Hisham Mahdy’s

Disciplined Bursts of Creativity

Art Director Hisham Mahdy, CEO of Mahdy Group, is the genius behind many of the most successful projects in media and advertising in Egypt – including the popular TV campaigns for telecom providers, appliance brands and more. Yet, that’s just a part of what Mahdy does. According to him, he is dedicated to creating any product or service that has to do with creativity. Under the umbrella of Mahdy Group, he runs a host of companies, including Mahdy’s Advertising, Mahdy’s Content, Mental Flame, V-Digital and Cairo Design Awards (CDA), not to mention Hisham Mahdy and Associates (H&A), the associates being art directors from the younger generation. eniGma’s Nouran Deyab sat down with Mahdy in a quest to find out more about his wide range of interests.

Our vision is to raise the bar for the quality of creative products produced in Egypt and to bring it up to international standards,” says Mahdy, summing up his professional ambitions.

Mahdy’s latest burst of creativity was seen by TV audiences all over the Arab world this past Ramadan. His two Ramadan advertising campaigns, for Etisalat starring Nancy Ajram and Amir Karara and for Fresh, featuring Ruby and Dina El Sherbiny, proved to be extremely popular. The Fresh ad, in particular, had everyone singing along with the charming Ruby and Sherbiny duo.

While it’s the creative idea behind any project that is key to its success, Mahdy stresses the role of intricate planning as well. He plans every detail of the set, including all things to do with space. “When we are planning, we have to keep in mind camera equipment, cranes and the capacity of the space for people and their movements. For example, in the Asser Yassin advertisement for Vodafone Red, each location was set up to fit the choreography and the time it would take Asser Yassin to get from point A to point B, therefore we need to know if the frame will capture the ceiling and flooring. These considerations also applied to the Etisalat commercial featuring Mohamed Ramadan and the international icon Van Damme” he explains.

The distance from Mahdy’s success in advertising to his creativity in architecture and interior design is short. The two are clearly interrelated. Pointing to the role that his art direction experience plays in his interior designs, he explains, “I am a mood-driven designer. The type of experience a person will have in a certain place involves a bigger vision than functionality. I want people to be affected psychologically and emotionally, and this is created through the same elements and components that make up an interior space. The first thing I think about is lights. Lighting is 60-70% of the design. Acquiring a mood is done through lighting. Then there’s functionality, comfort and durability – when I deliver a project, it must perform!”

With his focus on space and mood, it is not surprising that Mahdy has his own take on architecture and interior design and their future in Egypt. “Many civilizations have passed by Egypt, yet the only civilization that has left its clear artistic mark on us is the Fatimid Era. It had its own design school,” says Mahdy, adding, “when talking about the future of architecture and design in Egypt, a design move is necessary. But I don’t mean the New Administrative Capital! The real design move will occur in underprivileged areas.” The Cairo Design Awards (CDA) which Mahdy initiated is part of his plan to accomplish this design move.

“CDA’s purpose is to create a platform for designers. You can’t force all designers to follow one person’s designs. It has to express local taste that is appropriate for the period we are in. The design line has to be appropriate for the majority of the community, and it should also save on materials. When a design achieves all these goals, other designers will start to follow that direction, depending on the supply and demand,” Mahdy explains. “In the Fifth Settlement, all buildings are square and don’t look nice, but doing them that way saves money. At the end of the day, no one can force the person building to create a specific look. We, on the other hand, want to force builders to follow a specific look. But the look has to be considerate to available budgets and the speed of execution should be appropriate. The cost must not be so high that the selling price of the unit becomes unreasonable,” he adds.

“CDA’s main purpose is to connect designers to the wider industry. And the components of that industry vary. They could be furniture, real estate and developments or gadgets. CDA is also working on how we can develop underprivileged areas with reasonable budgets.”

Mahdy is also pursuing his vision for design through his own Architecture and Interior Design Firm, Mental Flame. The firm was initially launched in Dubai and has now achieved much success in Egypt, as well. Mahdy attributes much of Mental Flame’s success to his decision to launch in Dubai. “Dubai helped us a lot in upgrading our project management and in raising the technical quality of our product. In Egypt, a portion of designers are good, but clients don’t pay the same attention to quality as in Dubai. In Egypt, when I deal with a commercial property, the client just wants to know the plan and the cost. But in Dubai, because the biggest international companies have branches there, every designer is good and delivers on time. Competition there has taught us that we must deliver high quality and on time. The strong competition there has brought us up to international levels,” Mahdy proudly boasts.

In conclusion, Mahdy states passionately, “‘People will ignore the design that ignores people.’ This phrase should be every designer’s guide. If a design doesn’t meet the consumer’s needs, culture and philosophy – the consumer simply won’t respond to it.”