In celebration of Arab American Heritage Month, we’ve interviewed Maece Seirafi, Curator at Local/Not Local, and Milka Broukhim, Head of Brand Design at Snap Inc., to learn about each of their journeys, influences and the impact of cultural heritage on their work.
Get to know Maece and Milka in the exclusive interview and prepare to be inspired. Plus, check out the links below to further explore their creative work.
How did your journey into design begin?
My journey into design began as a young child curious about the world of color and what I could make with my hands. I remember illustrating stories and turning them into children’s books, I was fascinated by them. The illustrations, story structure, the book craftsmanship, I wanted to find ways of creating a professional book one someday. Drawing and calligraphy were my passion from my childhood years well into high school. I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a creative that combined the two skill sets together. I decided to go into design when I was just about finished with my foundation year at Otis College of Art and Design after taking an assortment of foundational courses that gave a glimpse into an array of the disciplines of art and design.
As a kid, I liked to draw, and I chose Fine Arts as my undergraduate degree at UCLA. The theoretical, abstract aspect of it, unknowingly, planted a seed in my mind— which ultimately made an impact later on during my graduate degree at Art Center. However, halfway through my undergraduate studies in Fine Arts, I switched to Design. The fact that Design is about form following function was appealing to me. The rational in creating an effective solution for a purpose thrilled me.
My journey into design blossomed more when one of my Design professors (late Bill Brown) after my graduation referred me to work with legendary Bob Abel, (an award-winning visionary, pioneer designer, and commercial producer). We designed the first UI/UX for the first interactive multimedia design product for our client, IBM. While working as an intern for Saul Bass and Debora Sussman/Pretzja, their influence in a solid high-end design education pulled me to pursue my MFA at Art Center College of Design in Visual Communication Design and Media. In addition to design media, I focused on typography and motion– capturing the essence of a theme via typography for film title sequence design, called Kinematic Typography.
Who and what are some of the major influences on your creativity?
Wissam Shawkat: Contemporary Arabic calligraphy who merges the past and present in artistic ways in his calligraphic layouts and fonts.
Mayascula Brands: a Barcelona based branding agency focusing on establishing global and multilingual brands. Their ability to cross-pollinate into a variety of different cultures through a visual language that is present in their projects across the world.
Ed Fella: his ability to play with words and meaning, and whimsical hand-drawn style that has defined typography and American graphic design.
Many of my remarkable and gifted teachers have made a significant life impact on my creative growth that I am very grateful. To name a few: April Greiman, Rebeca Mendéz, Patti Podesta, Petrula Vrontikis, Roman Munoz, Simon Johnston, Errol Gerson, and many more.
I believe the significant influence on my creativity was the exposure to fine arts in my undergraduate studies. As I began to understand its theoretical and abstract aspects of it, it deepened and enriched my experimental typographical creative design work in my graduate work. This eventually became a part of my thesis, Kinematic Typography, where I captured the essence of a theme via typography for film titles.
What does your creative process look like? What does a typical day look like for you?
When I’m in the depths of my creative process I make sure that I’m constantly validating with my client so we’re on the same page. I want to make sure both our time is met with the utmost respect and we’re using it wisely in our collaboration together. Therefore I have streamlined my creative process with my clients in the following steps:
- Lists: I’ll write down as many words, phrases, and descriptions as I can until I can’t go any further. From there I’ll start editing down my word choices, making associations that can be grouped together in the same category.
- Mindmapping: When I start to find prominent themes I’ll start to visually organize and structure the information to better comprehend and synthesize new ideas. I love doing this with clients to gets their minds stimulated and creative juices flowing!
- Validation: Once a clear mind map has been developed with at least 4-5 defined concepts I’ll get the client’s selection on which direction to go. Up until this point, I still have not touched the computer or my sketchbook. I’m keeping the process loose for ideas to flow naturally with no set expectations but a mindful flow to happen organically. Once the client has approved an idea from our mind map I’ll dive into the ideation phase.
- Ideation: This is where I’ll start creating empathy boards and stylescape of the chosen concept. With empathy boards, I’ll curate a collection of images that fit within a specific theme and color palette. With a stylescape I will arrange appropriately curated images that include fonts, color palette, illustration style, photography that depicts a visual tone and narrative about the brand. Sometimes a concept might have two to three different stylistic approaches worth experimenting with which means I’ll work with 2-3 different stylescapes going from spicy, hot, and mild. I’ll present to the client for final approval.
- Refinement: once we have final approval on the stylescape a list of deliverables will be discussed based on the client’s needs.
A typical day for me is going through any of the above-mentioned steps. I try to keep mind mapping and detailed research to a full day and include a session of loose sketching. I try to vary my tasks throughout the week by beginning my week with writing lists and mind mapping then towards the end of the week more sketching and visual research for stylescapes and empathy boards.
