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Design Ecosystem in Kazakhstan

Gianmarco Caprio

Writer and editor at Phase with a fondness for photography, typography, design and travel.

Kazakhstan: A Place to Watch

Kazakhstan is certainly not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks about design. Or anything else, really.

Almaty, its former capital and most cosmopolitan city, is worlds away from the bustling urban centers of Europe and East Asia—quite literally.

Located in the region commonly known as Central Asia, along with the other 'Stans - namely Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan - this former Soviet republic has always been somewhat isolated due to its very geographical location.

Nevertheless, Kazakhstan is by far the richest and most worldly out of all the other Central Asian states,and walking around Almaty, its biggest city, you could even think you're somewhere in Europe... or almost.

Kazakhstan: Starting from Zero

Design wasn't really a thing in Kazakhstan back when the Soviet Union was still around. Under the socialist political system, there was no advertising around as everything (or almost) was either State-owned and State-run, and billboards were mostly occupied with politically-charged propaganda and slogans. But at the beginning of the 1990s, when the Soviet super-state collapsed and all the different republics that comprised it broke away and became newly-independent countries, most of them - including Kazakhstan - choose to transition towards a market economy, so large-scale privatization started and citizens were allowed to start their own businesses.

As one can easily imagine, the first few years of transition towards a market economy weren't easy, so people weren't exactly preoccupied with the way they advertised their businesses—back then, improvisation and a decidedly DIY approach were dominant. The country eventually developed, largely thanks to its gas and oil sector, so the "Western-style" advertisement eventually became widespread in this part of the world, as well.

Kazakhstan was practically starting from zero, because never in the history of this country had the graphic arts ever existed—if one does not consider the ones used for the traditional national embroidery. This meant that a whole new class of people trained in the graphic arts had to be formed.

The State of Design in Kazakhstan

Today, nearly thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan still hasn't caught up with the West when it comes to its graphic arts sector. But the improvements have been incredible and this former Soviet Republic is firmly on a path towards building its own little niche in this field.

One can say that this land provides a perfect ground for new ideas to emerge thanks to it being a crossroads of many cultures and peoples. First of all, the Kazakhs themselves are a mixed people, being the descendants of Turkic and Mongolic tribes which settled in this region of Central Asia. Their language is of Turkic origin, whilst their features are decidedly Mongolic. They mostly adhere to the Islamic faith, although a small percentage of them belong to the Orthodox Church. The latter mostly caters to ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians in the country, who settled here in the Soviet days.

As design draws constant inspiration not only from modernity and new trends but in great part from culture and traditions as well, it is easy to see why the Kazakhs appear to be an ideal bunch to create some really innovative things—not only in design but other fields also.

Though thus far not much has come out of the young Kazakhs design industry, it is not hard to see why it is promising and will no doubt positively impact the scene globally in years to come.

One strong signal that design is becoming an increasingly important sector for the wider Kazakh society is the launch of the TANU Design Award in 2019, aimed at "objectively evaluating talent, skills, and achievements of professionals in the industry of architecture and interior design" in the country.

With initiatives such as the TANU awards, Kazakhstan seeks to establish itself as the key regional player for the architecture and design field, a position the country already holds in different, unrelated sectors.

Design Education

Even though the educational standards in this big Eurasian country - a 10th of Kazakhstan's territory falls within the European continent after all -, those wanting to pursue an education in the creative fields in Almaty, the country's biggest city, can do so by enrolling at the Zhurgenev Kazakh National Academy of Arts, where one can study fields such as Computer Graphics and Design, among others. This is a public institution and therefore it is free of charge, at least for Kazakh nationals. If you, on the other hand, want to consider enrolling at a privately-run university-level institution, then the choice for you is the Almaty Design School.

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