Peter Gould is a designer, creative entrepreneur and digital artist. Over the last ten years he has been involved in the development and launch of many exciting and innovative brands and creative projects.
There I was in 2002, sitting in my Design Futures class eagerly awaiting Professor Broadbent's next lecture. Every week his Yoda-style philosophical discourse opened up my mind to new ideas and helped me understand the potential of Design at a much deeper level.
That week’s lecture would change my life.
It was an introduction to Ray Kurzweil and Exponential Change. I began to delve into Kurzweil’s astounding theories which predicted how radically accelerating developments in technology would disrupt every part of human life.
It set me on a course of experimentation with pioneering technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR), which featured in my final year honours project. In 2004, that earned me equal first place in the Bachelor of Design at UTS, some helpful press coverage, and a lifelong conviction that Designers can directly impact the world around them.
Everything is about to change
Over a decade later, AR & VR have finally hit the mainstream, with Facebook buying Oculus, and major brands like Samsung, Sony & HTC launching big VR products in 2016. While still a novelty for most applications, Kurzweil’s exponential curves guarantee that these early, somewhat clunky, products will soon massively disrupt almost every industry and interaction you can imagine (hopefully in a good way).
We saw how in less than ten years smartphones and apps completely changed the way we interact, learn, have fun, and do business. Brands like Magic Leap, Meta, and Playstation VR will radically accelerate that change especially for education and entertainment. As we collectively unlock the potential of the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Smart Sensors, and beyond into Nanotechnology and Genetics, the future looks exciting!
We are living in a very unique period of history, when all of these technologies are still in their absolute infancy. We have an opportunity to embrace, understand, and actively design how these technologies are used. Impressive technology does not mean progress of course, sometimes it can be the opposite, so we have an important role in shaping it for positive impact and meaningful change.
My friendly advice for you dear reader, is not to watch from the sidelines. Whatever your passion is, try exploring how all of this potential can be realised in things you care about. Don’t just leave it to the big corporations: design the future you care about.
So you have an awesome idea. Maybe it will change the world. Maybe it will make you rich. Maybe it will lead to heartache. Or it could be all of the above!
What next? Consider these tips to help you on your journey:
1. Commit. Developing this idea will take everything you’ve got. I’m not kidding. Are you so convinced that can’t notdo it? If you feel it deep inside, and you have to act on it, keep reading.
2. Define. What problem are you solving? For whom? This has to be clearly defined in one sentence. Is it a problem you personally feel? If someone else is already solving the problem, what makes your idea different or better?
3. Validate. Is your idea really better than what exists? Go prove it. Show people a demo, listen to them, watch them interact with a prototype. Are they so impressed that they will part with their money for it?
4. Iterate. A startup business doesn’t have a business model, it's searching for a business model. Don’t waste time on a formal plan, use a lean canvas to test your ideas. You must iterate & validate your idea repeatedly.
5. Fail. Embrace and celebrate the fact that your first idea might fail. Failure is all about learning. Fail often and fail forward. Think about Edison, Dyson and the Wright brothers crashing their test planes hundreds of times.
6. Pivot. Be prepared to kill good ideas, so that the great ones may surface. Steve Jobs returned to Apple and killed off the Newton PDA instead of trying to fix it. When the time was right, he launched the iPhone instead.
7. Grind. Launching your idea will be exciting, stressful and incredibly demanding. And after all the hard work and after your big launch day, that’s when the real work begins. Be prepared for seriously intense work long after you’ve launched.
8. Reflect. Jobs' is famously quoted as wanting to “put a dent in the universe”. One of my spiritual teachers observed that Steve wasn’t the One denting the universe, but his intention mattered. What’s your intention?
9. Inspire. Eventually we all leave this world. Whenever that moment comes, we will be in the middle of something, so conduct your business ethically and with excellence. Inspire people, leave a legacy.
10. Enjoy. I started my design business around 13 years ago. With thanks to God it’s been an incredible ride. Throughout it all, I try to remain grateful and mindful that any success is from Him.
In life, most people rush the front door. They attempt the obvious, linear path and get pushed among the crowd. Often there is another entrance if you look hard enough.
