Talking to the design agency behind the new Lebanese passport

Handwritten passports are a thing of the past... except in Lebanon, where they were still officially issued to citizens until mid-2016. The passports weren't machine-readable causing us all a little bit of awkwardness at border control when travelling about the developed world.

Biometric passports are basically e-passports that have security info embedded into a microchip, a technology most of the world adopted back in 2005 when it was first introduced. But, ideas can travel slow and sometimes require ten years to make a debut in countries like Lebanon, where federal and public services are notoriously slow. The Lebanese Directorate General of General Security started issuing biometric passports to Lebanese citizens in August just this year.

Designed by Beirut-based communication agency GraphicShop and their star Creative Director Noha Karanouh Kabbani, the new biometric passport was without a doubt one of 2016's highlights.

I got in touch with GraphicShop, who filled me in on the passport's design, security features, and random fun facts you would've never really known without scrolling down. A huge thank you to the team for taking the time to feed our curiosity!

Lebanese Biometric Passport Design

Can you tell me a bit about GraphicShop?

GraphicShop is a visual communications firm that works with clients in the Middle East & Africa to instil new life into their brands and products through strong creative ideas that are attractive and engaging. GraphicShop’s core specialty is brand development from concept to realization. Our clients range from private sector blue chip companies to public sector and government institutions.

How were you commissioned to take on the job? 

GraphicShop has previously worked on various legal documents such as the Lebanese currency, the central bank’s check design and the soon-to-be-released vehicle plates, driving license and mechanic stickers. We were selected to take on the job due to our history, experience and profile. 

The Lebanese Government for landmark national projects sought GraphicShop's Noha Karanouh Kabbani to help them in what they desired. Recent government projects that she worked on include:

- Lebanese Biometric Passport design with ongoing direct feedback from the Lebanese General Security decision-making personnel
- Visa Page design
- Brand identity of the “Traffic, Trucks and Vehicles Management Authority” requested by the Internal Security Forces
- Lebanese Driving Licenses design requested by the Internal Security Forces
- Lebanese Car Licenses design requested by the Internal Security Forces
- TTVMA Vehicle Center branding
- Other ongoing governmental projects

We submitted three different options of the new Lebanese Biometric Passport, and the one that is being deliberated today was the winning option.

Lebanese Biometric Passport Design

What’s the process of designing a new passport from start to finish?

The process is hectic and overwhelming at the same time. We were challenged to complete this project with its complex deliverables and tight deadlines, and yet succeeded in keeping promises. Right after signing the contracts and getting the brief of the project GraphicShop committed all its time, effort and resources to fulfilling the requested needs. The design process took six months for very specific and highly innovative details where each and every security feature was traced and personalized by the designers. Afterwards came a month of correction and amendments.

What are the design elements of the new passport?

The six different Lebanese passports (Passport, Diplomatic, Special, Services, Laissez-passer and Palestinian refugees) have trilingual (Arabic, French and English) text, and 22 Landmarks (Raouche Rock, Tyre Temple, Beaufort Castle, Hasbaya Castle, Jezzine, Sidon Castle, Beiteddine Palace, Lake Qaraoun, Niha Temple, Anjar Castle, Beirut Forest, Martyr's Square, Beirut, Jeita Grotto, Baalbek Lebanon, Fakra Temple, Kfarzebian, Byblos Castle, Qannoubine Valley, Msailha Castle, Tripoli Castle and Barouk Cedar). 

I'm going to elaborate on a feature that few may have noticed: across the 22 spreads with the illustrative trace of the landmarks, is a sun that starts from the East (first spread) and ends at the West (last spread) where in daylight the sun appears to set as the spreads are flipped, and under UV light happens the movement of the moon in reverse.

Lebanese Biometric Passport Design

Lebanese Biometric Passport Design

What was the biggest challenge you encountered in the process?

Our greatest challenge was that despite the short time of six months given to finish this accomplishment, we had no choice regarding the sizes of the pages and the sizes of the abstract illustrated design of each landmark. Yet again each detail was fully studied. For example, the cover of the passport has a pattern that was closely designed by GraphicShop. The details of the cedar tree were highly researched and illustrated and the data page is full of unseen micro lettering that would be impossible to be copied. 

Is there a specific reason for the passport’s navy blue exterior color? Was there any consideration to change it?

The main reason behind the passport's navy blue color is because it is the color of the Mediterranean Sea. This color was specifically asked for to be in the design by the Ministry of Interior. There was thus no consideration to change it.

Lebanese Biometric Passport Design

What are the security elements of the new passport? Is there close collaboration with a security firm to manage security features across the passport?

The parties that put their efforts on the new Biometric Lebanese Passport were Minister Nouhad El Machnouk, the Public Security team headed by Mr. Fadi Harb, Gemalto team, and Inkript team in collaboration with the GraphicShop team.

The security features are as follows:

- PKI – Public Key Infrastructure - IPI- Invisible Personal ID
- 2D Bar code
- Machine Readable Zone (MRZ)
- Security Substrate and Laminate
- Ultra Violet features Micro Printing
- Holograms
- Watermark Paper
- Security Ink
- 3 Colour Intaglio Printing - Guilloche Patterns

GraphicShop specifically designed all security features mentioned above. It was a great challenge to come up with such sensitive design, but thank god we were up for the challenge.

As of August 1, 2016, all new Lebanese passports issued are to be biometric passports and machine-readable and have a contactless smartcard RFID chip embedded inside the polycarbonate data page (3rd EU generation) or a booklet in which the chip is imbedded at the bottom of the front cover under the word "PASSEPORT". Facial recognition technology is being introduced to coincide with the release of the Biometric Passport. This technology is used to improve identity verification,
reduce identity-related fraud, and protect the legal identity of the citizens of the Republic of Lebanon. Similar technology is used in the Lebanese Identity card.

The biometric data that is to be included on the Lebanese passport is the bearer's name, gender, date and place of birth, and a digital image of their face, ten fingerprints and palmprints. Lebanese immigration checkpoints are not the only ones with the technology to read and authenticate the data from the RFID chip using a fingerprint scanner and facial recognition technology.

In addition to biometric data and the personal information stored on the information page, the chip also records the bearer's travel history of the last ten entry and exits at Lebanese border control points (Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport, Beirut Naval Base, Port of Beirut, Port of Byblos, and Port of Tripoli).
Lebanese Biometric Passport Design

Have you designed legal documents in the past?

GraphicShop has worked previously on legal documents such as the Lebanese currency design for the 50, 500, and 1,000 Lebanese Lira, in addition to the design of the Central Bank’s checkbook and several other Swiss legal designs. Also, GraphicShop is behind the design of the new logo of the Ministry of Interior, Lebanon's car plates, driving license and mechanic stickers.

Lebanese Currency Design

How does work for a public client differ than work for a private one?

Frankly, it doesn’t differ between public or private sectors, since we treat all our clients as royalty! Whether the job comes from a tiny grocery shop or from the presidential office itself, our main goal is to fulfil our client’s satisfaction. That doesn’t mean that we are not proud of what we have accomplished; we are more than honored to be the ones behind this magnificent model, for we view it as the greatest challenge that we have ever accomplished.

What’s your favorite feature of the new passport? 

Noha: Believe me if I say that the whole passport is my favorite, for each and every detail took my breath away. This project meant to be my baby, and when I delivered it I felt a part of my heart and soul was brought to life.


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