Wael Morcos: Graphic Design is Everywhere Around Us

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“Graphic design is everywhere around us and has the power to permeate conversations and shape narratives,” says Wael Morcos. “It not only accentuates stories but also imbues them with nuanced depth. It’s a means to express our present zeitgeist with contemporary urgency.”

 Morcos is a Lebanese American graphic designer whose work spans the creation of contemporary Arabic fonts, brand campaigns for companies including IBM and Nike, and designing books like the Sharjah Architectural Triennial publications.

Wael Morcos courtesy of the Vilcek Foundation

For his approach to typographic and graphic design that incorporates cultural and political histories to create socially relevant visual identities and campaigns, Morcos receives a 2024 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Design.

Representing Language, Representing Ourselves

Morcos’ passion for Arabic typography grew after he moved to the United States from Lebanon—first to pursue studies at the Rhode Island School of Design and then to build a career as a graphic designer in New York. “I was drawn back to my native language, culture, and stories I see myself in. Designing in Arabic from New York City is perhaps an act of resistance,” he says, “but also an act of reaching out, inviting others to engage, utilize, and be inspired by it.”

Lusail Museum Logo image courtesy of Morcos Key + 2×4

When you design a font, you’re designing a tool for people to express themselves.

Wael Morcos

Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation, Image courtesy of Morcos Key

Thmanyah, Image courtesy of Morcos Key

“Our language is as much auditory as it is visual. When you design a font, you’re designing a tool for people to express themselves,” says Morcos. “I consider typography the most potent tool in a designer’s arsenal. It has the ability to amplify the meaning of words and to advocate for representation.”

Morcos describes typography as a product of the time it was created and also as having a life that extends well beyond. “Arabic typography needed our help to be reimagined, redesigned for a modern context for modern lives,” he says. His fonts have been distributed through institutional channels like Google and other publishing platforms, bridging the gap between tradition and modernity, “carrying on with how we represent our language and therefore ourselves.”

Fog Annakhel, Image courtesy of Morcos Key

Amplifying Arab American Stories

As an immigrant, Morcos finds himself drawn to create work that resonates with him personally and connects his nostalgia for Beirut and Lebanon with his life in the United States. He recently championed the development of Mizna’s I Want Sky, a literary journal that shines a spotlight on the experiences of LGBTQ+ Arabs. Through a fusion of multi-script typography, lettering, and illustrations, Morcos illuminates the narratives of a diverse queer community that yearns for understanding—drawing inspiration from the legacy of illuminated Arabic homoerotic poetry and speaking to the contemporary struggles and triumphs of this community.

I Want Sky, Image courtesy of Wael Morcos

Committed to amplifying Arab American voices, Morcos is a co-founder of 1on1 projects, a Brooklyn-based collective that works to elevate the stories and experiences of Arab and Muslim Americans through arts, performances, and programs. “You miss a lot of your old self and all the support system you took for granted back at home,” he says. “I try to use my design practice to re-create some of these contexts that are important for me.”

Rights of Future Generations – Propositions, Image courtesy of Morcos Key

About The Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Design

The Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Design celebrate immigrant professionals in graphic design, industrial design, and product design whose work has profoundly impacted their specific field and design, design thinking, and practice more broadly in the United States.

The Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Design specifically recognize immigrant designers age 38 and younger whose work represents an essential contribution to their field and exemplifies the potential for design to change and shape how people interact with their world. In 2024, the Vilcek Foundation awards 3 Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Design, recognizing industrial designer Juan Carlos Noguera (b. Guatemala) and artist and designer Maryam Turkey (b. Iraq) alongside Morcos.

Learn more about the Vilcek Foundation and the 2024 Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Design at Vilcek.org.

Wael Morcos is a 2015 PRINT New Visual Artist.

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