Inspiration

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Learning Creativity with Muneebah Waheed

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You could get lost in the sheer amount of skills Muneebah Waheed has cultivated over time.

Starting with nothing but the dream of becoming a creative, Muneebah set out on a journey of constant learning and fascination, from graphic design to packaging and even web design and coding. If we could spare one word to describe such a multi-faceted creative, we would probably say determined.

Everyone has its own story, and Muneebah has grown so comfortable with her own story and background that it is a pleasure to hear her speak about her greatest passion – Art. 

How did you get into the industry?

I believe creativity is inside us ready to be set free and that we need to let it emerge. Growing up, I understood that the need to visually express myself was such an important part of me.

And so I followed my heart and curiosity throughout my education, allowing my creativity to grow and flourish. 

After A-Level art I studied Art Foundation and a BA in 3D design specialising in product design at Manchester Metropolitan University, graduating back in 2005. I started my early education years being interested in concept art, then switched to design at university.

At university I developed a basic understanding of art history, which I absolutely loved. I was also taught to question everything. This led to me becoming obsessed with making people think, whether through creating puzzles, mysteries, thought provoking questions or philosophy. This fascination with conceptual creativity led to my end of year product design project being more of a provocative piece for an art gallery than a commercial product. I wasn’t sure what to do with my natural interest and educational background.

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Muslim Vision - prism glasses in response to Islamophobia stemming from the ‘war on terror’. A muslim perspective of seeing/viewing the world. Part of the optics series. Multiple images relate to the contemplative way in which Muslims are supposed to examine the world. It is a reflective approach where something is looked at repeatedly, leading to pondering and questioning its origin. Is there a higher being or not?

After graduating, I became interested in web design while briefing web designers at JD Williams. I did a few small courses, learnt to code and began freelancing for local businesses.

I then landed a typesetting job at the Times Educational Supplement, which was followed by a permanent role at a growing tech startup, Zamir Telecom.

Within three years at Zamir, I went from fumbling my way through new design software to strategically rebranding a group of their companies, the most prominent; Simplecall.

If hard work is what it takes? That I can do! And I felt I’d found my calling.

Alongside my first few years of working, I was also studying graphic design at Shillington college two evenings after work. Everything I learnt I would apply in the office the next day. 

Towards the end of my course my two college days became intense. I worked 9–5 then went to my evening class from 6–9pm, I’d get home for dinner around 10pm, work all night on coursework, crawl into bed at 5am then be back up at 7am for work! It was hard, but worth it!

I completed the course and won the award for best packaging. I’d never won anything in my life. I’d always assumed I’d need to be naturally talented to get that far. But with drive and determination, design can be learnt. If hard work is what it takes? That I can do! And I felt I’d found my calling.

I loved the idea that graphic design also had a fine art side to it, so there was a non-commercial, super creative outlet in the industry should I want to dive in.

With the help of my new design knowledge I went on to successfully completing the rebrand for Simplecall, which mushroomed into its own launch experiential campaign for the launch event which I organised. I learnt so much about myself in this process. Mainly around what I was capable of and that I shouldn’t hold myself back.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

After freelancing in agencies working on global brands, I set up my own branding studio, Muneebah Creative. From my temporary home office in London, I now collaborate globally with the teams I build to deliver my clients’ projects.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’ve always been interested in art house cinema, from cinematography to art direction and storytelling. Films with strange, unusual and unpredictable plotlines, or thought provoking mysteries that need figuring out have always fascinated me, so maybe there’s a novel or script in me somewhere...

I also love the world-building aspect of filmmaking. Perhaps that’s why I also love branding – it’s building a world around a company.

Can you explain your creative process?

I’m a very conceptual and thought-driven designer. 

I begin from a strategic design-thinking approach that puts the end consumer first and then build the visuals from key words and ideas I’ve uncovered in this discovery. This is usually in the form of a set of moodboards which narrow the visual aesthetic down.

I also strive to create work I haven’t necessarily seen before by mixing different styles. I’m not always successful but when you try you always learn something new for next time.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Our mind is a processor, what we put in counts. The more diverse ingredients you put into your melting pot, the tastier the dish will be. So I try to listen to podcasts, read books, watch documentaries, listen to music, watch films, observe art and design in all its forms – you don’t know what connections you’ll make. 