While I highly believe in “form following function,” my creative process also operates in the intuitive realm. Like a “dry sponge,” I begin my creative process by soaking in as much information as possible, such as researching, observing, listening, sharing, and conversing thoughts with others to discover many ideas and allow different solutions to grow. Before I start executing the design solutions, I prefer to sketch my ideas out by hand and then move forward to the computer implementation. You see, there’s a different dialogue between the work and me when it’s on paper versus on the screen.
The hands-on design work allows for a quicker response and a different way of seeing and finding solutions- it’s more intuitive and alive for me. By nature, I get very excited about how ideas and solutions in the course of search are explored and are found unexpectedly. Therefore, even after the design has been executed on the computer, I still like to work on it with my hands by printing the layout, cutting and pasting, and scanning it back on to the computer. I love how concepts are deconstructed, reconstructed, hybridized, and multiplied to inspire and be put into excellent and meaningful practices. The serendipity and happy accidents that come with this process allow the ideas and the design to simmer at a whole different level, one which I probably wouldn’t have intended for if planned directly on the screen.
What aspects of your heritage would you like to see celebrated more? Or are there things you would like people to know more about?
As a whole I find that the aspect of heritage as a middle eastern woman feels misrepresented and confined to specific stereotypes that are limiting in belief. I would like to see a more honest, accurate, and transparent representation of Middle Eastern heritage from voices of youth study the region in regards to its artistic cultural expression. Middle Eastern entrepreneurs are roles models many look up to, and would like to hear more from their opinions. Even as Arab Americans I find that we can contribute to a more diverse opinion untainted by the tones of mainstream media. This is the sole reason why I focus on representing my culture is because I find that it’s a community that is misunderstood and often times misrepresented. What I would like to see are cultural initiatives such as publications, exhibitions, collaborations that focus on the Arab American community through the lens of their personal identity represented through the arts.
Born in Iran, I was exposed to the intricate beauty of a rich and deep culture that is considered one of the most influential civilizations in the world. Iran has one of the oldest, most affluent, and most influential art heritage in the world, which encompasses many artistic disciplines such as literature, music, dance, architecture, painting, the art of weaving rug, metalworking, and more. This was one of the reasons I wanted to design the currency for my country, Iran. In creating this project, instead of celebrating the political figures of the government on the currency, I wanted the beauty of the art of each dynasty to be celebrated and commemorated instead. I want people to know more about the beauty of Iranian art, culture, and its warm and hospitable people, rather than diluting those attributes with the country’s government.
In your experience, how have you seen design bring people closer together?
I find that design is the visual language of problem-solving and dialogue that fosters a conversation around people’s stories that celebrates their journeys. I also find that the collaboration between designers and clients is one of the most powerful ways of bringing people closer together by designing for impact in ways that are personal and relatable. Whether we’re in the brainstorming phase, the iteration phase, or the completion phase we oftentimes find ourselves celebrating each phase with its ups and downs to each a common goal that we are both championing.
In my experience, I see design making positive impacts on people’s lives and bringing people closer together when used with purpose.
Good design is powerful when engaging in creating a memorable and meaningful message. The memorable impression communicates a purpose and prompts the intended audience to take action and to connect through a collective intent.
Throughout history, we’ve witnessed how design in space and structure, such as architecture, has Brough people closer together physically. In typography, the typeface Caslon, designed by William Caslon in the 1700s, brought the people of the United States of America together politically when Benjamin Franklin used it for America’s Decelerations of Independence. In product design and on social media platforms, people are brought closer together via emotional engagement in captivating and meaningful relationships. Design has the power to bring meaningful connections to benefit the good for our community and around the world.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is underrepresented and is trying to navigate the creative career path?
I would say, if there’s anything making anyone feel underrepresented in any way that just shows that there is an underlying strong opinion waiting to come out. Be comfortable with that voice and understand what feeds into it and how it reacts to certain topics. Others will take note of this voice that you are cultivating and will know you by that voice very soon. Share you thoughts and opinions openly. Lean into that voice. When you’ve gotten to know that voice very well, start researching what kind of visual language that translates to? What kind of imagery would it embody? What kind of typography would be best suited for its voice? Once you start to curate a visual language of how that voice might look and sound like, it’s time to start creating a project to make that opinion known out into the world.
Looking back on how my relationships with my former university professors helped to make my initial industry connections, I highly recommend staying in touch with your former professors (no matter how long it’s been). When I was teaching, it thrilled me to hear from my former students. I invited them as my guest speakers in some of my classes, and through my business connections and consultations, I would connect and refer them in the industry — they also would do the same. I have been hired by a few of my former students to help with the growth of their startup businesses with respect to design and branding.
Also, build a portfolio, learn the business, and make industry connections through attending events, lectures, conferences, and internships. Get noticed by the broader design community by submitting your work for awards. Take advantage of technology, social media, and university alumni groups. Most of all, I recommend joining the design and business organizations to continue with your education and to connect with the people in the industry, such as AIGA.org.
Do you have any other projects you’d like to share?
Thank you Maece and Milka for sharing your insights with AIGA San Diego! Be sure to check out their work at: