UNIT 3 - Design Enquiry & Definition

I did not end up sharing the process of Unit 3. I just handed in the final research essay for this unit and thought to share that instead, as it is a summary of this term. Tomorrow I am starting my final term of my Master, which is unbelievable! Very excited to kick it off!

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Statement of intent

“Advertising, rightly seen, is all about people. And about how to use words and pictures to persuade people to do things, feel things and believe things…. Wonderful, mad, rational and irrational people… About their wants, their hope, their tastes, their fancies, their secret yearnings, their customs and taboos. Or in academic language, about such things as Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology and Economics. “
- How to Become an Advertising Man (1963) by James Webb Young

In the 21st century advertising is everywhere. It’s in the streets, on the TV, in the film, and even on our phones. Needless to say, big parts of our daily lives face these influences, that beneath the surface shape our views of the world. And in this case – the Saudi woman.

Whether it is the IKEA catalogue in 2012 where they removed the females completely or the Independent that published the same image in many different articles between 2017-2014, it is clear to me that the view of the Saudi woman remains ancient.

As my family fled the Gulf War in the 90’s, they found themselves in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, where I was born. At the age of 3, we moved to Sweden. Growing up as a feminist in a western society, being fed these stories and imagery in media, did not make me want to stand for the culture. This is an exploration of representation and identity, but also the potential evolution of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Critical Context Review

History and culture / Literature review 1.0

Jones, J. (2016). Saudi Arabia Uncovered. [film] Saudi Arabia: Hardcash Productions.

The ruling elite in the kingdom preach Wahhabism, a branch that calls for a return to a “genuine” Islam and the rejection of all Western ideology.

The documentary Saudi Arabia Uncovered (Jones, 2016) takes an undercover look at the barbaric fundamentalism in the state of modern Saudi Arabia. It examines cruel punishments, gender segregation in public spaces and highlights activists like Loujain Alhathloul, who are challenging gender boundaries.

Al-Mansour, H. (2012). Wadjda. [film] Razor Film Produktion.

“Wadjda” was directed by the first Saudi female feature film director Haifaa Al-Mansour. The story revolves around an innocent girl that desires to buy a bicycle to raise the boys her age. The mother discourages her from that because girls might break their hymen riding bicycles.

The film touches on the divide between sexes. It touches on the shame of affection between teenagers, and even the norm to promise away pre-teen girls to older men, to either cover up or prevent a dishonour.

Sasson, J. P. (1997). Princess: A true story of life behind the veil in Saudi Arabia. New York, NY: Avon Books.

This is an autobiography about a Saudi princess discusses how the best of societal circumstances still does not give you a privilege as a female. It tells a story of male privilege in a royal family. And how the princess’s strong personality usually got her in trouble.

In my understanding, the laws and rules that are set for females come from the argument that women need protection. The veil is allegedly necessary because, if they show their beauty to the world, they will get taken advantage of and this risks tarnishing the family’s name. This argument is used to justify laws that restrict women’s rights and freedoms.

What is identity? / Primary research 1.0

Inspired by the idea of hiding a woman behind the veil, this experiment explores the lack of identity and coverage through photographic images found on Flickr. I removed the subject from the context and censored eyes. Since the eyes are the only thing that gave the veiled women individuality, I wanted to investigate the possibility of censorship with tape, similar to taping someone’s mouth. The black tape, matching the abaya, almost makes them nonexistent.

The rise of Islamic feminism / Literature 2.0


The boundaries and laws set for females in Saudi Arabia come from very ancient beliefs, but women’s rights are finally on the rise. The spread of internet has given women a platform of freedom to express - which has created the movement of Islamic feminism. (Tschirhart, 2014) Because of the rapid increase of online platforms, the internet creates a “third space”, a space that the government can not control, and that gives Saudi women a voice for the first time. (Newsom, and Lengel, 2012; Tschirhart, 2014)


As the movement is fairly new, Islamic feminists are still testing the waters and applying some suitable concepts from Western feminism, as they see complete freedom as a notion of increasing divorces, addictions etc. (Tschirhart, 2014)


Likewise, Mohanty (1986) argues that Western feminists still views “Third World Women" as helpless and victims of a system. Swift assumptions are made about the veil in Muslim countries as if it is a costume that signifies a universal language of oppression, she continues. There is definitely a need for a space that allows differences to be recognised and for both Western and Islamic feminists to be able to create a multicultural dialogue. (Basarudin, 2002)

What stories do we tell about the Saudi woman? / Primary research 2.0

This comparative research strategy used photographic images published on the online news in different regions. It creates context around images by using headlines, source, location and political stand of the source. It seems to me that the sources' political views weigh a lot on which images they choose to show in articles because the image itself sends it’s own message about the topic.

Media representation vs. self representation/ Primary research 3.0

This experiment is a development of the previous comparative strategy. Independent repeated the same image for many articles between 2017-2014, there it was compared to self-representation of Saudi women on social media. The Independent claim to be “free from any political bias”, but this shows a definite strategy in publication. A theory as mentioned above, viewing “Third World Women" as helpless. (Mohanty, 1986)

From media to advertising / Literature 3.0 & Practice review

Commercial advertising, unlike the media, is not only meant to inform and sell as much as possible but to affect decisions, behaviours and views. It is a declarative political statement hidden in a creative message. (Zirinski, 2005)

It is proven that the outcome is more effective if the creative execution has an understanding of cultural beliefs. (Shyan Fam, Waller, and Erdogan, 2004; Kalliny, and Gentry, 2007) Saudi Arabia takes up 40 percent of expenditures, making it a very valuable market in the Middle East. It is also a country where honour and repetition are important, as we have established earlier, hence, the pressure that companies face to advertise in the KSA, as the Saudi people rely on the reputation of the brand for honesty and expertise. (Sallam, 2011)

As the topic of women is complex, advertising directed towards women reflects that. Expression of sexuality has to be very little, to extinct. (Shyan Fam, Waller, and Erdogan, 2004) This is making it difficult for Western brands to advertise in Saudi Arabia. Often commercials designed for Culture A are put through a process of symbolic manipulation to make it suitable for Culture B. Because implying new ways to interpret a product is more economical than producing a new one. (Zirinski, 2005)


Givenchy “Ange ou demon”, 2006

The Western version of the perfume advert for “Ange ou demon” by French fashion brand Givenchy, is driven by sexuality. Makeup and the chosen dress, but also the phrase “Ange ou demon” (translation: Angel or demon) is playing on the idea of “nice or naughty”. In the Saudi version, subtle makeup, the woman fully clothed and the phrase changed to “Ange ou étrange” (translation: Angel or strange). 

Vogue Arabia, first issue, March 2017

The global franchise Vogue that is originally American recently published the first issue of Vogue Arabia. They chose half-Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid for the cover. However, this created a controversy, as they portrayed Hadid using a headscarf. The model had previously posed nude for Vogue Paris in 2016 and had never expressed the Islamic faith, therefore Arab women felt it was a hypocrisy to use her in a veil to promote fashion. 

Official IKEA catalogue, 2012, left Sweden, right Saudi Arabia.

The IKEA catalogue that was released in 2012, created countless headlines. The Saudi version had removed many of the women. This version was not suggested by the government, but by IKEA themselves. Which shows that the brand rather publishes something they thought would suit the culture, even though it includes offensive content.

The invisible woman / Primary research 4.0 & Work in progress show

The final experiment started as a four frame sequence but then developed into an appropriation of the known physical form of the IKEA catalogue. By creating a 100-page long timeline, transparency was used to show the disappearance of the female. It was displayed as an advertising catalogue on an IKEA shelf at the Work in Progress show.

At the show, some understood my intentions, others asked if I photoshopped away the women. This indicated that I did not contextualise the project enough, for the viewer to fully understand it. 


Mohanty (1986) suggests the West often see the veil as a universal language of oppression. It is often believed Saudi women need saving from religion. However, most times, Saudi women are not victims of their faith, but they rather need support to stand against masculinity and society.

