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Designs of an Average Ahmed

Maldivian Graphic Designer Ahmed Nabeeh sits down with The Edition to discuss his modest beginnings and his journey to becoming a professional in the field of Design.

Lujine Rasheed
20 February 2020, MVT 09:39
Processed with VSCO with e5 preset
Lujine Rasheed
20 February 2020, MVT 09:39

The paragon of a township lies not in the sensation of its landmarks and fast pace, comprende vous?

A town, in fact, is more contingent on its everyday people. People without whom it seizes no character.

This is the story of one such individual - Ahmed Nabeeh. A young Maldivian Graphic Designer living and working in Penang, Malaysia.

Nabeeh's story, quaint as it may seem, is undoubtedly an important commodity that provides character to the town of Penang. An everyday guy whose work is both inspirational and him, aspirational.

Getting to Know the Artist.

I sat down with him for a little chat at a yuppie-approved café in Georgetown, Penang, curious to hear his story.

As we ordered our food and settled into the mismatched furniture, I opened the chat by asking Nabeeh to describe himself to me; who he believed himself to be.

“Well I am a 26 year old Maldivian Graphics Designer. I'm a full time multimedia guy and I think I can say that I'm a creative person as well. But I guess at the same time I am quite 'boring'. Simple and boring.”

A tad fascinated by this oxymoronic description, I questioned him further on what he was currently reading, hoping to get a more well-rounded idea of him, and his interests.

“I’m not really big on reading. But if ever I find myself so inclined, I'm probably reading thrillers. My love for thrillers, I think, has harvested a morbid fascination with serial killers and psychopaths. I understand that it might be a little weird, but it's something that really interests me.”

Slightly surprised, I moved to delve deeper into Nabeeh's story, questioning him about his early life and his interest in design.

As it were, Nabeeh explained, he didn't have a 'single-story' experience to share that would make it seem as though he became instantly interested in art.

The self-described “artsy guy” said, “Even when I was young, I was very passionate about drawing.”

“My mother encouraged me a lot. Sometimes during meal times, to distract me she would give me drawing papers and a box of colors so that I sat still for the duration of the meal.”

“Perhaps that's when I latched on to it, and I've been holding on strong since.”

Would you say that this lasting love is what ultimately made way for your career choice in the field of graphic designing?

“Not altogether”, he mused.

“I would say that an interest for graphics designing spawned during my time in middle school. I used to make posters and logos for school events. I was encouraged by the leading teachers at the time to embrace my talents and come up with stuff. And I suppose, that's how I got into graphic designing.”

Amateur Beginnings.

Reminiscing over his days in middle school, Nabeeh recalled being the go-to guy when the need for art works arose in time for school events. Though nothing too grand, he explained. He always ended up the designated 'designer' whenever the time called for an illustration.

“One of the leading teachers was a fan of my work, and once asked me to make a banner for him, which I did. It was something about the school’s ‘core values' - I’m not really sure.”

Dharumavantha School "Core Values" banners designed by Nabeeh in 2009. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“I was surprised to see it on display up on the pillars, even on my last visit home. It is satisfying to see it still in-use, close to a decade after I designed it.”

Emanating a humble pride in the way he spoke of his lasting artwork, Nabeeh continued his story to the days of his A' levels.

Admittedly, he did not have too much of an interest in the subjects he was assigned to study because his ambition to design was far more powerful than all syllabi followed at school.

As a matter of fact, this crucial time was when he stepped out of his comfort zone and began designing freely, which in turn gave him a little taste of the direct to consumer, 'client-designer lifestyle'.

“There's a website by the name of 99designs. They open up contests for actual projects in which multiple designers participate from all around the world. All of their work is submitted to the client, who eventually picks a winner.”

Nabeeh's pre-uni work from 2012 - Rebus artwork for 'Hit Songs of the Year'. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“I took part in many such contests during my A levels and fell more and more into it. I would even spare time from exam revisions just to design something and submit my work to the website.”

Still on track with the streak of nostalgia, he moved on to the post-A' levels era of his life.

