Emile Menhem is a Lebanese graphic designer, painter, art critic, and writer. Like many designers of his generation, Menhem came to graphic design through fine arts. As a fine artist, Menhem had a strong and uncommon graphic sense that eased his transition into the world of design. He entered the graphic design profession by way of political engagement, when he started producing posters for the Lebanese Communist Party in the 1970s. He was simply drawn to design practice which he viewed as complementary to his political and cultural engagement, and ended up designing a variety of print material including a large number of posters, countless publications, and eventually newspapers, the most prominent of which is Al-Akhbar (launched in 2006).
Menhem is an adaptive designer who understood early on the value of design beyond craft and technology, and was able to follow up on different print and production technologies all the way from manual typesetting and phototypesetting to contemporary digital design. What really distinguish Menhem’s input from his contemporaries are his early realization of a need for solid display typefaces that he made up for by drawing his own letterforms; his perseverance, which led him to specialize in editorial design; and his systematic thinking which led him to excel in this specialization. The significance of Menhem’s experience, however, extends beyond his graphic and typographic input: it presents a realistic model of a conscientious designer who manages to make a living and a remarkable career without compromising his personal values. A model that presents an extremely important alternative to the much more common commercial and compromising designer, or to the star designer who seeks personal recognition before collective interest.
This book focuses on Menhem the designer; it offers an overview of his career along three main axes: political engagement, cultural production, and journalistic design.