Sometimes a visual, colour combination or an aesthetic style will come from a dream or an idea in the quiet hours of the night. I think that’s the subconscious bubbling up to the surface.

Also digging deep into a subject really helps. You can find gems of knowledge that others miss. This can be through research or deep profound conversations. Knowledge or ideas that change my perspective and path in life are the ideas that can also trigger inspiration for a project. Sometimes a project is informed by wanting to say something from your perspective. Passion projects are best for this type of work.

One thing that particularly motivates me comes from my childhood. I was drawn to art and design by the way it made me feel: awe inspired and in disbelief at the skill, creativity, imagination and intelligence of the maker. If I can create the same feelings of sheer joy in others that I felt when I was young, I’d consider myself a success.

I’m a work in progress like everyone else, though. Sometimes we have hits and other times we have misses. But what keeps me going is work from others that excites me. It fuels and energises me to work towards creating at that very same level I admire.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

This is difficult to choose as I have three...

On a commercial level, it’s the Simplecall branding where I picked up strategy before I could even design properly. It was a 360° branding project executed across all areas – and I got to see my work in the real world. 

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Full project can be viewed here & here

On a creative level there’s two, both of which went on to be recognised and shortlisted by Creativepool in 2019. 

The first is the Alinea rebrand. This was a passion project, rebranding a renowned Michelin Star restaurant in the US. Creativity is infectious and I found the methodology, excitement and drive that chef Grant had for his cuisine, fuelled that inspiration in me. It was a very creatively satisfying project.

The second creative project was the branding for #0F. It was both strategic and visual. I’m a big fan of minimal geometric aesthetics but rarely see full identity systems using it. Adding to this challenge, I started from a very strategic approach and allowed user research to inform the visuals. The result was eye catching and the aesthetic wasn’t compromised. It was loved by the target audience and client alike.

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Full project can be viewed here

How do you recharge away from the office?

As well as watching films, cooking and inventing new recipes, I like travelling and exploring different cultures.

I have a curious mind and love to get into new topics, so I’m often reading or doing courses. I’m currently studying another part-time course in political philosophy. I have a causal interest in world history, psychology, sociology, physics and economics too.

When a topic interests me, I’ll go deep into my own research so I can make better sense of the world. When I reach that understanding, the feeling is profound. It’s like those moments when the jigsaw pieces connect perfectly! Because of this, I love meeting others that want to get into these topics too and have deep existential conversations!

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Work hard. There are no shortcuts! And expect it to take a good 10 years before you get anywhere. If you’re lucky or ‘gifted’, it can happen sooner but that isn’t the case for most people. This is for those dreamers who have the taste for it but need to develop their skill. Keep at it, as those skills can be honed over time. 

Compare yourself to yourself, not others. Don’t compare your work on social media to others. Be inspired by them, yes, but don’t expect your work to look like theirs immediately. You don’t know how long they’ve been doing it. Compare your current self to your past self. That way you can see your own growth.

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Full project can be viewed here

Don’t be afraid to do non-design jobs at the start of your career. They’ll give you a broader understanding of business. For example, I’ve had two call centre jobs. One was in telesales, which opened my eyes to the world of market and user research. The other was sales, which gave me the confidence in both selling and talking to strangers. 

Make yourself uncomfortable. Throw yourself in the deep end and don’t be so eager to play it safe otherwise you won’t grow. For example, explore areas that are not traditionally creative. I tend to force myself to do things that I’m not necessarily good at or enjoy. Public speaking is something I’d rather avoid and I know plenty of other people who struggle with it too. But you learn so much about yourself when you take that wary step. You might be better than you imagined and walk away proud. You might never want to do it again and that’s fine too – now you know! Or you might enjoy yourself and it propels you forward to more opportunities for personal and business growth.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Accepting alternative work culture along with diversity hiring. Diversity has become a trend unfortunately and I see organisations adopting this without fully committing to what it actually means. 

The industry has realised that when you have similar people from similar backgrounds they produce similar types of work, as they’re all drawing from the same sources. However a variety of backgrounds creates a variety of ideas – a rich mix adds to the collective intelligence of that agency or studio.

Diversity is accepting different ideas AND cultures. Hiring people from different cultures and expecting them to drop their differences and melt into the expected studio culture doesn’t allow for new experiences. I would love to see true diversity instead of a box-checking exercise.

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