Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind the Work: Designing a Socially Distanced Prayer Mat

Advertising Agency
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The team at BBDO Pakistan and Impact BBDO explain how they worked with Dettol to create the 180cm-wide prayer mat that promotes the message of distance and safety
Traditional prayer mats used in mosques run to 70cm in width. In a time where the message of ‘social distancing’ is prominent, something had to be done to ensure that worshippers in Pakistan were able to pray in a safe way. So, Impact BBDO and BBDO Pakistan teamed up with Dettol to create the Social Distancing Prayer Mat.

The 180cm mat that was the final design is a homage to Islamic culture in its design while also reiterating the message of keeping apart in Urdu calligraphy. Though the mat was originally released for Eid-ul-Azha earlier this year, it's been praised by Islamic organisations, governments and ministers around the country and is something that looks like it’s here to stay.

To hear more about the inception of the mat and the stunning design that went into it, LBB’s Natasha Patel spoke to Ali Rez, regional ECD at Impact BBDO, Marie Claire Maalouf, ECD at Impact BBDO and Atiya Zaidi, ECD and managing director at BBDO Pakistan. 

LBB> What was the initial brief for creating the socially distanced prayer mats and where did the idea come from?

Ali> The brief is always in line with what Dettol is trying to achieve as a larger goal: to help build a healthier, safer, and cleaner Pakistan. To accomplish this, we work with the brand to identify tension points and relevant solutions. With the current fourth wave of the pandemic in full force, the need of the hour was to locate an area in which we could make a difference in terms of providing protection to those who need it. The idea came through observing mosques at prayer times, and how directives to socially distance were not being followed.

LBB> Where did the inspiration to include the message 'The decision to maintain this distance is one of safety' on the mat come from?

Ali> We felt the most effective way to make the mat work would be to include both visual and verbal cues. While the geometric patterns and the very size of the mat communicate the message through graphical means, the words emphasise the need to socially distance.

LBB> It's interesting that the Urdu words for “decision” and “distance” are separated by one letter in the alphabet. Was the messaging on the mat intentional because of this?

Atiya> The intent here was not to brand the prayer mat and respect the sanctity of the mosque. The message on the mat had to ensure that any person joining the congregation would understand its purpose clearly. The copy was crafted keeping these objectives in mind. Decision and distance was selected after a few iterations as the simplest Urdu to communicate in a memorable manner. 


LBB> With that in mind, tell me more about the design for the mat, it’s so beautiful and traditional but plays into the modern need of the hour too.

Marie Claire> We used traditional prayer mats design as a base and we applied what we called “social distancing rules” to the graphical grid. In the centre of the mat - especially around the prayer niche (known as “mihrab”) pointing towards Mecca - the pattern stayed intact, respecting the geometric harmony from Islamic history. 

However, the extensions that were added on each side, to ensure social distancing, made the initial grid follow new rules, gradually extending the geometrical shapes toward the edges, creating a new rhythm for the geometrical patterns to follow, and resulting in this innovative piece.  

LBB> Why was it important to create a mat that is both sustainable and cost-efficient?

Atiya> For a population in the many millions, we needed to select a material which would not only be sustainable from an environmental POV, but would also provide efficiencies to allow us to print in larger quantities and get to the people faster. 

LBB> From an art and design perspective, what did you ensure to include on the mat's design?

Maire Claire> Decorations and calligraphies on a prayer mat not only play a role in imagery but help the worshipper as aids to memory. In this new prayer mat design, the message reminding people to keep a safe distance, is using traditional Diwani Calligraphy style that has natural stretches between letters; integrated within the new grid and complemented with a pattern behind it that spreads out the further it goes toward the edges creating a visual cue for distancing and keeping the worshipper in a safe space to pray. 

LBB> I know that the Council of Islamic Ideology has endorsed the mat, but what has the reaction from the public been?

Atiya> Overall, the reaction has been positive but there have been some questions on the exact religious instructions. The Islamic council supported the idea as Islam gives you provisions to take precautions first and safeguard health in the case of a pandemic. Most people don’t know about these provisions and hence the questions. At the beginning of the pandemic mosques were closed and people were told to pray at home, later with the easing of the restrictions many mosques removed prayer mats and asked worshippers to bring their own prayer mats from home. 

LBB> There are plans to take this out of Pakistan and internationally to a few different countries, but in Pakistan what are the hopes for the future of a mat such as this? Can and will it still be used in a post-Covid world?

Ali> We have made the design completely open-source and free to use, so beyond our plans to release this in other markets, it is our wish that it is downloaded by anybody who finds use for it. The mat is designed to be used in any situation when social distancing is required – it is our hope that in a post-Covid world, we would return to the traditional manner of praying shoulder to shoulder.

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