Never apologise for your differences.

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Name: Noor Sleiman
Location: Melbourne.
What do you do: Work as an in-house designer at Buchanan.
Job Title: Graphic Designer.

I’ve been frustrated at how baseline the discussion around diversity has been.

OK, we met on Twitter and we discussed, at length, diversity (or lack of) within creative industry. Talk to me about this:

I’ve been frustrated at how baseline the discussion around diversity has been.

I feel like associations and big companies are still questioning whether we even have a diversity issue and this is so disheartening for someone like myself. Lately I’ve been trying to explain the diversity issue from a more systematic angle.

When you’re trying to fit people into an existing framework and failing (or they’re not applying for your jobs and you blame it on them instead), then we clearly have an issue with the framework. I definitely think we need quite a radical change such as decolonising design in general, but since changing the world is incredibly difficult then we should start where we have power.

You graduated in 2015. So I can imagine you’re full of questions about the industry as well as some experience over the last few years. Questions and experience. Talk to me — good, bad ugly:

Experiences so far… I think branding is one of the most difficult tasks ever and it challenges me every single time. I’m not really sure what my ‘thing’ is just yet, so I’m still trying out all kinds of projects to find out what skills I appreciate flexing.

I’ve worked best in collaborative groups, I hate being left to my own devices for too long. Which is probably why I find solely freelancing to be a really lonely experience. Working with people who all have different strengths and weaknesses is incredibly rewarding and has taught me so much. I’m still baffled by unpaid internships, and why they exist and I definitely think we need to stop hiring graduates for what essentially becomes a mid-weight role.

Nurturing and mentoring juniors is so important, and I think companies get caught up in the demands of their business so they overlook this. When you’re fresh out of uni, you’re basically still on training wheels and you’re going to be asking heaps of questions, it’s nice when you can have at least half of those questions answered.

Tell me a little about your experience writing for SBSlife. How did you get this gig, why is it important to you and how does it contribute to your creative growth?

Writing has always been my preferred medium, funnily enough. I’m a visual person, but nothing articulates my thoughts and feelings more than words themselves. I’ve been writing for years now, journaling and documenting my responses to the world around as it changes for better and for worse.

The SBS piece was something that literally landed in my lap when I came across the writer and journalist Ruby Hamad. I really admired her work and her perspective on Islamic and Arab issues both within Australia and the Middle East. Her Syrian-Lebanese heritage meant I was mentored by somebody who had a true understanding of what it meant to grow up within my religious community in the Syrian and Lebanese diaspora. I’d been looking for a way to highlight some of the struggles my family and community had faced here, not just overseas, and give a very nuanced yet silenced voice to the Syrian war coverage.

Alawites, historically oppressed, are rarely afforded the space to speak about themselves, and this allowed me to help us reclaim our spirituality, our community and even my father’s legacy. We think about preserving culture and history through books and museums, and schooling but we seldom offer anecdotal representation.

As is common in the Middle East, when the books and artefacts are lost, destroyed, or worse, stolen, all we have are our voices and memories.

Who are the amazing, female, entrepreneurial creative leaders you’re inspired by daily? Why?

Jenna Wortham: Jenna’s an incredible writer who works across so many disciplines — fashion and beauty, current affairs, entertainment. I recommend her podcast Still Processing that she hosts with Wesley Morris for the New York Times. Her love for astrology really resonates with me too.

Leandra Medine, Founder of ManRepeller: 

Leandra basically started the huge online publication from her bedroom. She describes fashion as a way to freely express yourself, independent of male opinion (hence the name). Leandra’s incredibly candid, and even documented her struggle with infertility and the huge emotional and physical battle she’s had to endure. Women like Leandra remind me to stay humble and unapologetic, even through great success.

Issa Rae: She’s an actress, writer, director, producer and web series creator. She was recently nominated for a Golden Globe in the Musical/Comedy category, and honestly she’s bloody hilarious. Her TV series Insecure is so great.

What were the last three books you read?:

I’m about to begin Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis which was recommended by Inez who runs a ‘bookstagram’ account called Negrospeaksofbooks. A must-follow if you want to get into books written by writers of colour, predominantly black writers.

I’m also in the middle of the The H8 U Give by Angie Thomas and Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter. I clearly have book commitment issues.

What were the last three websites you visited?:

  • Gmail
  • Twitter
  • Parramatta Westfield because I need to book a make up appointment.   

What do you listen to whilst you're working?:

Sometimes it's podcasts. The Call with Erica Williams Simon is super inspiring. Other times it's hip hop – Brockhampton just released a new album and it's great.

What is the last TV Show you binged?:

Stranger Things because of course. If you had asked me two weeks ago I would’ve said Gossip Girl though.

What are you doing right now, this week, to invest in your growth as a creative leader?

I just returned from Sydney where I was attending the D&AD Rare masterclass. It was a phenomenal week. Creative leaders from across the globe, from all kinds of disciplines, gave the delegates advice on everything from how to negotiate a pay rise to how to be proud of where you’ve come from. It was a fantastic opportunity to network with professionals from diverse backgrounds and also allowed us a safe space to talk about the different issues we all face on a day-to-day basis.

You've had a stint in a couple of different agencies and businesses. I'm interested in your point-of-view of the changing landscape for the consultancy/agency.

I’ve noticed that as a designer, I’m being asked less and less about colours and typefaces but more about “what do you think isn’t working?” and “how can we fix this?”. I’m still so young in my career so I’ve been trying to observe and learn as much as I can while also doing the work. It’s been great to see different types of design work emerge over the years. A graphic designer is now a web designer or a user-experience designer or a “junior art director”. Skills and output are important, but ideas and design-intelligence seem to be taking the lead.

What are the opportunities? What are the challenges?:

Keeping up. Everything is moving so fast, and everything is digital now. Younger people are becoming smarter and smarter and you can’t bullshit anybody. The challenge is becoming a more respectful creative, the opportunity is succeeding and developing a better relationship with the world around you.

What is working, what isn’t working?

I think everyone’s sustainability efforts needs to amp up, I still see people designing pages and pages of printed collateral and then it going to total waste. I also return to my previous comment about the framework not allowing diverse workplaces to flourish. Which parts are we taking out of the framework to throw off this CIS white male dominated industry, and which models are we throwing out completely and rebuilding?

Is strategy important to you as a creative person? Why? Why not?

There is literally no point in designing or creating anything that hasn’t been thought through considerably. Fleshing out a cohesive strategy is 90% of the design strategy.

What does a normal day look like for you?:

Wake up around 6.30 and take care of any crazy morning hayfever. I spend the bare minimum time getting ready so I can race to catch my train and begin my long commute to work. Coffee upon arrival from the upstairs AKQA cart, email checking (thankfully my email inbox remains tame on most days) then straight into calls with my Creative Director or my list of tasks. I’ll head home around 5.30-6 most days and have a very Lebanese dinner with my family. Lately I’ve been freelancing for my friends a lot to help them see their own ambitions through and it’s been incredibly rewarding.

Tell me about your connection with your Syrian background:

My family is spiritually connected to specific points in Syria’s geography. We’re coastal and rural Syrians, and the history of our faith lies in the mountains and the protection they gave us from persecution. Although so much of my extended family migrated to Lebanon after WWII, then to Australia in the 70’s, Syrian politics have always trickled into our Melbourne home. On any given day my mum is trying to get me to drink bottled water from the Drekish mountains for its healing properties, or telling me to rub olive oil on my RSI, or the constant hum of Arabic news on our television – it’s something I can’t escape, it’s deeply ingrained in everything I do. So much devastation, so much more to celebrate

How influential was your father?

As an elder, my father has served as a mouthpiece for our strictly verbal history. In the middle east, you’re incredibly lucky if you have formal documentation to prove any part of your identity since conflict disrupts any hope for stability or preservation of information. My father’s memories, and his ability to share everything that was passed down to him is incredibly important for our community, as so many people were focused on survival and erasing trauma that they either forgot everything, lost it, or were unaware it was even happening. There was this funny moment where my father told me the names and birthplaces of my mother’s grandparents because she couldn’t remember them herself. This pride he takes in sharing his wealth of knowledge is what inspired me to become a designer. Some of my earliest memories involve watching him write with fountain pens, and hand bind books in his study for his students to allow them hard copies of his teachings – a tangible offering of a threatened history and an (almost) lost craft.

What are you most proud of?:

I’m proud of my ability to collaborate with my incredibly talented friends. I’m proud of the relationships and support units we maintain with each other. I’m proud of their achievements mostly, it brings me such joy to see women of colour defying the odds. I know this question was probably supposed to be about me, but nothing makes me happier than seeing the people I love kick their goals and impress the world around them, especially when we get to do it together.