As advertising play a significant role in society, it is not only used to inform and sell but to affect decisions, behaviours and political views. (Zirinski, 2005)

It is proven that the outcome is more effective if the creative execution has an understanding for cultural beliefs. However, as the topic of women is sensitive, advertising directed towards women reflects that. (Shyan Fam, Waller, and Erdogan, 2004; Kalliny, and Gentry, 2007)

This is making it difficult for Western brands to advertise in Saudi Arabia. Often ads designed for Culture A are put through a process of symbolic manipulation to make it suitable for Culture B. Because implying new ways to interpret a product is more economical than producing a new one. (Zirinski, 2005)


Scope and Boundaries

I see my last artefact as my most successful and progressed primary research concept. The reason for that is because not only did I put in effort on the concept, but also in the production of the idea. It was also the most informative. Although not enough context was put in for a bigger audience to understand. Therefore, my research agenda is to focus on the IKEA catalogue. It is an interesting topic for me, because it connects both of my backgrounds, and discusses a very real issue of the absence of the woman in society. Something that I am personally very passionate about. Therefore, I see potential in creating a definition and boundary around it.

Did the negative representation of women in the 2012 Saudi IKEA catalogue, impact the progression of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?

My research agenda will focus on understanding how Western brands advertise in Saudi Arabia. More specifically IKEA, that is considered one of the largest global brands, whether they impact social change, as they sell lifestyles. I will also be making a case study of what actually happened in the release of that catalogue in 2012, and what were the effects on Saudi society, but also on IKEA and how the Western society handled that situation.

The information and resources on this topic will be gathered from various physical catalogues from different years, to study the visual language and type of strategy for communication they use. I will try to get copies of Saudi releases. That would definitely add a lot of value to the research.

Furthermore, information will be collected from various literature that discusses IKEA as brand image and how they operate and built their audience like the book “The IKEA Story” (Torekull, and Kamprad, 2012). It discusses how IKEA “grew into a global furniture giant”.

Another source that seems interesting for my topic is “Great IKEA!: A brand for all the people” (Lewis, 2008) that in the description, particularly says “examines IKEA language and Swedish provenance as a branding technique; how this non-American brand spread so rapidly across the globe; and how it has become a force for social change.” But even with a deeper focus, read the thesis “Does IKEA Culture Apply Abroad? A Study of IKEA in Saudi Arabia” (Eskander and, Abdul Aal, 2010)

Research strategies and models

As mentioned above, the production of the last artefact really showed me the value of production. It was a whole idea, with proportions, paper stock, thickness and visual language. The earlier experiments were not, I had thought of a concept but not the production and presented them on A3s. Therefore, going further, more thought will be put on the production of primary research.

The strategies used earlier include; Comparison, repetition, sequence, transparency and cut outs. The majority of those focused on removal.

I have a few strategies in mind that I want to explore further with the newly established focus. Another strategy that falls under removal, is manipulation. I want to try to manipulate a 2017 IKEA catalogue by removing all the women, to see how an audience read it.

Another possible route to take is digital. I recently discovered the IKEA Catalogue app. In the application, you have the opportunity to view the catalogue in every country IKEA is located in. The structure of the application, you could use and apply it to a more comparative strategy. Instead of flicking through singular catalogues, you can use an interactive split screen where you can compare the same pages from two different countries at the same time.

The final suggested possibility is using sound?Can you use sound to inform about the concern in a catalogue? Connecting image to sound, maybe using the images that don’t have women, and combining them with sounds that would intend a woman in the scene? And in that sense, indirectly indicating the absence of the woman.



The resources that will be used depends on the strategy that will be explored. For the first idea of manipulation, I will need to check paper stock at Shepards or GF Smith, use the University’s Digital print workshop and bookbinding workshop.

For the comparative strategy, I will need to explore programming. Or possibly video editing, if it instead will be mocked up as a film to show the idea. Or display it as a flat image? In that case using image editing programs, such as Photoshop.

