Mayeesha Rabbani, Founder, The Junk Studio, is an established creative designer excelling in the field of graphic design in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She creates logos, packaging designs, illustrations, social media with a design language that focuses on creating an amalgamation between fashion and art.
Junk Studio also offers a stationery line of notebooks, planners and other paper goods.
With an experience that ranges from handling projects in beverages, food, and fashion, to real estate, telecom, construction, etc., Mayeesha’s journey has been about expressing her creativity freely to provide an inventive solution to everyday design problems.
The booming market of graphic design and communication design in Bangladesh has seen a spike in the number of young, home-grown talent entering the industry. Rising numbers also result in increasing competition and a need to understand how to market yourself, your work and your individual voice better.
Apparel Resources gets candid with the vivacious Mayeesha to gain perspective on her creative journey, how she started her own practice, how one can effectively build a design portfolio and negotiate a fair price for one’s work, and the state of design in Bangladesh today.
Take us through your design journey. Did you always want to get into this field of design, or was this a shift you experienced in your college years?
Mayeesha: Design and art is something that I was interested in since a very young age, and even at school, I never gave up a chance to participate in any art competition, so much so that by the time I reached high school, I knew for sure that this was something I wanted to pursue further professionally.
I did a course in Fashion Design from INIFD in Dhaka, where I realised that more than the construction of garments, my interest lay in design, illustrations and coming up with concepts. So in 2007, when I went into a university in Malaysia, I changed my course of study to Graphic Design and Visual Communication. I think that was the best decision I had taken since it opened up so many more avenues in the field of design for me.
What has your professional journey been like? What was your first job and how did the Junk Studio come into being?
Mayeesha: After my graduation, I came back to Dhaka and immediately started working for an advertising company. Back in 2010, advertising was the only industry that graphic designers or artists would get into professionally. I started working at Grey in 2010 and I was there till 2014 – that experience really built me up as a professional in terms of advertising, design principles and thinking. Post my 4 years tenure at Grey, I decided to pursue my Masters. During this phase, I was also dabbling between my desires to have my own design studio where I could create designs that I enjoyed doing. In advertising, you are designing for a set base of clients, which tends to get a bit monotonous after a point of time since it sort of limits you in terms of expressing your creativity freely.
I went for my Masters to London College of Communication, London, which is under UAL, and once I came back, I started freelancing under my own practice – Junk Studio in 2016.
“Keeping my two interests in mind – namely art and fashion, I wanted to come up with a name that blended the two – like a junction. Lending it a twist with a K, and shortening it, I came up with ‘Junk’ as a term which later got finalised as ‘Junk Studio’, as it is known today.”
How did you get your first client?
Mayeesha: Luckily for me, having worked in the advertising industry, word of mouth really helped. Most of my initial clients were referrals of friends and family. When I was working with agencies prior to starting my own practice, I was only involved with the creative department and I had no idea about the proposals, quotations and financial work involved – so this was a learning curve for me. For Junk Studio, I was the one doing everything right from design, presentation, to communicating with the clients, asking the right questions in order to understand what they expect, how to come up with a quotation, etc.
What is the design process you follow?
Mayeesha: For logo design, for example, I send a set of detailed questions to the clients, regarding their requirements and products in order to better understand what they are looking for. This is followed up by a telephonic conversation or a physical meeting, depending upon the availability of the client. Post this, I send them a quotation and once we settle on a figure, we start working. The first few steps of the design process involve me creating a few design options which I share with the client for further feedback post which a couple of steps back and forth, we come up with the main direction.
What are certain skills that are required by people looking to enter this field?
Mayeesha: Two types of skills are extremely important in our industry – software skills, which come from the passion to learn that particular skill; and communication skills – how to approach clients and present your ideas effectively where a lot of people get stuck. Communication should be simple and clear so that people can understand your vision.
For the former, many online tutorials are available to brush up design skills – it depends on the person to learn the skills and craft and then take it forward from there.
Also, one needs to put their work out there in this industry and the best way to showcase your work is through social media, be it Instagram or design platforms such as Behance – unless and until you put yourself out there, you won’t be able to market your work and attract new clients.
“Regardless of what one studies, people can hone their skills and look for opportunities to work with creative agencies, be it as an intern or as a professional. You get to learn a lot that way. Even if you are an intern, just by being around the creative department or knowing people in the creative department can help you immensely.”
What is the market for graphic design and communication design in Bangladesh like?
Mayeesha: Nowadays you see a lot of agencies and creative people who are into graphic design and illustrations, but way back when I started, advertising agencies were the only place where a graphic designer or illustrator could go into. But since 2010, with the advent of social media, the market has mushroomed like crazy. People over here are not only into traditional advertising work, but digital advertising work as well, which is very broad.
Collaboration is key in the creative industry. What are some of the collaborations that you have undertaken?
Mayeesha: The best part of the creative industry is collaborations, since this provides us with a mix of two minds. It also helps each grow and have a different portfolio of products under the gamut of their work.
I have collaborated with two local brands. One of them is Barik who are into footwear and lifestyle accessories; I worked with them on a collection of tote bags. My most recent collaboration has been with Home Junction, who are into home décor and soft furnishings in local jute cotton material. I have collaborated on cushion covers with them which are screen printed and they employ underprivileged women for this work.
Majority of people in similar design-related fields tend to experience a creative block from time to time. What are some of the things that help you get out of this creative block?
Mayeesha: There are times when nothing inspires me, I feel stuck and I wonder if what I am doing is even right. You end up doing so many rough drafts and scrapping them, doubting yourself and getting sucked into a black hole. The best thing to do during such a time is to not think about it and let it pass. I take some time off to do other things that I enjoy doing, instead of forcing myself to come up with something. If it doesn’t come naturally, it means that maybe a break is what I need to get the creative juices flowing and come up with fresh inspiration.
How can creatives starting their own practice negotiate and ask for a fair price for their work?
Mayeesha: Initially when I started freelancing, this was an issue that I also experienced. What helped me was my experience in the industry which gave me a basic idea of what the ongoing rates in the market were for logo design, or packaging design, or for a social media post.
From the business point of view, you have to have a fair idea about the market price and what other freelancers or agencies might be quoting and then come up with a rate card accordingly. If your rate is completely out of sync with the going market rate, then it might not go in your favour; so market research is very important for setting up a structure.
Another aspect that matters in this field is the amount of effort and time you are putting in a project – many people also charge on ‘per hour’ basis.
“If one designer charges very less for a service they are providing, it makes the client think that they can get a similar rate from other designers as well. This goes against the design community. You don’t always have to say yes to a project. Sometimes it may feel bad, but it’s about setting a standard and being part of a community.”
What is more important – on-the-job training or a formal education in the field?
Mayeesha: Formal education definitely introduces you to the functioning and details of the work, the tools required and how to go about a design process. But on-the-job experience will always trump a formal education in terms of honing your skills and facing real world problems first-hand. Aspiring designers can also acquire software skills via tutorials or diploma courses but work experience really sets you up for the real world.
Design, at the end of the day, aims to creatively solve a problem – you are designing a solution for a real client and these are the sort of situations that you are not exposed to in real time during a formal education.
“Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are my go-to softwares, but since I work on a lot of vectors, I prefer using Illustrator more. Recently, I have also started doing illustrations on Procreate using my iPad, which I find to be a very effective and convenient tool for designers today.”
How can designers reach out to their dream company to work with them?
Mayeesha: With social media, you have the opportunity to showcase and present your work and aesthetic. If you want to work with someone, you have to think from their perspective as to why they would want to work with you. How can your design solve their problems or make their communication better?
It is important to research and know the type of work they do, or the work they are looking for. Do a lot of work and share a lot of work, while marinating your individual voice intact.