it.

Take for example, something as seemingly innocuous as
packaging for food products. In Israel, where Hebrew is the official language but which is also home to significant Arabic and English speaking populations with a variety of strict dietary laws such as Kosher and Halal, a piece of packaging can become a battleground of information. Coupled with the demands of functionality and aesthetics, the task of designing packaging can become truly overwhelming.

When it comes to the design of web content, there is a different set of problems. For instance, Hebrew content conventionally runs from right to left, the opposite of more common Latin scripts such as English. This calls upon the designer to, quite literally, ‘flip’ his or her way of thinking. The challenge involves striking a balance in a way that is technically sound as well as uniform in presentation. The ability to work under such demanding conditions has made young Israeli designers all the more capable of competing with their peers in international arenas.  

Israel maintains the unique distinction of being the only country in the world to adopt Hebrew as its national language. This ancient language was revived in a concerted effort to forge a strong national and cultural identity. The importance of such a strong cultural link cannot be overemphasised in a country where the majority of the population traces its roots to the various nations of Europe with widely differing languages and habits. The young generation of Israelis is intensely aware of the need to uphold this shared heritage while embracing the drive to integrate with the rest of the world on a common platform. And this commitment shows in the way that the Israeli design community has chosen to forge its own unique culture and idiom to address its own unique challenges and opportunities. 

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