Today, we are joined by Dilem Akıner , she is a Graphic Designer. You can view her portfolio here.
Tell us about your graphic design career. How did you break into graphic design, and how did you advance to where you are today?
My journey for graphic design began long time ago. Actually when I think back, I should have read the signs: I was really into typography since I was 13 and tried to develop my own typefaces. My visual memory and interest of packaging and book covers also told a lot about my passion for graphic design. Unfortunately in Turkey, graphic design was not a widespread field back then and when someone asked what I wanted to be in the future, “designer” would be the coolest yet an undreamed profession for a kid.
I graduated from Graphic Design from Turkey’s one of the most respected colleges, Bilkent University. Then I decided that I should be exploring and learning more about other disciplines in design, where I could integrate them with graphic design. Therefore, I entered graduate program in Industrial Design in Middle East Technical University, Turkey. As MSc. Industrial Design candidate, I am working on my thesis about mass customization. Along with my master’s program, my professional career started as well. I worked a year and a half in the design team of Designnobis, an award-winning industrial design company. At present, I am working at Kraf&Co. as graphic designer. Kraf&Co. is a multidisciplinary design studio specialized in graphic design, interior architecture, product and multimedia design. Kraf&Co. recently received 3 awards from the prestigious 7th Annual International Design Awards, where my projects – Itiraf Et!- won the 1st Prize in Multimedia Design Category, and Kraf&Co.’s corporate identity design received Honorable Mention in Print Design.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
To begin with, working in a field that I love is the most enjoyable thing about my career. Most people somehow end up with a career that they have to be contented with. I do what I love and I find myself quite lucky about it. But to be more explicit, I love the challenge of constantly developing myself and exploring different things that can inspire me and try to reflect these to my works. Design is an amazingly extensive field and in a state of flux where you have to keep up with it.
What were the biggest inspirations for your career?
When I was in my senior year at college, I knew that I didn’t want to work in a regular advertising agency and producing similar works over and over and save the day. One day at school, we were asked to prepare presentations about successful graphic designers and that is the time I first met Stefan Sagmeister and his works. I was amazed by his mind-blowing projects, extraordinary usage of mediums and materials, striking way of giving messages and approach to life. His works cheer me up and motivate me exactly the same way as it did when I made that presentation years ago.
Another important inspiration that encouraged me was the conference held by one of the graduates of our department, who was working at MIT Media Design Lab at that time. My interest for industrial design got off the ground with the incredibly aesthetic, interactive and futuristic projects that I saw that day. I am also grateful to my beloved instructor Özlem Özkal, who had a role in introducing these inspirations and guided me to take a good turn in my career.
What inspires me more is traveling abroad and discovering new places. You never know where you find inspiration. Observing people, exploring different cultures, mingling in the crowd, doing things that you don’t do in your daily life definitely nourishes your creativity and widen your viewpoint. I try to take as many photographs as possible and collect unusual objects because I believe that collecting materials helps keeping the memories alive and makes you remember the details that may come in handy one day.
What are some favorite projects you’ve completed and why?
Wom Italian Cafe & Restaurant is one of my favorites since it is the rarest project that we found the chance to build up as a whole where our graphic design and interior design departments worked collaboratively. I find culinary and restaurant branding very enjoyable since you are free and able to make touches to the place that will be in harmony with the corporate identity. The spirit and atmosphere of Wom was very exciting for us. I came up with the name as in “word-of-mouth” and intended to create a cozy and inviting ambiance with details such as an ivy-mantled swing, colorful peels hung up on the walls, love seats and love tree placed at the heart of the restaurant. We did all the brand development, corporate identity, interior design and brand consultancy. Unfortunately all of a sudden, our client gave up the concept when everything was ready to be implemented. There are still some people seeing Wom’s images online and saying that we should give franchises all over the world!
Itiraf Et! is another project that I absolutely love. Meaning, “confess it” in Turkish- Itiraf Et! is an Android mobile application where people can make confessions, follow and comment on other users’ confessions. Its menu is customizable according to the categories of the confessions the users prefer to see like “relationships”, “fears”, “what if” etc. The witty “hats off to” button allows the users to take hats off to the confessions they like. It recently won the First Prize in International Design Awards in Interface Design Category. It can also be downloaded for free from Google Play, but it is only in Turkish. I guess I mostly enjoy the projects that I start from the scratch, where the client does not get too involved and leave it all to me. When its like that, I embrace the work more and devote myself hundred percent.
Tell us about your graphic design education. How did you decide to study graphic design?
