How did you discover you wanted to be a creative and get started in visual communications? It was just a natural byproduct of who I am as a person. I never really made a conscious decision to get into the field—it was something innate within me and how I saw the world that attracted me to the world of creativity, art, aesthetics and culture. I was fascinated by architecture, poetry and textile patterns from a young age and started to look at the philosophy behind such artistic expressions. That’s what led me to look within and explore my own feelings and how to express them naturally.
You established House of Gül as a response to the lack of beauty and truth in visual communications. What led you to establish your own creative firm, and how does it address the problems of visual culture? When I was working in the industry and at other studios, it felt Eurocentric. Everything was from an old white perspective, and there was a real “bro” culture that turned me and a lot of people I knew off. I learned some great things, but something about the environment wasn’t conducive to what I wanted. It felt like these studios were treating art and creativity as a manufactured pipeline for consumerism rather than thinking consciously. It felt exploitative. This is where House of Gül started—to create a space where conscious creative and artistic expression lives with people of color and those looking to make impactful, meaningful work. This way, we can create a visual culture, designs and content more reflective of the real emotions and cultures of underrepresented people.
First, we provide an environment for artists and creatives to just be themselves and express their truth in an honest, respectful way. You’d be amazed how many people reach out to me saying they had to “shrink” and “hide” who they were to appeal to a client or culture. A lot of people speak about diversity and say the right things, but not many foster that environment in a dope way. Second, we pull from international and diverse cultural inspirations in our viewpoint, references and design philosophy. So, the work we create is different and shows up differently. This enables us to foster a more global team, and the work reflects that style and substance—for example, using Islamic manuscripts as inspiration for compositions and typography.
What have been some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on with House of Gül? One of my favorite projects was the brand identity, web design and development work for nonprofit organization Foundations for a Better Oregon. We were able to come up with a unique creative idea and execute it on a level that spoke to nonprofits, government officials and artists all at the same time, which is a unique Venn diagram to hit.
I also loved the creative direction project on the TV show Colin in Black & White for Netflix with Kin in New York. We flexed our creative muscles to come up with distinctive ideas and directions for the Colin Kaepernick show. That was a unique opportunity to speak to a powerful cultural moment.
Tell us about your short film “American-istan.” What inspired you to create it, and was this your first foray into filmmaking? “American-istan” is a true story about my parents immigrating to the United States after getting an arranged marriage. I heard a lot about this experience as a kid and wanted to bring it to life. I’d also done a lot of creative direction for brand films and directed some branded content, so I knew how to translate that experience to my narrative piece.
With this film, I wanted to increase the aperture of what it means to be “American,” juxtaposing the American dream from abroad versus the American reality while living here. When faced with the great sacrifices and the courage it takes to move to another country and give your life to a stranger, what do you choose to hold onto or give up? At its core, “American-istan” is about sacrifice and connection, what we give up and choose to cling to in terms of identity.
How would you say your Pakistani heritage informs your style and creative output? Do you frequently explore any themes inspired by your experiences? I think my culture and spiritual background play a big role in my style and output. I pull a lot from what speaks to me and things from my childhood, memories and current experience: For example, my use of color. I love pastels and vibrant, bold colors. I enjoy patterns and incorporating visual rhythms into work. I also love typography and calligraphy and how type can be ornamental when applied properly. I also love Sufi poetry, music and dance—I think using art as an expression for praising the Divine is one of the most beautiful acts.
If I get a spark internally and it has heart, then that’s what inspires me to make it. I use art, creativity and design to communicate deep universal truths and wisdom in really simple ways, almost as a way for me to process my direct experience with life, emotions and my spirit. I find that expression resonates with people from all walks of life who are going through their human experiences and trying to navigate pressures, internal dialogue and trauma.
What personal creative projects are you working on? I’m working on my next script about my father-in-law, an Afghan refugee who fled the Soviet invasion and started a life in the United States. I’m also working on a journal on spirit, art and consciousness called BLISS: this will be an annual journal showcasing artists, designers, writings and projects that revolve around the inner spirit and emotion behind creative expression and help shed light on the inward reality, truths and wisdom from the industry. I love to make things that I want to see in our culture and would help me and others on our path.
Which design firms do you most admire and why? I like experimental and boundary-pushing design studios that think deeply about creative solutions that fit the project’s needs and put something avant-garde into our culture. I think Berlin-based design firm Studio Yukiko and Barcelona-based design firm Querida are the ones I enjoy the most: I love Studio Yukiko and what creative director Michelle Phillips is doing for its bold use of color and playful feel. Querida is strong for its unique use of typographic treatment and its rustic, sophisticated look. I like things that are playful and experimental but also have a wabi-sabi-like minimalism yet natural elegance. I think my personal and artistic styles fit that aesthetic combination harmoniously. Also, I love what Ya Habibi Market is doing in terms of introducing Arabic, Middle Eastern and North African culture into products, design objects and community building. It’s a great synergy between culture, fashion and art that speaks to me.
What is the biggest challenge currently facing designers? Corporations and tech companies have reduced the role of a designer into a somewhat mass-produced production designer. A lot of designers are conditioned to care more about functionality, ultra-minimalism and conversation rates rather than individual expression or new ideas. The challenge for them is to make beauty and aesthetics at the core of their solutions while keeping functionality and simplicity in mind.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Make things that inspire you and speak to you. Pursue your personal craft and creativity. Let that be your north star. It’s easy to get caught up in trends and what the internet algorithms try to tell you is cool; having your own ideas, reflecting on them and creating something new to the world is true wealth. Then, you have an arsenal of untapped potential available at your fingertips every moment. ca