Tell me about one of your failures — how did you deal with it?:

Sometimes I’m terrible at looking after my stress levels and when I was at university this was a huge issue. A lot of my projects suffered because of my inability to keep up and also my habit of psyching myself out of almost any idea I had. By the time I reached my honours year, this was particularly difficult because I was so lost in exploring abstract concepts and digging into the academic research world that any actual tangible design concept seemed so out of reach. I know that I could’ve made some better work that year but I think it was really important that I remained honest with myself and my feelings about design too, and I’ve learned so much about the kind of designer I am just from reflecting on those anxieties that ate me up.

How did you overcome it?:

After my graduation, I went straight into an 8 week internship with The Company You Keep which distracted me from my perceived academic shortcomings. Then summer came and went and I spent a few months literally hanging out with my parents and maintaining my part-time gig making pizzas in their store.

I freelanced a little, I went to the gym, I had “business-meetings” with my friend twice weekly to talk about career progress and eventually I forced myself to update my folio, and upload it to The Loop.

I landed a job not even two weeks later.

What did you learn?:

If the idea of turning on your computer disgusts you, or you’re sensing negative energy from the spaces you feel you need to connect with, then understanding the source of that negativity is crucial to understanding your role in that space. Getting a job scared me because I felt incredibly inadequate, and slightly traumatised from my university experience. I knew I needed to work, and I told myself that the second I felt the negativity creep back I would interrogate it because it’s important and proves that we have a bigger issue at hand.

Who are you inspired by? Why?:

My mother for moving to a foreign country, and dealing with knockback after knockback consistently for forty years but still managing to be a strong-willed individual, and put love before anything else.

My “girl gang”. My best friends are some incredibly talented women who inspire me every single day. I am so, so, so lucky to have them around me and we are always sharing opportunities with each other. It’s such a beautiful energy to be able to bring your best friend on board for a project, or introduce them to your network.

I’m also inspired by creatives like Pelin Keskin, Tasbeeh Herwees, Ayesha Saddiqi and Roj Amedi. Their work continues to strengthen my mind and tug at my heart.

What are you inspired by? Why:

How small and insignificant our lifetime is compared to the sheer size and age of the universe. It helps you get over tiny issues really quick. I’m also constantly amazed at how effective my asthma inhaler is.

How do you keep your skills sharp?:

By putting them to use every single day. I also get stuck designing pizza menus for my father. It’s a seriously frustrating process, there are so many minute details, and it will always test my love for him. I’ll most likely hate the outcome every time I do it but I also learn so much about pre-press and signage.

How do you ensure you keep learning?:

I attend as many talks and workshops as I can, I go to as many free events as I can. I message people on social media if they inspire me just to let them know I think they’re awesome and sometimes that flows into conversations I can learn a lot from. I also talk to my nieces and nephews, and my younger brother a lot. Some of them might only be 2 years old, but they’re bloody smart.

What will the role of the Designer look like in ten years time?:

I hope by that point we’ve realised how to collaborate with science and makers across the world to overpower political leaders and resolve some of the huge sore spots in society. We’re already trying to do this, but we can do so much better.

What are you hoping for?:

Less Euro-focused design education. I seriously think institutions (what a horrible word, by the way) need to radically change the way they teach their students.

Talk to them less about dropping $$$ on glossy portfolios and the importance Helvetica, and more about the importance of making mistakes and learning that there's more than one way to tackle the solution to those mistakes.

Teach them how to open their hearts, teach that design isn’t just about sales and money, teach them how to feed themselves and other and not just their egos. And most importantly: help them understand the true impact of their work.

Keep asking “at what cost?”.

Tell me something about mentors and mentorship. Yes? No?

I think everybody needs a success story to look up to, with a background they can resonate with. I think we need more than one mentor though, because sometimes you'll disagree with the very person you're inspired by, and sometimes you need somebody else to tell you that that's okay.

What can young creative (female) Designers do to break through the bullshit that surrounds them in a mostly male-dominated industry?

Get together and start groups, form communities. People love to talk over us, but with the right volume I hope we can force them to listen.

What's next?

Anything and everything as long as it doesn’t break my heart.

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You can follow Noor on Twitter here.

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