For the seventh episode of our The Desi Designers Series, we interviewed Boston-based Pakistani designer Anum Awan. Hailing from Lahore, Anum attended Massachusetts College of Art & Design (MassArt) and has been living on the East Coast ever since. She talks about life in Boston, her favorite designers, and her favorite projects of her own.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Anum Awan and I am a visual artist and graphic designer.
How did you end up in Boston?
I finished my A Levels in Lahore in 2008 and moved to Boston shortly after to attend Massachusetts College of Art & Design. I had a few friends studying in Boston so I felt confident about packing up and moving there. A couple of months after graduating in 2012, I was offered an in-house designer position at a community health center in Boston and have been working there ever since.
How are you finding it?
When I first moved to Boston, I really loved it. It's a beautiful city with many colleges, which means there's always something going on and you'll meet students from all over the world. 7 years later, I am a little over it. I find that it's not where I want to be if I want to grow as an artist. It's probably one of the best places to be for academics and researchers but for creative people it doesn’t have the vibrancy and drive that other places do.
How would you compare the design and visual aesthetic of the USA with that of Pakistan?
I feel like I have a biased opinion because I have so much more access to the art scene in the U.S and I interact with it on a daily basis. I am able to experience the very underground aesthetics as well as the more popular and recognized. Because I am viewing the art scene in Pakistan as an outsider, I mostly get exposed to big, commercial projects. This could be very inaccurate but I feel like a big difference between the design and visual aesthetics in both countries is that there is a lot more space for experimental and new media work in the U.S.
What inspires you?
Most design projects require some amount of research to be done before you can get to visual and stylistic stages of the process. I’m always inspired to work on projects that I feel a personal connection with because it makes that whole process, from research to completion, so much more gratifying and exciting. You also come out of it learning a lot. A few topics that I inspire me are South Asian history, urban & street culture / fashion, anti-oppression movements, queer aesthetics, technology and music.
Tell us about your personal favorite project(s) of your own?
For my senior project in college I worked on an oral history website about the 1947 Partition. For a few years prior to that, I had been collecting interviews every time I was visiting Lahore. I had an awakening during college when I realized that we had been taught some twisted, nationalistic version of South Asian history and there are people still around who can give a first hand account. I collected about 10 stories and built a website for them as my senior project. It’s been my all time favorite project and I hope to get back to it soon.
What’s the best thing about being a creative?
I tend to go down two different creative routes and enjoy both of them for different reasons. I love design because it allows me to solve human centric problems and create experiences. Visual art enables me to process thoughts, feelings, frustrations, encounters and so much more.
Your favorite designers, artists and works?
Stefan Sagmeister is probably the most well known. I’m super into him these days because his design work is always pristine and provocative and he also seems to have interesting design and life philosophies. Another designer/artist I greatly admire is Chiraag Bhakta (who goes by Pardon My Hindi) because I find his work conceptually and visually amazing. It’s some solid desi design! I also obsessively follow a design studio in Germany, Bureau Oberhaeuser. Their work and aesthetic is extremely clean, visually appealing and clever.
Is a formal training or education in your field important?
Is it worth the time and monetary investment? I have mixed feelings about art school and graphic design education. I went to college and graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design which has been very valuable. However, people work differently and I have seen some amazing self-taught designers make it. Formal education might not be necessary for those with certain learning styles.
Tell us about your work habits. Do you like deadlines?
Are you easy to work with? Are you self-disciplined? I have issues disciplining myself which is why deadlines are very important for me. My brainstorm process is very scattered and organic. When I start working on a new project, I'll sometimes sit and sketch or create a mood board for inspiration but most of my ideas will just come to me while doing everyday activities because I'll constantly be thinking about this new project. So, I have to be good about keeping notes at all times.
How do you keep yourself energized, motivated and at your productive best?
It's hard to always be on top of stuff so I allow myself to slip and fail quite frequently. That is so necessary for me in order to be productive and not burn out. I also try to keep a balance between working hard and having a good time. I get antsy quite easily so going out regularly and socializing keeps me refreshed mentally and in a good state to want to spend time doing work.
Your tools of choice? What apps, software and non-digital tools are essential to you?
On a computer I always have to have the Adobe Creative Suite: Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Lately I’ve been messing with digital tablets which are powerful tools. Sketchbooks and black pens are always important.
Have you noticed any remarkable talent or project in the design/creative fieldcoming out of Pakistan?
I follow a lot more fine artist than designers in Pakistan. A few of my favorite contemporary artists are Bani Abidi, Faiza Butt and Saira Sheikh.
Your ultimate professional dream?
I have professional dreams all over the place that include working in a design studio, starting a clothing line and creative organizing on a large scale.