Ayesha Mansour, Shillington London graduate, had been working in marketing for almost a decade. Though, working with designers awoke something inside her—she wanted to inject some creativity back in to her life. That’s where Shillington came in. Ayesha studied part-time at Shillington whilst continuing to work. After graduating, she packed it all in and started designing freelance, working under the pseudonym Aah Yes Studio. She’s gone from strength to strength since graduating last July—recently starting her latest venture, The Aahchive.
We chatted with Ayesha about her first year as a graduate and freelancer, how she found the Shillington course, creating The Aahchive and loads more.
You were working as Marketing Manager at Dishoom, a British national restaurant chain. Why did you decide to switch gears and study graphic design?
I’d worked in marketing for a long time (nearly 10 years!) and always got so excited about the design-based projects I worked on. I mainly worked with large creative agencies but, when I was at Dishoom, I worked alongside an in-house designer.
It was the first time I got to see design happening first hand and it sparked something in me.
I’d got to a level in my work where I was mainly focussed on strategy and I missed the creative side of things.
What made you choose Shillington? And what made you choose to the part-time course?
I was looking for a holistic course that covered both the theoretical and practical elements of design whilst allowing me to continue to work—Shillington ticked those boxes.
Quite a few courses that I looked at didn’t teach the technical skills which I find odd. I already had some experience of the more conceptual side of things from working in brand and marketing but I didn’t know my way around the applications.
Shillington’s location was also a huge bonus as I live and work in East London.
Was there any crossovers between working in marketing and being a graphic designer? Did your previous experience help you on the course at all?
Plenty! During my time in marketing I was lucky enough to work for really creative brands such as Dishoom and Ella’s Kitchen that have a really strong aesthetic and focus on design. Working in the brand teams for these places gave me a lot of exposure to creativity and design. I worked with all kinds of creatives from big advertising agencies to independent designers.
As well as an understanding of processes (and the crazy amount of design lingo) I learnt a lot about managing and building relationships—something that is so important in what I do now.
I also gained a lot of experience in the importance of presenting your work well, another really useful design tool.
Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers or fellow students during the course? Have you worked with any of them since?
Our class was actually really close as a whole group which was amazing. We have a big graduate WhatsApp group which is still active.
I made lots of friends (students and teachers) who I’m still in regular contact with—I feel really lucky to have met so many talented creatives and have people around me I can pester when I need something looking over or have a question!
I did some work recently with one of my buddies from the course—it was so much fun working together and I hope there are lots more opportunities like it to come.
As a graduate, what was your favourite brief on the course? Tell us your process!
That is such a hard one. I loved all of the ones where we got to conceptualise an idea as well as the design. If I had to pick one I’d say the campaign ended up being my favourite.
My idea was a collab between Weekday and The Marine Conservation Society to raise awareness of sustainable fishing. I got to think up a load of fish-based puns and put them on t-shirts. It’s as cool as it sounds…
What have you been up to since graduation? Can you tell us about your amazingly-named freelance practice?
Haha thank you. Since graduating, I have set up a studio called Aah Yes.
Whilst I do the odd bit of freelance work I mainly take my own clients so I wanted a name that was personal to me but more than just my actual name. I also wanted it to be something that had a bit of personality and didn’t take itself too seriously. I ended up rearranging the letters of my name to get to Aah Yes. I guess I have my parents to thank for that one!
Could you tell us about one of the projects you’ve been working on as a freelancer?
I recently redesigned the window of Frame’s Kings Cross fitness studio. They have a huge space with 50 window panels that run all along York Road.
It was amazing to create something that gets put straight out into the world for people to see. It’s quite rare that that happens so it’s one I’m really proud of. I love the work Camille Walala does on her installations so it was kind of a dreamy project for my first year.
What prompted your decision to go into freelancing as a fresh Shillington graduate?
Setting up my own business was one of my motivations for becoming a designer. As well as making the transition to a more creative role I wanted something that had the flexibility to work from anywhere and give lots of variety.
Having already been in the working world for a while I felt it was time to take the leap.
Could you tell us about your latest venture ‘The Aahchive?’ What is it, how did it come about and what are your aims for it?
Yes, totally! The Aahchive is an online design directory of wonderful things I’ve found when researching client projects for Aah Yes. It’s a jumble of creative inspiration and resources.
Getting under the skin of briefs and getting inspired is one of my favourite parts of the job. Whenever I find something I think is interesting I save it in a huge Google Spreadsheet. I was going through the sheet one day, giving it a bit of a tidy up, and thought it would be useful (and look a whole lot better) if I made it into a living site that I could share.
Every link is something that I genuinely enjoy. It may be an amazing collection of vintage cook book references or my favourite places to find good music to design to. It’s more of a curated collection than a catch-all directory.
As a designer you can easily spend your whole time looking for resources.There’s so much stuff out there, I hope as well as inspiring people it can save some time! I’m going to continue to add to it so I hope people can keep visiting and enjoy using it.
Is The Aahchive a glimpse into what inspires you? Can you tell us more about what influences your work and where you personally go for inspiration?
Yes, it definitely has hints of what I like. I enjoy looking back at vintage design to get inspired. It’s something we did a lot at Dishoom and has kind of stuck with me. I’m a bit of a magpie for old ephemera.
I don’t really follow one set style or specific artists/designers. There are definitely periods where I get interested in a certain studio or designer but Shillington taught me to be a complete sponge when it comes to finding design inspiration. I’m always on the lookout for new things.
I use all the usual online places, Pinterest, Google etc. I subscribe to a few good emails which are on The Aahchive. It’s great to get inspiration straight to your inbox!
I try to get out to galleries and exhibitions as much as possible. I buy lots of books—my current favourite is Mid Century Memories by Taschen—it’s really nice to take things offline and flick through a book.
I also pay a lot of attention when I’m out and about, taking pictures of stuff I like—signs, shop fronts, packaging. Anything that may be of use.
Whenever I’m on a project I’ll try and view the world through that lens. I’ve recently worked on a brief with a heavy sustainability angle and I’ve had a blast reading up on the subject, learning lots and switching up my day-to-day to being more eco-conscious.
You’ve been a graduate for just under a year ago, what do you hope to achieve in your second year as a graphic designer?
Ohh so much stuff! I’m mainly looking forward to more exciting projects and working with lots of nice people. Each brief is something new so that keeps things interesting.
In terms of specifics…
I’d like to do more branding as this is an area I’m particularly interested in and it would also be awesome to work on more external installations.
It’d be really fun to collaborate with some other creatives too—if anyone is interested get in touch!
I’d also love to start working with young designers, mentoring or teaching in some way. I’ve learnt so much over the last couple of years (and am still constantly learning). I think it’s important to pay it forward.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting on the part-time course at Shillington, what would it be?
Throw yourself into it. Someone told me before I started that you get out what you put in and that is 100% true.
And also, take your break on time. It’s how you get to the good biscuits. (This may not be relevant at the moment!)
Massive thanks to Ayesha for sharing her Shillington graduate story with us! Make sure to give Aah Yes Studio a follow on Instagram and a take deep dive in to The Aahchive—it’s a truly amazing resource!
Want to become a graphic design graduate just like Ayesha? Learn more about Shillington’s 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time courses in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.