Imran Mir has long been acknowledged as an artist who has dared to experiment with colour and planar fractures with a temerity that not many artists could balance with grace.
A trail blazing designer, he shed light on the importance of a strong design aesthetic within the world of business and made it easier for artists and designers who followed him to grow in this field.
Mir set up the first design unit for a newspaper group in Pakistan. He put together a team of graduates from the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts (his old alma mater), who excelled under his tutelage. This was the first time that design was recognised as an integral part of newspapers. He completely revamped all the publications published by the Dawn Media Group, including DAWN, Star and Herald. This led to immediate results in terms of sales. Among his many firsts he introduced was the use of spot colour in design.
He and his team were the first ones to win the prestigious INMA (International Newspaper Media Awards), competing with publications such as The New York Times. In 1997, his TV commercial to launch DAWN Lahore won a first prize at INMA. Mir undertook the design for Geo and The News. He even named the newspaper: The News.
In 1987 he set up Circuit, his own full service advertising agency, breaking new ground and creating game changer ads.
Mir and his agency were the first to introduce computer design in advertising in 1987-88. He was also the first fine artist to use it to create art, almost 30 years before anyone stepped in this field.
Other innovations included moving away from sending copy to the press to be set. He set-up a dark room to make bromides of the fonts and had his studio do the cutting and pasting from the fonts and sizes he selected. This was a revolutionary idea and saved much time in preparing artworks for print ads. It also provided greater freedom to play with font sizes. For Mir, fonts were as important as negative space. He did all his own photography for the major part of his advertising career.
Mir is responsible for building many iconic brands, among them, DAWN, Geo, Habib Oil Mills, Herald, Newsline, Meat One, Muslim Commercial Bank, One Potato Two Potato, Shan Masala, Star, Tapal Tea and The News.
His dialogue with a brand did not just stop at the creation of the logo. A stickler for detail, his involvement went right to the nitty-gritty of the project. It was not unusual for him to choose the colours of the doors and windows, or to address the dress code of the employees in order to pull together the entire brand. When he branded MCB, he told the management that their employees should stop wearing shalwar kameez to work. He insisted their executives wear at least a shirt and tie if not a suit.
His branding sensibility contributed directly to the success of the product.
Currently a major exhibition called The Alchemist of Line of his art is being held at the Mohatta Palace Museum, curated by Nasreen Ismail, curator of the Museum and Professor Durriya Kazi, head of the Visual Arts Department at Karachi University. There is a detailed graphic design section curated by Nasreen Ismail and Tannaz Minwalla, Creative Director and General Manager, Creative Unit, which in a nutshell spells out the history of design.
Photos courtesy: Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi.