• Maheen Awan

Reflection Of All These Yet My Own

Inspiration is all around us. From objects to people, it’s easy to be impressed – or, like me, easily unimpressed because there’s nothing new anymore. People tend to use big words and display an aura of superiority hoping to influence others, while objects tend to be loud and in your face in an attempt to leave a mark. I prefer subtlety.


My classmates and I were given a brief to create a timeline of influencers that have inspired us in our lives. That’s such a broad topic though. Some people are inspired by personalities that lived ages ago and hold little relevance in today’s world, while others draw inspiration from people who are alive and doing well in the present though they have never met them. How can you be inspired by someone you haven’t seen or met or even had a conversation with in person? Maybe that’s just me. The term influencers also means something so different now with the influx of Instagram influencers.


Living in a fast-paced, advertisement ridden world, we are heavily influenced by brands as well. Surely interacting with dozens of brands on the daily, also plays a crucial part in shaping our lives. I mean, come on, I am currently typing this all out on my HP laptop, using the Microsoft software while using Google for my research, drinking my Nescafe coffee listening to music on Spotify on my Samsung phone. And you’re probably doing the same while reading this. That’s all a bit overwhelming now that I’ve written it down, yet, somehow, it all goes unnoticed. We rarely recognize how much influence brands also have on us. We mostly just think of people, not brands or even organizations.


I’ve had many people, organizations and brands inspire me, both personally and professionally. In my blog, I’ll only focus on my professional influences as it’s easier to talk about those rather than my personal influences, because that’s all a bit, you know, personal.

My earliest memory of an individual leaving a lasting impact on my personality was my English Literature teacher back in eighth grade, which was in 2008. Ania Fawad, who, by the way, is a fashion influencer based in San Francisco now, was the coolest teacher in my school days. When all the other teachers were only concerned about grades and pin drop silence, she did everything in her power to make our classes interactive and relatable. That’s where my love for literature and theater started. She had us prepare plays for all of our Shakespeare readings we had back then. I developed acting skills alongside learning course material. Two birds, one stone. Not a single bad grade in our class. Definitely needed more teachers like her back then.


From loving literature to loving science, I eventually got obsessed with NASA. Truthfully, I still am pretty obsessed with it. My fascination for space and flight led me to study sciences throughout high school, and eventually ended up pursuing Materials Sciences and Engineering in 2014. During that time, I was able to grow and learn so much. Though, funnily, all of what interested me was related to design and marketing, thanks to my peers. I fell out of love with engineering because of the horrible teaching style and lecturers who thought they were Gods (I have no shame in calling out educators who do everything in their power to make students miserable). I ended up dropping out two years in. Even though I failed to find inspirational leaders, I did find AIESEC, an international student run organization focused on student exchange programmes. I continued being involved with AIESEC even after leaving my engineering institute, and I still hold the work that they do in high regard.


Spending 4 years volunteering for AIESEC, sending numerous students on exchange programmes, and learning design and marketing along the way, I found my forever love – Design and Branding. AIESEC gave me as much as I gave it. I was able to work there in multiple leadership roles such as Director Creative as well as Organizing Committee President – This organization constantly provided me with opportunities to grow as a leader. I hope I might have inspired some people along the way.


At AIESEC, I met Sarmad Hashmi, an Urdu type designer and a dear friend. His work always blows my mind. He is one of the very few designers in Pakistan who focus on Urdu design, helping revive what used to be lost art. He sets no boundaries for his work and experiments with different styles and colours opening designers to a world of possibilities. Check out his work on @Kr8v


In 2017, Pakistan held its first National Digital Design Conference (ND2C), which I was lucky enough to volunteer at. Attending ND2C opened up a completely new world for me. I got to meet Stefan Sagmeister and Debbie Millman, arguably the best design and branding masters this world has seen.


Debbie Millman is the founder and host of Design Matters, one of the world’s first and longest running podcasts, in addition to being an author, educator and curator. She has also been named “one of the most creative people in business” by Fast Company, and “one of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA. She was a keynote speaker at the event and presented on Why do we Brand covering any and all aspects of branding design perfect for skills ranging from beginner to advanced. She also hosted a workshop on Visual Story Telling. Imagine having such a personality speak in front of you, and, even more so, having a one-on-one conversation with her about your aspirations in life! I loved how, despite being a world famous branding guru, she was so humble and easy to talk to.


Stefan Sagmeister is a contemporary graphic designer and typographer based in the US, who has successfully questioned every conventional thought in the design space.


“Inspirational and intriguing designer Stefan Sagmeister is recognized for his unorthodox, provocative designs that tweak the status quo and question the designer’s role in society.” -AIGA


His keynote on Why beauty matters at ND2C,to say the least, was enlightening and a great sneak-peek into his brain. Key takeaway from his presentation was how the sense of beauty rests deep in the human mind and how essential it is to demonstrate the significance and value of form and expression that is aesthetically appealing.


“Beauty does not lie in the eye of the beholder. This line from a 19th century love story is demonstrably not true”

“Functionality will only be enhanced by the beauty of its form,” – Stefan Sagmeister


It was an absolute honour getting to host these two around Islamabad, showing them my culture. It was awe inspiring hearing their opinions on Pakistani design work. Weirdly, Stefan didn’t seem as eccentric in real life as he is in his works. Oh, well.


Fast forward a full year and I met another teacher who influenced me like no other. Nida Asif, my Marketing/Entrepreneurship/E-Business/Social Media/HR Management professor. I owe my graduation to her; without her I would have been lost in my studies and maybe even a bit in life. She treated me more like a friend than a student, and was always there to help her students out in whatever capacity they needed. I always looked forward to attending her classes, and honestly, she’s so good at what she does that I never even needed to revise or even ask questions. Also, I’m not allowed to call her “Ma’am” anymore. I might even be a little bit in love with her, who knows. The world needs more educators like her who are constantly rooting for their students and encouraging them to pursue their passions, and having their back if and when they need it.


In 2019, I got to Volunteer for the London Design Festival (LDF), which proved to be a great opportunity as it exposed me to some great designers whose work I followed up later, and was thoroughly impressed. Got to chat with Sir John Sorrell, the Chairman of LDF and got to pick his brain about his works for the LDF. For me, this is how one gets inspired and influenced - by having meaningful conversations even if they’re 10 minutes short.


I also got to meet Ross Atkin, a designer and engineer, whose sole focus is to bring about products that can help the disabled live more independently. Pretty noble cause I’d say. I was able to catch him for 2 minutes before he had to leave, during which he told me “You’ll work better if you believe you have a responsibility towards helping others.” I have yet to fully believe this notion. I do believe we have a responsibility to make this world a better place, but is that the only time I’ll produce my best work?


This next designer opened doors to NASA for me again. Matthew Jones, the Creative Director of Accept & Proceed has worked with NASA to create a custom typeface for their Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). The new typeface produced took inspiration from satellites. He made me fall back in love with NASA, though through a different route this time around.


Check out the typeface he made for them - I find it very Wim Crouwel Gridnik-esque.



Fig. 1 and 2 NASA JPL Typeface (2019)

Truthfully, many have come and gone, and it will remain an ever-changing list, but the one person who has been a constant inspiration for everything in my life is my mother. The one who has guided me and been my rock since forever. The one who gave me the freedom to explore all these options where I found all these other people to draw inspiration from. Nothing beats her hard work and determination to make sure I succeed in life.


Overall, this was a tricky project. It forced me to think about why I even take inspiration from all these people and places. Is it something small that impacted me or brought about a big change in me? This is something I have yet to figure out.


Here’s my timeline with the full list of names:

Fig. 3 Timeline of Influencers (2020)


List of Illustrations:

Fig. 1 and 2 Jones, M. (2019) NASA JPL Typeface. [online] At: https://www.itsnicethat.com/features/accept-and-proceed-nasa-grace-fo-graphic-design-010419 (Accessed 30/11/2020).


Fig. 3 Awan, M. (2020) Timeline of Influencers [Digital Artwork] In possession of: the author.

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