In this month’s column we feature designer Danah Abdal an artist at heart with a flair for all things communication and design-related. Born in Kuwait to a Kuwaiti father and Palestinian mother, she grew up as someone who embraced both of these cultures and loved the diversity that existed in her home environment. After graduating from high school she moved to East Lansing, Michigan where she completed a BA in Advertising and a BA in Studio Arts.
Upon moving back to Kuwait, she immediately joined The November Company where she was the in-house Graphic Designer and Print Production Manager. It was there that her passion for graphic design was fueled and found her working on projects throughout the Middle East, including work with brands in Lebanon, Oman and Jeddah. After three years working with November and freelancing, she decided to return to studies to further ground her in the design industry.
Since 2011 she has been part of the MFA Design program at The School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she is working on her thesis design product Nagsha, which is a cultural communications series based on individual workshops that combine traditional crafts from the Middle East with contemporary design. This combination of fine arts, communications, and now design, have shaped the essence of her work, a deft balance of both art and visual communication. We check in to hear all about her current project and what keeps her passionate about design.
What were the circumstances under which you left your home country?
Educational opportunities – I received a scholarship from Kuwait both for my undergrad and master’s degree.
Have you always wanted to live abroad?
I love to travel – so I always want to be abroad and experience everything out there.
How long will you stay abroad?
After finishing school I will be working on some projects here in NYC. Mainly Nagsha, in hopes for the brand to pick up.
Where else have you lived?
Kuwait, Michigan, and New York City so far.
What is your favorite thing about where you live?
Living in New York so far has been mainly about being a student at The School of Visual Arts – but I would say the friends and connections I have made here are amazing. My program has a great international group of designers and it’s been great being a part of that.
What is the worst thing about where you live?
The city is fast and intense. The amount of productivity expected in this city is CRAZY, but I’m loving it while it lasts.
What do you miss most about home?
I love Kuwait – I would say I mainly miss the beach and my family.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
The fact that I enjoy doing it – it’s a lot of work – but it’s a lot of work that I want to be doing.
What are you working on currently?
Nagsha is really the main project for me at this time. However, I am always working on several things (freelance projects, etc.), but I will forever be a part of The November Company team.
What do you find most different about life inside and outside the Arab world?
What brought me to the U.S. was the educational opportunity. There are a lot of differences, however I really believe in being able to make the most of whatever context I’m in – there are pros and cons in every situation.
What do you find most different about work inside and outside the Arab world?
Work opportunities in The U.S. are huge – especially in a city like New York, where TONS of people are always working on amazing things and it’s considered a design capital. There are just A LOT of opportunities here. Nevertheless, I’ve also been happy with work opportunities back in Kuwait, meeting amazing people working on amazing startups and great ideas.
Explain some differences in how you and your work have been received in different countries?
I can say that here, as a designer, I have more freedom in design decisions and can take more risks. Working with some clients in Kuwait (being a more conservative community) has constrained me at times. It is possible that ‘The Designer’ title maybe needs some time to become more trusted.If you could take one thing from home and place it where you are, what would it be?
It would be the beautiful and rich culture we have, which through Nagsha I am trying to place in NYC through the lens of design.
How often do you return home?
I usually go home in the summertime, and sometimes in December.
Where will you eventually retire?
I would answer Kuwait, but I’m always open to new places to be…
Finish these sentences:
In a year from now I will be…
Starting my own design studio and making space of some sort, perhaps in continuation of Nagsha.
When I die, I will…
Have swam in every ocean!