Meet Eman Abdallah, Shillington Graduate and Designer at Humachina

Originally from Cairo, Eman Abdallah was studying graphic and product design, but the way she was being taught actually made her “kind of hate it”! She moved to America and discovered Shillington—the perfect fit for “being an extrovert who mostly learns by interacting with other people, having conversations about the subject-matter and loves challenges.” Flash forward and now Eman is now working as a Designer at Humachina, a research-based startup using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to improve the way people learn and perform.

Read on to hear more about how she used GoFundMe to crowdsource 1/3 of her Shillington course fees, building an AI life and career coach in her current role, differences between the creative scenes of Cairo/New York/Los Angeles, why she has a “Play” section on her website and how design briefs are “the professional version of a treasure hunt”. Plus, make sure you read all the way to the bottom to see five don’t-miss tips for graphic design students.

What were you doing before Shillington?

I was studying in university. I studied design for two years at the German University in Cairo while also managing an open-mic project. Even though I was excelling at university, I was very dissatisfied with how we were being taught design and it actually made me kind of hate it! That led me to pursue art instead so I ended up moving to the U.S. and got an Associate Degree in Studio Arts at Pasadena City College. After graduating, I wanted to experience living in a different state. Art, culture, work opportunities, and diversity were on top of my priorities so I moved to New York.

Why did you decide to study design? Why Shillington?

The way I was introduced to design at first kind of gave me a bad representation but while I was studying studio arts, I realized that we were incorporating most, if not all, of the design principles. Surprisingly, studying art is what made me see design in a new light and fall in love with it!

When I moved to New York, I was looking at different workshops and courses that could teach me more about graphic design. I wanted methodology (design theory, typography, design principles, etc.) as well as practical experience of how designers work in the real world (briefs, deadlines, client feedback, etc).

I ended up going to a Shillington info session and realized how tailored it was for my personality; being an extrovert who mostly learns by interacting with other people, having conversations about the subject matter and loves challenges.

What was your favorite part about studying design in New York?

So much is happening and it’s usually happening for free. I found it rather easy to find design-related events in New York. Meetup and Eventbrite are worth checking out. Moreover, New York is a very student-friendly city with tons of resources and inspiration. Most museums were donation-based or for free with our Shillington student ID.

To fund your studies at Shillington, you started a GoFundMe campaign. Tell us more about that! Why did people donate, and any tips for other people considering launching a GoFundMe effort?

When I found out about Shillington, I realized that it was way beyond my financial means to pay for and it was kind of disheartening but I was determined to do it.

My best friend suggested creating a GoFundMe campaign to collect the money necessary to enroll. The campaign ended up paying for 1/3 of the fees.

I think people felt that my story is honest and that I shared it with an open heart and that is why they donated. I also think that people believe in someone who believes in themselves and is clear about their objectives. That’s really the kind of approach I took when I created my campaign.

Yes, a few tips from my experience:

  1. You literally have nothing to lose, only to gain. I think this motto is overused and abused but in my case, it was literally all I needed to hear. I knew I could fail (raise zero money and not be able to enroll) and I guess that was equal to not trying at all. My curiosity and determination to learn graphic design in New York (what I consider to be the capital of this field in the world) surpassed my fear though.
  2. Reach out to people personally. Sharing the link on your social profiles is not enough. Reach out to people you know who have a higher chance of helping you financially; friends who have a stable income, family friends, relatives, etc. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know to both donate as well as put the word out there; designers in your city, your favorite artists, your teachers from high school, etc.
  3. People love feeling appreciated. Think of a special way to thank the people who will donate to your campaign and watch the difference this will make! I personally promised an original design piece to each person who donates to my campaign.

You’ve lived in both Los Angeles and New York. Do you see any creative differences between them? Which one is your favorite?

My experience was that Los Angeles is way laid back compared to New York. LA was perfect when I was doing more fine art; I had a lot of space, A LOT of storage, time with no stress and some of the finest museums in the world (The Getty is my favorite). New York, on the other hand, is literally buzzing all the time. There is an enormous amount of energy that moves people in New York, especially the creative bunch. That helped me as a creative person who wanted to learn and achieve so much within a short period of time.

New York did not fail to feed my curiosity and nurture my creativity even once!

Now you’re working as a designer at a start-up. Tell us more about what about that role!

I am working at a start-up called Humachina. It is a research-based startup using AI technology to improve the way people learn and perform. One of the things we are building is an AI life and career coach.

I’m the start-up’s graphic and UI designer. I designed their brand identity, landing page, chatbot UI, user profiles and other miscellaneous interfaces for the company’s product.

I also constructed a growing UI style guide for Humachina’s developers to build a consistent an intuitive User Experience across desktop, mobile and tablet devices.

Why do you love working as a designer?

  1. I really enjoy the challenge. I think briefs are the professional version of a treasure hunt. In the real treasure hunt, you follow a trail of clues to reach the treasure while in graphic design you are following a design process that will ultimately lead you to the ‘treasure’; successful and satisfactory completion of the brief in that case.
  2. Design is international. After growing up in downtown Cairo, studying in Los Angeles and experiencing New York I am truly starting to appreciate how design is beyond language, cultures or social constructs. Even though there are thousands of designers out there in the world, I feel that there is a set of rules that are governing us all. You can see what works and does not work regardless of what culture the piece of design is coming from.

Love the Play section of your website. Why do you share that?

I feel that my website should be a true representation of me as a creative person, not just as a designer. I hope that when someone visits my website, they enjoy my playful side as much as the professional one.

What are your top five tips for graphic design students?

  1. Talent is 1%. No one is born as an outstanding designer and it is not easier for anyone. I learned that if I don’t study, take leaps, practice, constantly, put myself out there and say yes to opportunities, I will inevitably take longer to get better. Remember that showing up every single day is what makes a good designer, not talent alone.
  2. Theory is so important. I don’t mean reading one book or two about design. I mean REALLY delving into theory and truly understanding why something worked or did not work. I believe without studying the history of design and design theory, a designer would be missing out on a lot of context.
  3. Seek inspiration in unusual places. A friend of mine who produces beats once told me that when he looks for inspiration he rarely listens to hip-hop. Instead, he plays other genres, seeking something fresh in a seemingly unexpected place with an open mind! I think his valuable insight helped me a lot. It gave a new approach to my design process. Along with checking Pinterest, Dribble, and Behance to look for design inspiration, I started looking around me through other mediums; reading texts, looking up poems about the subject, looking for short stories or personal accounts shared online or simply going for a walk.
  4. Document the process in WORDS as you go so you can keep track of your design process. When I started designing, I found it hard to describe my process to other people after I was done. Mostly because I wasn’t attentive to why I made certain design decisions at the earliest stages. My design gut feeling was working perfectly but my step-by-step process was not necessarily documented properly. It might seem like a lot but you will get the hang of it. It gets easier, I promise.
  5. Self-care, self-care and self-care. Rest your eyes and keep yourself hydrated.

Where do you go for creative inspiration? Any suggestions?

I have been exceptionally inspired by lettering artists and printmakers lately. I’m growing to appreciate both forms immensely, so here are some of my favorites go-to people: @realfunwow, @gaellegarrocq, @ginkgomaker, @jimbobernaus, @superniceletters and @nickmisani.

Huge thanks to Eman for sharing her story! Check out her website, Instagram, Behance and LinkedIn.

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