One Minute With…
Hi Emir, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Hi Conor, thanks for having me. It’s an honor. Well, my name is Emir Ayouni and I’m a 33-year-old kid from Piteå, Sweden. A couple of days into the millennium, I moved to Oslo, Norway, and now that’s where I live and from where I now work as a graphic designer and run my little design studio Growcase. My work mostly consists of branding, re-branding and packaging design for various people and their little businesses they run from various places around the globe. I also do a fair share of illustrative work.
Then once every second full moon I get to do what I really enjoy most of all: draw and design a record sleeve. Unfortunately the music industry is broke, so there aren’t too many decent budgets out there for stuff like that anymore. And I should take this opportunity to give thanks to the giant major labels for putting up a fight against technology. That worked out really well, guys…
How did you get into design? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
Oh man, I have been drawing since as far back as I can remember. When we were young, growing up, they didn’t give ADD diagnosis to kids, but if they had, I’m pretty sure they would have given one to me, haha. But drawing was like my Ritalin, I guess. That was pretty much the only thing that could get me to sit still for more than 5 minutes. I drew my own Garbage Pail Kids cards and MAD Magazine Covers and just dreamt about one day getting to do something like that for a living. So I guess I was always into design, just not professionally.
Fast forward, through the teen years (when beer, moonshine and friends were far more exciting than pencils), to 1997, when I was studying in Stockholm and all the computers there had Photoshop installed. So on my off time, I started to learn it by myself and from there, I schooled myself on the various Adobe software available and made the transition from pen and paper to mouse and monitor.
At that time, I knew a lot of people that were making music in Stockholm, and when some of them needed a design for some release or a little website or whatever, I was there to help them out. Then some of these people started getting record deals and all of a sudden, I was doing gigs for them via their labels and they actually had something called money. I guess that was a pretty major defining point.
And how it shaped me as a designer? I dunno really. I felt like I was already shaped, back then, and had found my “own voice”, as people like to call it. Obviously it has evolved a whole lot throughout the years, but there’s a certain style I’ve always stayed true to.
What do you think of as the biggest achievement in your career so far? And for balance, what do you consider your biggest failure?
I actually stopped working with design for a couple of years. Took a regular shitty job at a big evil corporation that makes soda and drains water from small villages in Africa so that kids die from thirst and starvation… and worked in their warehouse. I did this because I just wasn’t making enough money on my own, as a designer. And I was too stubborn to work for some agency. So I figured this horrible job would do for a while, as I saved up some cash. I always took some design gigs on the side and never completely stopped designing, but it turned into less and less.
But that “temporary” job lasted for some years and I slowly started becoming a boring (almost bitter) nine-to-five kind of guy. Then one day, something inside me finally snapped and I just decided right there and then that I had to find my way back to “my calling”. Wow, that sounded really corny, but you get the idea.
So I just stopped going to work at that horrible place. I didn’t quit. I literally just stopped going there and just sat down at home by the iMac and dug right into design again. It was really a “Nothing to lose, so here goes nothing” kind of moment in life. I went back to the really long hours by the desk and re-schooled myself and updated my knowledge. Turned out it was actually pretty easy and fast to get back into it. Then I got a letter from my employer that said I was fired due to absence without notice. I was really happy. And I had already filed the papers for starting up my own business again and had scored a couple of clients.
I’ve never looked back and I obviously do not regret it for a second. I think that whole experience made me work harder and appreciate and respect my profession on a whole new level.
Well, there you go. Both questions answered with one story. The dumbest decision I ever made, followed by the best decision I ever made.
You describe your style as “Simplexity” – Can you go into a bit more detail about what that entails? How do you think it differentiates you from other designers?
I’m from Scandinavia, the mecca of minimalism. IKEA is a perfect example of what Scandinavian design looks like. It’s such a stereotypical slick clean style that I’ve never enjoyed, alhough I can still really appreciate simplicity and strong, well balanced hierarchy in design of any form.
So when I try to create something, I want it to be grand, in a sense, but not overwhelming. I try to combine something complex in a simple composition and work with limited palettes. It has to work both in 4 colors and in 1 color, yet still have some kind of wow factor. What I try to achieve is just a combination of complexity and simplicity that works in a balance.
Your blog, despite being updated somewhat infrequently these days, often features and promotes the work of others. How important is it, to you, to support your peers?
Community over competition. I know that sounds very hippie-like, but I seriously believe that the concept of “competing” is unhealthy and if you support your fellow man, instead of trying to beat him, that will reward itself tenfold. In all aspects of life. Simple as that.
Although you do a bit of web and print, most of the work you do seems to be branding. Was this a niche you especially tried to get into, or one that you simply fell into? How beneficial is it, in your opinion, to have a niche in an industry as broad as ours?
I used to work in a much broader field of design. I took on everything. Worked a lot with web, illustrative elements for animation and infographics and whatnot.
But I think there’s something grand about branding, you know? It’s that feeling of getting to create the identity for someone that will be their standard. Their flag. Something that will represent them every day and something that defines them and hopefully stays with them for many years. That has more value and essence to it, than a site that will be completely redesigned or overhauled within a year or two. It has more value than a illustrative piece featured in some ad that will run for a few months.
It’s something that I always wanted to do, primarily, as a designer. And yes, I think when you go deeper into a certain niche that fits you that you have a passion for and you study it and immerse into it, that will benefit you more than working as “a hybrid”. Can’t speak for everybody of course, but that’s how I feel it works, in my case.
I do however like to step into other areas of design too, obviously. And quite frequently. Variation and versatility is still important and one of the most important aspects to keep evolving.
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
I guess the in-house design staff member at Wired, who thought it was a good idea to steal Bobby Solomon’s logo (for The Fox Is Black) and call it a wolf and use it as a iconic piece for an article, without permission and without crediting him for it. I’d like to be him, for a day and kill myself. Then I would automatically switch back to being myself again, right? Isn’t that how it works?
Note: One Minute With does not in any way condone the killing of others by committing suicide whilst possessing their bodies. However, if you do manage to do so, let us know, because that’d be pretty darn impressive.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
Get stronger at my own typography. And I’m actually working on that as we speak. I used to draw letters all the time and I had a real passion for it. Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered the work of some really talented people that work with type and they’ve inspired me a lot.
I lost that passion for letters somewhere, but have had the urge to get back into it again for quite a while. Just haven’t had the time, really. But now I’m making time and I’m certain that it’s gonna be worth every second of it. Gotta keep evolving.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Try everything. Find the thing that you enjoy the most and dedicate your life to it. Work hard at it, because even if you’re talented and don’t put in the work, you’re gonna get nowhere. And don’t rip off your fellow designers. Learn the difference between inspiration and theft, because once you’re labeled as a rip-off artist, then you’re gonna find it very difficult to bounce back. Just be original and you’ll be fine. It’s actually pretty easy…
Thanks a million to Emir for chatting to OneMinuteWith! I loved talking with him, and hopefully you enjoy his answers as much as me!