A Talk with Chief Designer and Art Director Hisham Mahdy

hisham mahdy

On Friday, 26 March, we headed to O West for a one-of-a-kind event. O West collaborated with Art D’Égypte in an experimental activation where designers, artists, photographers, factories, and developers collaborated on a project.

The activation was about finding harmony in differences by bringing together diverse artists from various genres who used various elements all under the same exhibition roof.

During the event, we were lucky enough to meet with one of the artists collaborating, Mr. Hisham Mahdy, who was showcasing his latest art creation, “The Welcome Swallow.”

Hisham Mahdy is the CEO of Mahdy’s group, a leading group of associated companies founded in 2004 by Egyptian brothers, Chief Designer/Art Director Hisham Mahdy, and Director Tamer Mahdy.

Together, the brothers founded Mental Flame Design Consultancy and Mahdy Advertising Agency, where they left their unique mark on the architectural, design, and creative industries.

Additionally, Hisham founded The Cairo Design Award (CDA), the first designer platform in Egypt to encourage and reward Egypt’s new generation of designers, becoming the biggest design event in Egypt and Africa. CDA gathers renowned figures from the various design categories under one roof, pioneering the fields of product design, interior, architecture, jewelry, and set design.

Currently, Hisham Mahdy is one of the most prominent art directors behind some of the biggest and most popular commercials on TV featuring megastars and celebrities.

Going back to his collaboration with O West and Art D’Egypte, Mahdy participated with his rendition of an architectural “Welcome Swallow.”

We started our conversation with Mahdy to know why he participated in the event.

As a designer, I enjoy participating in such events because it gets you out of the “box” and your comfort zone.

It takes you out of the brief to a creative area where you can flex your ideas and skills. I strongly believe that designs come from a mixture of art and logic; art is everything beautiful and interesting, whereas logic ensures practicality, functionality, and durability.

All participants in this exhibition were driven by creating a piece of art that is interactive and, at the same time, functional while keeping it visually artistic.

This is why I was keen to join the rest of the designers at this one-of-a-kind exhibition.

Is there a difference between being a designer and being an artist?

I believe design and art are two sides to one coin. To develop an exceptional design, you must have a creative vision. It’s not just about functionality; it must be both imaginative and pleasing to the eye, as well as practical.

Tell us more about your installation at the event, the “Welcome Swallow.”

We created a functional yet artistic piece inspired by the Welcome Swallow. The piece acts as a shelter for people from the sun and rain and is made out of durable metal that will protect it from the sun.

Additionally, it interacts with the environment around it, as its shadow can tell the sun’s direction. What makes this installation unique is that its tail has a mechanical part that interacts with the wind, which strikes a sense of living into this piece of art.

Why did you pick the “Welcome Swallow” specifically?

The “Welcome Swallow” is specifically positioned at the showroom of O West to give the sense of welcoming people through it into the project.

Sailors historically knew the Welcome Swallow because it was the sign that they were close to land. So whenever they saw or heard a Welcome Swallow, they knew they were about to reach their destination, and the bird was the first one to greet them. This is what inspired me to create “The Welcome Swallow.”


You started as an architect, and now you’re working in Art Direction. How did your career go from this to that?

I started my design career in 2004 when I launched Mental Flame that is specialized in interior design and architecture. As I went on with my career, I learned to work in exhibitions, art direction in media, and even movies. It might sound like it’s in many areas, but I believe that a good designer can apply any given brief, no matter what type of work it is.

If we look at this on a global level, we see this a lot. Karim Rashid, for example, creates buildings to perfume bottles, and everything in between. It’s a fun job, and we’re lucky enough to be making a living out of what we have fun doing.

It wasn’t until recently that we started seeing major architectural and interior design firms make a name in Egypt. Why did this recent boom happen?

I think this can be mainly attributed to the fact that the public wasn’t exposed to the design world as much as we are now. This is a direct result of a culture shift. We didn’t have the internet, or even the likes of something like Pinterest, to see good, creative, and artistic designs as we do now which makes designs more accessible to the general public.

Now people want to have a house that looks good, and they can attain affordable prices. It’s not a luxury anymore. In fact, it can make things more functional for many, making it essential for them.

The culture is now moving to seek beauty in everything. Homes are changing, shops, buildings, and everything is seeking this beauty. Functionality is no longer enough, and beauty is becoming essential, especially with commercials.

Speaking of commercials, tell us more about your work in advertising. As a designer, how is it that you do your own thing while promoting other brands?

Working in the advertising field is a scope of work that we call “temporary architecture.” It is all about creating an artistic space where the designer is able to translate the idea of the ad through his artwork and art direction.

We do our best to promote our client’s product in the most appealing way for their target audience while remaining true to their brand and following their guidelines. This way, we make sure the consumer sees the product while relating to it as well.

The Vodafone Red ad with Asser Yassin, for example, was designed in a way that Vodafone Red customers could relate to, despite the fact that the concept of the setup was just a home. Customers would subconsciously assume that since they are a Vodafone Red customer, this is how the interior of their houses should look like; this is the style I should be dressed and so on. Such details show how far the art director understands the brand to create visually appealing content that relates the customer to the brand.

What can you say to people who see that architecture sounds useless and not so environmentally friendly?

Not at all! Everything we do is recyclable and reused. When we take things down, we always store the props and refurbish them for other work. Even the metal and wood used are recyclable.

Funny enough, one of our clients took a building we made for their ad and installed it in their garden as a treehouse. It became a fully functioning treehouse.

How sad is it when you see your work get taken down?

I make sure never to attend when this happens…

Sad…Back to business, though. How can you properly follow the brief, guideline and promote their product when you don’t even work with them?

The Art Director’s career will have two parts; you listen, then they listen. The first part of your career is to listen to clients and doing what they want. The second part of your career is to have clients come to you to listen to what you have to say. They come over with a storyboard and listen to the art director’s vision.

This is where I’m now. Clients acknowledge my work thanks to the successful track record of projects I’ve executed and they entrust me to create new and fresh concepts.

They just give me the director’s vision and the main points, and completely leave the art direction part to my imagination and expertise. Reaching this point, however, is not an overnight thing. It will take years to learn how to get there. A brief is a question and art direction is the answer. To be able to respond to a certain brief, you need the experience and know-how over the course of his/her career. It’s not only a design and creativity skills job; you need the social part, which requires years to master and build trust.

So, what new things are you working on now?

We currently launched Hisham Mahdy & Associates. It includes a group of designers and art directors who work on different projects with different budgets across many sectors like drama, movies, advertising, etc. This would enable us to work on several projects together while sharing the same resources.


We’ve recently worked on ads for several popular international brands such as Pepsico, Etisalat, Vodafone, Schweppes and Coca Cola to name a few. Our scope goes beyond Egypt as we work in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Our aim is to raise the bar with art direction in Egypt, be on the map, and up to international standards.

Let’s say if someone is interested in becoming an Art Director but they already graduated. Can they still make it in the career?

I actually graduated with a business degree. Afterward, I realized that I have a talent for interior design. I then studied it and currently studying architect. Basically, if anyone has a talent, work on it. University is just a few years of your life, and it doesn’t define you. It only builds a foundation, not your career, and you can easily build this foundation elsewhere. For those seeking a career in design or art, they have to see a lot to enrich their visual library and practice a lot.

What do you think?


Written by Raghda El-Sayed

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of El-Shai.com and the crazy cat lady your mother warned you not to become!

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