When I was in high school, I was taking the intensive program of science and math to meet my parents’ expectations from me to be an industrial engineer, which had nothing to do with my interests. I enjoyed drawing, typography (even when I didn’t know the word then!) and photography more than physics and math. Then I started searching about graphic design and how I could enter the undergraduate program. I took drawing classes to improve my skills and technic for drawing. Bilkent University was the only school that I wanted. I had one shot, took the risk and went for it.
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your graphic design education?
I know that I need to search, learn and experience more every single day. If I was more aware of this back in undergrad, I would definitely have done more internship and tried to work part-time in order to grasp as much knowledge as possible. Moreover, I would follow significant design events and attend those. And definitely be braver about expressing myself and networking with peers and inspiring people.
Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs? Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?
Pratt Institute School of Art and Design, School of Visual Arts and Parsons are some of the most prestigious schools that I hear from the industry. The universities that I studied in, Bilkent University and Middle East Technical University (METU) are also world-renowned schools that can be found in world wide ranking. Graduating from the best university may not be the one and only way that brings the ultimate success. However, in our day, holding a degree from a prestigious school paves the way for a better job and provide an advantage to the designers.
How can prospective graphic design students assess their skill and aptitude?
They should do a lot of research for sure! Today’s world provide massive amount of opportunities. Thanks to the Internet and smart devices, everything is within easy reach. They should make use of this and explore different approaches in design, look for unusual materials for their works instead of constantly repeating digital and expected material combinations and needless to say, follow the latest design events. But the best advice that I could give is to experience these things in person and be bold! This is something that I’m working on myself. Sometimes reading or hearing from someone else does not give the same effect. For instance, in the past few months, I have been to HOW Design Live in Boston, one of the biggest graphic design events in the world, which was a very significant experience for me. I had the chance to meet many peers all over the world and most importantly, listen to and network with many inspirational people. Some of them were my design idols like Stefan Sagmeister as I have mentioned earlier, Sagi Haviv and Stanley Hainsworth that I have been following for quite some time. The ones that I did not know but got discovered there also enriched me in diverse topics.
What can students applying to graphic design schools do to increase their chances of being accepted?
They have to convince that they think in a different way. This is a very simple yet an effective example that I heard years ago. During the aptitude test of one of the schools, they asked the candidates to draw a carafe. Almost every student drew the carafe from front view, standing on a table. Only one of them drew the carafe broken into half. Guess who got accepted?
What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in graphic design?
Design is an exciting and amazingly wide field composing of many branches. Naturally, it takes time for students who are just getting started with their design education about deciding on what branch they should focus on. Even specifically in graphic design, there are a lot of things they can do. Personally, I sometimes feel that I shouldn’t be missing out any of them, but in some cases it is better to focus on one thing than add on another later, instead of whimsically jumping from one field to another.
What exactly do you do? What are your key responsibilities?
I handle a project from the scratch and develop its concept. This can be a corporate identity, brand development, interface design, web design, packaging design or even a wedding invitation. I approach to projects in a way that will be in consistency with the future of the brand. I try to bring about long-running concepts and designs instead of disposable ones. After I develop the general concept of the project, I design the logo, typography, icons, layout etc. whatever is necessary for that particular project, providing the big picture with every single details. If it is a print project, I coordinate the printing process or if it is an interface design, I work with the web designer or a software developer so that the project is executed correctly. In some cases, I give design consultancy to our clients. This does not necessarily have to be a visual support but about how they can improve themselves in various aspects. When we work as a team, we make a distribution of work. While one develops the concept, the other one works on the design, and another one works on the technical sides of the project. The good thing about our projects is that we work with clients from very different fields. Law firm, restaurants, nuclear medicine, bakery, and construction to name a few. Therefore I do not repeat myself produce a wide range of work.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?
I use Adobe products for sure! Formerly, I used to make my illustrations with tablet, which was quite enjoyable. Apart from these, sometimes I like to get my hands dirty and work with inks and brushes for logotypes and typographic works. It is also nice to try different and unusual materials and mix them with the familiar ones. I like organic and rough materials for implementing a printed project.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Designing does not have a formula or ingredients. Therefore sometimes you can get stuck and be out of ideas, which is the worst nightmare of a designer! Impatient clients lacking vision is one of the most apparent challenges in this field. If they are unable to provide you the brief properly, you cannot come out with a productive design process. Our job is to communicate with people through our works but when we can’t communicate with our clients, we can’t translate the necessary message to people. The time constraints and frequent deadlines also cause sedentary work, where I get stuck to my chair looking at the computer all day long. Even though we try to create a free and comfortable atmosphere at the office so everyone can stroll around every once in a while, clear their heads and boost their energy, we still have to go back to our seats and rush for the revisions of the projects!
What are the hottest specialties within the graphic design field over the next decade?
Digital age is an inevitable time for all the graphic designers. In my opinion, simulation and interface design is getting very important that will bring many disciplines to interplay.