Though he began the story rather somberly, there was an unmistakable delight to his tone as he explained his efforts to convince his parents to get onboard and help actualize his wish to continue on the path of design and transform it into a career.

Not entirely on board, but both of his parents ended up assisting him to pursue his higher studies in the field of design, and thus allowing Nabeeh to follow his dreams.

Intersecting Pastime with Education.

Did you immediately begin your studies in Graphic Design thereafter?

“I actually didn't just study Graphic Design at university, my course was focused on multimedia on a broader scale. It involved video production, animations, making websites, graphic designing - all of it.”

“It was not a single-scope bachelor’s degree. It opened many opportunities for me to go into, in any of the fields that I just mentioned.”

Eager to expand on his undergrad journey, he detailed the immense joy of getting to learn so many things that he had only been doing as an amateur and attaining many new skills that he wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Case in point, he highlighted animation and videography as aspects of digital art that, according to him, he wouldn't really have taken an initiative to learn had it not been for the multifaceted programme.

Nabeeh with his Final Year Project for his undergraduate course. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“As with many other undergraduate programs, I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that they will teach you everything from A-Z in the classroom.”

“Truth of the matter? - It is a lot of self studying and experimentation. That would be one of the most important takeaways from my whole degree experience.”

Any highlights from your degree program, projects that you were very fond of?

“The most crucial element of it, I would say, was the internship program I did at Bank Negara. Being the central bank of Malaysia, I imagine it's the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) equivalent in the Maldives. They also have a museum and art gallery which promote local art.”

Nabeeh's work during his internship at an exhibition display board. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“The place plays host to many exhibitions and collections. I got to work on that side of the industry, making it an eventual highlight for me because I got to work in the field. It was my first glimpse into what it actually means to 'work'. In addition to that, my final year project was one that I quite liked.”

Infographic handbook designed by Nabeeh during his internship. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

He expounded the details of his internship by mentioning how, as much as he liked his work at Bank Negara, it felt like an extremely corporate work environment. Not particularly the route he wanted to opt for.

“I wanted to work in a design firm where I would work with multiple clients, and get to utilize different styles and produce different concepts.”

Tell us about your final project.

“Well, I hadn't thought too much about what I'd be doing for my finals, but in a way my topic was suggested to me.”

“Our university had a system where lecturers provided students with a huge list of suggested titles. Among them I spotted 'Augmented Reality' and figured it might be interesting.”

Initial sketch and final illustration for Nabeeh's final project: Augmented Reality book. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“So I made a children's story with an Augmented Reality app. I based the story on the Dhivehi tale 'Anbohfulhaai Dhanbohfulhu'. The project included a 2D book and an accompanying software application through which, when you point the camera at the book, the characters pop up. It's very interesting if you think about it.”

Real World Ventures.

As the case is with most fresh graduates, Nabeeh's next step was to secure a job.

Photo of Nabeeh with his father at Nabeeh's graduation. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

After sending a string of applications through to multiple design firms, he eventually landed a job in an animation studio where he mostly worked on 2D animations. Admittedly it did not turn out to be the most enjoyable job scope, but he continued on, once more applying to a list of new places hoping to secure better work after about six months at the company he was already employed in.

One part of his job hunting process that he emphasized on was the many struggles faced in obtaining employment in a foreign country. Mentioning the possibility that it came down to companies wishing to forgo the hassle of international visas, he stated that almost all the positions he applied for were eventually taken up by locals.

“This became a problem. So I figured I had to compile an impressive portfolio; a process through which I found out that the projects completed in university alone can be just the boost a designer needs.”

In an effort to express the many years of ambition and education paying off, he detailed some of his clients as well some notable projects he'd been taking on at his job. These included 'Property Clients' to whom he provided animation videos as well as other content for their social media.

“One of our bigger clients is an international school here in Malaysia. We handle a lot of their social media platforms,” revealed Nabeeh.

“In terms of projects, the biggest one we handled was promotion for a musical production; The Wizard of Oz.”

