Ghar Branding & Publication

Ghar or Aleppo soap has been prepared with a traditional recipe for hundreds of years. About three hundred families in Syria ran businesses producing this type of soap, but due to the war production is now impossible. The soap is connected to countless stories and memories, which Syrian refugees took with them. Ghar (meaning soap) shares the stories and memories connected to Aleppo soap, in order to make Syrian refugees less anonymous in our society. This consists of a wooden stamp printed with a short memory about Ghar (the scent reminds me of..) and can be stamped any time the soap has been used. This way, the memories will not get lost. I was asked by the creator of this story platform, Nienke Galjaard, to design the branding, packaging and a digital application. A dedicated team was put together to combine our efforts to transform it into a hybrid publication.

How Ghar is made

The soap is made in a huge large vat in the ground, where three ingredients get mixed: water, laurel oil and lye. This is called the 'hot process', because there is an underground fire that heats the materials to a boil. This lasts three days until it becomes a thick, liquid substance. The laurel oil only gets mixed in at the end. After that the liquid gets spread all over the floor of the factory on a huge wax paper, and is allowed to cool and harden for one day. Then it gets cut and stapled into pieces.

Digital Preservation

A key element in this project was the preservation, this production process and the memory of it. The original GHAR publication is actually one big archive of memories and a cultural database of this Arabic ritual. One that has disappeared throughout times of war in Syria. The information we already had was the analog 'stamp' (the wooden case) and the stories of the people that in this way, are not lost. The need was therefore to translate the analog version into the design and the application.


Concept & Design

To strengthen the presence of Ghar, we used the earthly colours of the soap and a combo of the Arabic word in the logo. The application also contains both languages, Dutch and Arabic. The colours, a soft orange, sandy beige and a black as a support mix right in with the feeling of the soap. We were also a fan of green, as that is the color of the laurel oil, the color that is inside the soap - but the orange is keeping it lively and takes it back to Ghar's original form.

Usage: A Digital Handshake

The bold letters of Ghar and what is used in the overall design are keeping it tight, cool and to the point. They were hand made and are also play a huge part in the digital application. This is where on the second photo, the NFC chip, takes you. When swiping your phone over this invisible chip, it will open a website where you can have access to these stories and information. It is like a handshake with one of the storytellers, where you can meet them in an online environment and the stories can be passed on.


The Application

In addition to all the information that was gathered, we interviewed more people and there is more information about the production. To unlock this content, the users can manipulate, twist and move around the letters until they fit into an invisible box. It is like a digital stamping, where in the original publication the analog stamp was a very important element (to not lose any memories). When the users guess the word by individually adjusting the letters, they get to see one part of the content. 

The Living Archive

It kind of makes it an interactive archive, keeping people focused by gamification where there is a constant feedback loop. The word also describes which bit of the story comes next, and is divided into several chapters. Most of the words are linked to a memory of the storytellers, or how Ghar used to fit into a ritual. ‘Bath’ or ‘Wedding’ could, for example, be one of the words and shows a fragment of the ritual, where they would go to the hammam before the wedding ceremony and cleanse themselves with Ghar soap.


Usage: Flowchart

This is a small text about the events in the application - a video will be posted after it comes out on the 10th of April, where you can buy a piece of Ghar. It first takes you to a small tutorial, where you can try and puzzle the first word by tweaking it around. Then it takes you to the first level, which, when given, takes you to the first memories of Ghar's past before the war, with much elderly people. They get younger during the course of the game and after all the levels you have unlocked. The same goes for the process and details of the production of the soap. Every time it takes just one word to check it out.

Digital-Born Content

We really wanted to involve the users in Ghar by giving them the opportunity to add something to the application. We had a lot of conversations about how the user could be a part of Ghar, so that it's not just a read-only. First was the the choice of recording the storytellers as if the user was Facetiming with them. Second came the idea of the game, while afterwards we came up with the idea that the user could also manipulate the words to make new ones; creating their own digital-born content and encrypt a short message in response, for example a review of how they feel about the soap and the stories of Ghar.


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Creative Team

Nienke Galjaard - Concept, Publication Owner & Issuer
Kimmy Spreeuwenberg - Project Manager & Issuer
Megan Hoogenboom - Concept & Developer
Camie Roos - Concept, Design & Animation
Lou Muuse - Journalist & Copywriter
Gabriëlle Marks - Editor