The third possibility that explores sound. Would need a microphone for recording, possibly in an IKEA environment. Depending on how and if I would combine it with the image, then I would possibly need an iPad. To experiment with the sound, I will need the sound mixing program Audacity.

Audience and Output

The topic of interest in this study, falls under social sciences, more specifically feminism. This study will likewise be an interest for someone interested in social change, specifically in the Middle East. It could be of relevance to someone with a mixed background such as mine, as this study discusses the cross-cultural dialogue between West and East culture. There is possible knowledge in this research for commercial studies as well.

In the time of writing, it is hard to outline the options for the possible final resolution, as it is not set. This depends on how the experiments above preform as visual artefacts as well as how they are perceived, but also because of the possible progression of each idea. As I try each idea, the output of that experiment might inspire me to do something I have yet not thought of. I The ideas discussed above include print, digital (application or film, depending on the production), and audio. Needless to say, there is also a possibility of combining two or three of the mentioned strategies. I could see a potential in combining the print with the sound experiment, as I think it could strengthen the point of the absence of the woman. But again, they might work on their own or not at all.



Al-Mansour, H. (2012). Wadjda. [film] Razor Film Produktion.

Basarudin, A. (2002). Dismantling bridges, building solidarity: Reconciling Western and Arab feminisms. Al-Raida, XIX (97-98), 62- 65.

Jones, J. (2016). Saudi Arabia Uncovered. [film] Saudi Arabia: Hardcash Productions.

Kalliny, M. and Gentry, L. (2007). ‘Cultural Values Reflected in Arab and American Television Advertising’. Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, 29(1), pp.15-32.

Mohanty, C.T. (1986). ‘Under western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses’. Boundary 2, 12(3), 333-358.

Newsom, V. and Lengel, L. (2012). ‘Arab Women, Social Media, and the Arab Spring: Applying the framework of digital reflexivity to analyze gender and online activism’. Journal of International Women's Studies, 13(5), pp.13-38.

Sallam, M. (2011). ‘The Impact of Source Credibility on Saudi Consumer’s Attitude toward Print Advertisement: The Moderating Role of Brand Familiarity’. International Journal of Marketing Studies, 3(4).

Sasson, J. P. (1997). Princess: A true story of life behind the veil in Saudi Arabia. New York, NY: Avon Books.

Shyan Fam, K., Waller, D. and Zafer Erdogan, B. (2004). ‘The influence of religion on attitudes towards the advertising of controversial products’. European Journal of Marketing, 38(5/6), pp.537-555.

Tschirhart, P. (2014). ‘The Saudi Blogosphere: Implications of New Media Technology and Emergence of Saudi Islamic Feminism’. CyberOrient, 8(1).

Young, J. (1989). How to Become an Advertising Man. 1st ed. Lincolnwood, Ill.: NTC Business Books.

Zirinski, R. (2005). Ad hoc Arabism: advertising, culture and technology in Saudi Arabia. 1st ed. New York: P. Lang.

Further reading

Ahmed, L. (1993). Women and gender in Islam. 1st ed. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Amīn, Q. (2000). The liberation of women. 1st ed. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

Campbell, D. (2011). What Great Companies Know About Culture. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2011/12/what-great-companies-know-abou?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom [Accessed 20 May 2017].

Fanon, F. (1961). The wretched of the earth. 1st ed. New York: Grove Press.

Kotaiba Abdul Aal, M. and Eskander, D. (2010). Does IKEA Culture Apply Abroad? A Study of IKEA in Saudi Arabia. Karlstad University.

Lewis, E. (2008). Great IKEA! A brand for all the people. 2nd ed. London: Marshall Cavendish.

Ritzman, T. (2015). Case Title: IKEA. Ali Kara, Ph.D.

Salzer, M. (1994). Identity across borders: a study in the "IKEA-world". Linköping: Univ.

Torekull, B. and Kamprad, I. (2012). The IKEA story. 2nd ed. Italy: Litopat S.p.A.

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