Wizard of Oz Billboard display and Promotional poster. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“Generally, a client comes to you with an idea on how to navigate through a project. But with this one, the approach was very free. They gave us the creative license to do whatever we wanted. I got to create something from scratch, based on my own ideas, using my own color scheme. That was a really satisfying project. And it was one of my first projects to be featured on a billboard as well. To see it on that scale was very exciting.”

He punctuated the nature of his current work place with a happy exclamation, stating how extremely satisfactory and rewarding it has been so far in spite of having had his share of trials and errors.

Segueing from his current dailies, he touched lightly on his plans for the future by apprehensively revealing a fear of plateauing. He firmly believes that, at least for his career, it is time for a change.

“Moving forward, I would like to delve into marketing; and social media marketing at that. My work largely consists of what people consider prime social media content - animation and videos”, he offered enthusiastically.

“I’ve really had my eyes opened to the countless opportunities waiting by just a click on an app. I believe this is the future of marketing.”

Designing on a Local Scale.

Picking up at the juncture at which social media driving meets graphics designers, I was eager to get his opinion about how saturated the market is today, especially in the Maldives.

I posed a question about how in this day and age a little bit of photoshop and an aptitude for visuals can implicitly grant an individual with the moniker 'designer'.

Snickering to himself he answered, “You're right. There are many people who think that graphics designing is an easy job. And the question,, ‘At what point does one become a professional in this field?’, is a good one to ask as well!”

“The thing is, when you're working professionally as a graphics designer, you're doing it every single day whether you're feeling inspired or not. It cannot depend on your mood, you can't simply blame your mood and slack off with your work.”

“However you're feeling that day, you have to complete the work, even if it means working with your creative juices flowing on autopilot. For instance, a professional graphics designer has to constantly deal with clients, a process that on occasion may not go too smoothly. Whatever the client wishes may be, you must be ready to cater and provide. These are qualities that I think sets apart a professional from an amateur.”

How do you see yourself fitting into such a saturated market back home?

“Well I love project based work, and I don't think there will be a shortage of projects in Malé, however big or small. In addition to designing, I would also love to work on animation and videos as well.”

Select recent works by Nabeeh - 'Bodu Eid Greeting' / 'Minivan Vayaa'. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

“I'm open to freelancing and even collaborations, I'm just an inbox message away. People can contact me via Instagram, @a.nabeeh. As well as Facebook, Ahmed Nabeeh. The best option is likely instagram, as I am most responsive on that platform.”

As our conversation steered to a close, I wanted to know if Nabeeh, equal parts Graphic Designer, serial-killer enthusiast as well as a ‘simple-boring guy’, had any advice to offer others like him, beginning to embark on their design journey or simply entertaining the idea of a career in the field.

“My advice would be to not wait till everything is 'READY' because there is no such thing. I suggest using social media to put the word out as it is a great tool. If possible, posting your work online as soon as you’re ready. I think Maldivian artists make up a very supportive community. They share your work and shower you with encouragement. So I don't think anybody should be intimidated.”

“As for a career choice in graphics design, while I understand that it may not be every parent's dream for their child to become a designer, if you have the drive and if you are able to prove it to them, they will eventually come around. If that's the career you wish for, then you should give it your best shot.”

For curious fans and potential clients alike, where can they view some of your artwork?

“Instagram of course, it's the one account that I have. I've had a few requests suggesting I split my work into a separate account but I'm barely functioning with a single account. So it's @a.nabeeh, just that one.”

Some of Nabeeh's submission to the hashtag '36 days of thaana'. PHOTO: AHMED NABEEH

With that I thanked him for the time he took to relay his story to me and made my way into the heat of the afternoon.

As I exited the café, I pondered upon the simplicity of Nabeeh's journey.

While not everybody's story comes with an assured sensationalism, this much is true; everybody comes with 'A' story. And there is a lot of marvel in getting to know them.

Nabeeh's story is unique in essence in that he has, through his story, manifested heart-warming visuals to pair it with.

Here's looking forward to more stories of everyday people.

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