SYNTAX, design and the story of a domain name
Hello. I am Ahmad Humeid, cofounder and CEO of SYNTAX. And I’d like to tell you a story.
One evening, sometime in October 1997, I was sitting in an office on the second floor of an old building in Amman’s old Jabal Al Luwiebdeh neighborhood. I was excited. I had finally decided on the name of my design business.
At the time, I was a partner in a company division which was part of a larger group that worked in magazine publishing and web media. My division did graphic design, multimedia and web design work. It was called “Arabian Media Concepts”, not exactly a name I liked. That name was a result of a strategy that positioned our little division as a kind of “media research and development” unit that experimented with a variety of media projects and concepts.
I love media and technology. And we had a great time experimenting with the web, comic books, magazine projects and building some of the first Arab corporate web sites and actually creating the first Arab web portal ever.
But, at heart, I was a designer. In the early 1990’s, while still studying architecture at the University of Jordan, I started my own small graphic design business. By 1997, After a few years of being deeply involved in a pioneering Arab publishing venture, I wanted independence again and I had an image in my mind of building and working in a design firm, not a “media concepts” firm.
A year earlier, towards the end of 1996, I had the chance to be briefly exposed to a number successful design, branding and multimedia/web companies in Germany and Austria. I even considered leaving Jordan at the time to work in Europe. A company that really captured my imagination (but didn’t hire me 🙂 was MetaDesign in Berlin, who played an important role in the design scene in Germany during the 1990s.
But here I was in Amman.
Our parent publishing group was going through some tough times and big changes.
Inspired by the companies I visited or read about in magazines or saw on the young web, I really wanted to focus on building a design company. My wife Salua Qidan and our friend Racha Tarazi where ready to be partners. Together we were three young architects ready to go independent.
I can’t remember exactly how I arrived at the name “SYNTAX”. But it felt right. It had that amazing linguistic, philosophical and technical meaning. it was not about “style” or “creative” or “cool”. It was all about building meaningful things.
So what do you do when you finally hit upon the right name for your company? Well, you register a domain name, of course. And on 22 November, 1997 that’s what I did, most probably on a Mac Quadra that sat on my desk at that old Luweibdeh office. The domain SYNTAXDESIGN.com was registered.
SYNTAX officially became a company nine month later in August 1998.
We used SYNTAX DESIGN as our name and SYNTAXDESIGN.com as our domain name for the first year of our operation.
The internet bubble came along. Driven by enthusiasm, and by venture capital money, we set up shop in New York, ready to conquer the world (wide web).
We were still designers at heart, but the opportunity was in doing “digital” work. In 1999 we registered SYNTAXDIGITAL.com and since 2000 we started using that domain as our main address on the web. At one point we even changed our logo to SYNTAXDIGITAL. But we maintained ownership of SYNTAXDESIGN too.
The internet bubble burst. September 11th 2001 happened. Our dreams of being a “global” company where put on the shelf. We retreated to Amman, focusing on Jordan and regional market.
I think that around 2002, we started thinking of ourselves as simply “SYNTAX”. But the SYNTAXDIGITAL name kept lingering on. For a long while I convinced myself that “DIGITAL” was simply a way to say that our website was the “digital home” of SYNTAX.
Looking back, I have to admit that this was a branding mistake. And it’s a pretty lame mistake for a branding company to make too. We always insist on naming clarity when working with startups and even large corporations. But we couldn’t get ourselves to take the same medicine we prescribed.
Then, a few years ago, something even worse happened. An administrative mistake caused us to lose our original SYNTAXDESIGN.com domain name. It was scooped up by a domain name trader. My anxious emails to the guy (in Japan!) brought no results. We were being asked for a very high price to get our domain name back.
SYNTAX is, in three words, a design company. We really needed that domain name back! And we obviously kept watching the situation. SYNTAXDESIGN.com started pointing to a Japanese domain sales site. It was probably for sale, but we had given up on the issue.
We lived with this reality for years and we have suffered from it, not only on a branding level, but also on a technical level as some of our company’s accounts with various online services where registered using email addresses on the SYNTAXDESIGN.com domain.
It was bad.
But our luck started changing around a week ago.
I checked the domain again and noticed that it was for sale by a domain brokerage that spoke English.
Our web wizard Ibrahim Owais submitted a bid that we agreed to keep reasonably low, and to see what happens.
To our surprise, the bid was accepted. We couldn’t believe our luck!
The days-long process of transferring the domain name to our ownership started. We were nervous that something would go wrong and kept following up on a daily basis.
Then, yesterday morning, the great news arrived. SYNTAXDESIGN.com was ours again.
And as of yesterday afternoon, it takes you the the SYNTAX site.
It’s back to the future! Design is our DNA. SYNTAXDESIGN.com is our domain.
In the coming weeks we will transfer our emails to our new/old domain name and we will get our own house in order, branding-wise.
The door of the carpenter shall be broken no more.