Introducing: Farah Girach on challenging Islamophobia, celebrating the hijab, and making an impact with design
As part of our series focusing on new creative graduates, we celebrate Farah Girach from Birmingham City University. Here she chats to us about the influences behind her pattern work, the importance of positivity, and how she thrived throughout the pandemic.
Born in Zimbabwe and currently based in the East Midlands, Farah Girach is an illustrative graphic designer who specialises in editorial and branding design. She's just completed a BA (Hons) in Graphic Communication at Birmingham City University and is currently looking for a remote or hybrid junior role in an agency.
A pattern enthusiast who loves to create playful, freehand digital collages, Farah enjoys experimenting with different mediums and learning new techniques that will enable her to develop her design skills. We chatted to her about Islamaphobia, impactful design and her hopes for the future.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and lived there till I was seven, before my family and I moved to the UK. As the youngest of three, I'd always follow my siblings around – a blankie in one hand and a teddy in the other.
Mini Me was very practical: from making mud cakes out in the garden to cutting up empty cereal boxes and drawing all over them with crayons. One of my favourite childhood memories is pretending to be a seamstress by cutting up used fabric and having my brother and sister sew a dress for my dolls. We didn't plan it through, as the dresses wouldn't come off after, but you can say it was my first collaboration.
How did you get interested in editorial design and branding?
I gained a passion for editorial in my second year when I wrote a short piece on how the issue of Islamophobia has been challenged within design. From then on, I wanted to keep creating impactful design and spreading awareness of meaningful topics, which I could research and write about and later turn into a publication.
During my third year, I wanted to explore brand design, which led me to base my dissertation on this topic. It was titled 'The Use of Contemporary Patterns Within Brand Design' and encouraged me to incorporate my curated style within some of the branding briefs I took on.
In my major project, I wanted to explore the strategic side of branding, and I fell in love with it. I discovered my passion, not just for the visual aspect of brands but for what goes on beneath and beyond. It led me to delve deeper into the brand's back story, its aims, objects, values, vision, tone of voice, and mission.
Why did you choose your course and university?
Studying at Birmingham City University was my first choice due to its vast range of amazing facilities, including its print room and green screen. I was told they were accessible to all students across Visual Communication courses, and I knew this was the university for me.
What was the experience like?
It's been a rollercoaster. The pandemic crash-landed partway through my first year, so the majority of my university experience has been online. There were some downsides to this, as I couldn't go in to use the facilities as planned, alongside the struggles of keeping motivated, especially when you're not surrounded by a creative environment.
However, I overcame this by constantly communicating with other creatives on social media who were in the same boat. We'd help and support one another through these tough times. In contrast, as an introvert, I felt more comfortable on the screen and found it easier to connect with people.
I think the pandemic also made me thrive as a designer because I felt that I had more time on my hands. And this led me to learn, develop and curate my design style. It also gained me recognition as a designer, for instance, through a feature with Fuse Birmingham and by taking part in 2021's Birmingham Design Festival. I could also join in with workshops and talks held online, which I was limited to before because I'd had to rush to catch the train back home from uni.
What can you tell us about your final-year project?
My major project was a brief I found on Brief Club, a page on Instagram that sets various design briefs. It was to promote a small, cosy and friendly record store based in Somerset called 'Off the Record'. I created a vibrant, playful and contemporary brand identity and social media templates. I wanted to delve deeper into this brief and create a strategic side for the brand.
I conducted primary interviews and spoke to young adults in their 20s who are passionate about vinyl music. With a deeper understanding of music, consumers and competitors in today's age, I created a strategy for the brand, such as looking at the brand image closely and examining what it stands for. I created the brand's values, which are focused on being welcoming, passionate, caring and positive as well as embracing teamwork. And I used these keywords to set the brand's tone of voice and mission.
Moreover, I wanted to use a meaningful colour palette representing the brand's values. I chose the following: Yellow (representing energy and positivity), Deep Sea Green (relaxing), Monza (powerful), Mauvelous (calm and thoughtful), White (legibility and improving aesthetics of surrounding elements) and Black (authority and bold, mainly used within copywriting).
The second brief I completed during my final year project was a collaboration on a D&AD New Blood brief. My team members and I created a campaign called Pursuit4Kindness, which challenges Gen Z Snapchat users to encourage acts of kindness and spread positivity amongst families, friends, and communities to create a 'movement'. We developed an AR lens that can be shared worldwide to encourage people to feel positive about themselves.
I also took on a mini passion project to tie in with my impactful design, a creative campaign called 'Hijab is my Identity'. The hijab has become a controversial topic worldwide over the years, leading Muslim women to stand up and fight for their equal rights to choose how they dress. To some, the hijab may be just a piece of clothing, but to Muslims, it's part of our identity, and we should not have to seek permission from the state over what we can or cannot wear.
The campaign aimed to spread a positive and meaningful message surrounding the hijab, achieved through vibrant colours and playful patterns to express the freedom and choice of one's identity.
Can you describe your style in your own words?
My style would be a bunch of freehand doodles, vibrant squiggles, and loud patterns.
Who or what inspires you?
I have many inspirations: my pattern work is influenced by my African and Indian culture and Islamic patterns. I like to intertwine my identity with the visual elements I create. Sometimes it's very subtle. Other times it's overly transparent.
Moreover, some of the creatives that inspire me include Rebecca Coltorti. I have followed her work from the beginning of her career. Her editorial collages inspired me to be experimental with different mediums.
There's also Lucky Pablo. I love the playful doodles inspired by natural surroundings and the vibrant colour palettes they use within their work. They have influenced me to take my work to the next level: transitioning my patterns into prints and surface design.
I am also heavily inspired by Morag Myerscough, Camilla Walala, Hattie Stewart, Lauren Hom and Jimmy Turrell.
Create your own opportunities, whether collaborating, networking, or sharing work on social platforms. And most of all, don't lose your creative spark!
What do you hope to do with your career?
Currently, I'm seeking an internship or junior role within a branding agency. My long-term career aspiration, when I have much more experience, is to work as a freelancer and one day collaborate with brands that strive for positive social impact.
How do you feel about graduating in the summer of 2022?
Excited and sad. I'm going to miss being at university. It's been a hectic journey, but I met a lot of amazing creatives along the way who I was able to connect and collaborate with. I'll miss the fun workshops and talks arranged by my lecturers and the print room. Especially as I learned to screen print during the last few months of my final year, and I loved every bit of it. But it's also very exciting to be graduating.
Looking back at where I was and where I am now, I've grown a lot. Not just in height but also as a designer. And I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds.
What are your hopes?
I hope to keep learning every day, spread positive change through creativity, and become an inspiration for young female Muslim designers around the world. I also hope to collaborate more, specifically in painting a mural one day.
And your fears?
Aside from spiders? I'm afraid of losing purpose. I'm passionate about creating impactful design, and I hope I don't lose sight of what I strongly believe in.
What advice would you give to others following you into the industry?
Get out of your comfort zone! Don't be afraid to approach people or start a conversation; it can lead you to endless possibilities. Create your own opportunities, whether collaborating, networking, or sharing work on social platforms. And most of all, don't lose your creative spark!