In high school I hated Physics class. I told my teacher that I was learning this new thing called HTML, and knew how to make a basic website. I offered to show him, and soon it was my weekly ticket to get out of boring equations by building the department it’s first website. Conveniently, it took me the whole term to complete
In university I was studying product design but wasn’t so keen on spending days sanding models in the workshop. I did however become known as the Adobe guru among peers. I was able to help other students with the software and soon I had the best model makers helping me in the workshop.
Starting out, there was a big trade convention full of people I wanted to know. It would have been impossible to introduce myself to them all and make any real impression. Instead I purchased the back page advertisement on the event program and put my face on it. As I walked around, dozens of people came up to me and introduced themselves, having recognised me from somewhere.
This week in Dubai there was someone I was trying to email but with no reply. I managed to find out where he has a daily coffee and befriended the cafe staff. I pre-purchased his favourite beverage and left my card. The next morning he emailed me, I had been sending to the wrong email.
Don’t rush the front door. Find the side entrance.
When you care about something, it shows. All of the creatives, entrepreneurs and thinkers I know do their best work when it’s close to their heart.
In fact, "they can’t not do it”. They have to do it. The purpose drives their very core.
I don’t get excited about designing for soda brands, or selling sneakers. I care about what my kids are doing on their iPad, so I made games that I thought would be better suited. I want Muslim creatives to get attention for their great positive work, so I helped make a platform to showcase that. I care about entrepreneurship for people on a spiritual path and so created an event for that.
Make a list of the things you care about. Start small & simple. See what cool stuff you can build.
I am 2 minutes away from boarding a plane bound for Dubai. My plan over the next month is to meet with like-hearted inspiring minds and learn from people I want to emulate. To find ways to grow. To amplify my thinking. To sit with the dreamers, the doers, the leaders, the spiritually uplifting, the multi-millionaire entrepreneurs and the chai-serving street dwellers. To challenge myself, to think bigger, and better. To explore new opportunities and reflect on timeless wisdoms. To nurture a mindset for future success. To reach out and create a new chapter of life. To inspire others to do the same. To make a positive impact in the world now and in the future for all those around me inshAllah… Bismillah let’s go 😃
Your logo says so much about you, so get it right!
The first logo I remember designing was probably around fifth grade for my imaginary video games company. I've worked on several hundred since then, so here are some tips to make sure your logo doesn’t look like it was done by a fifth grader.
Firstly, remember that your logo is just the gateway to the brand. A brilliant logo won’t mean much without context and brand storytelling around it. See my post here for more about that.
So what makes a great logo design?
Be unique & memorable, avoiding cliches. So if you’re designing a brand for Muslims, avoid using crescents, stars and domes unless you have a very specific reason. You’ll end up looking like everything else Muslims have seen for the last twenty years.
Aim for metaphors & symbolism, avoid being literal. The Apple logo represents simplicity, not food. The Nike swoosh represents movement and activity, there is no shoe in the logo.
Keep it simple. Have only key design element at work, or several working as a whole. Reduce visual details unless they really add to the intended effect.
Reflect the brand’s attributes & personality. It should generate a distinct feeling towards the brand. Google’s logo is playful and colourful not serious or ’techy’.
Visually balanced. All elements should work in harmony, with the right proportions and composition of colour, typography and possibly a brand mark that feels just right.
Well-considered typography. Find a typeface that reflects the two points above. Pay attention to kerning (letter spacing). Go watch the film ‘Helvetica’ for a fun lesson in visual culture.
Versatile and flexible. It may end up in all sorts of places both digital and in print, so make sure it can scale, can work as a solid colour or in reverse from another colour. You can have several variations in different layouts, no problem.
You are happy with it. Design is subjective, some will love it, some will hate it. But make sure it feels right to you and that it inspires personal confidence in your brand.
What if you already have a logo? Should I keep it because people know it, or change because it feels outdated?
Some of the best advice I’ve read is, “A new logo should be a symbol of change, not a change of symbol.” It depends on each business and organisation. Sometimes a refresh or re-imagination of the current branding works best, other times it’s more appropriate to start a fresh new chapter altogether, even a name change. In any case, should be linked to the vision of the organisation and it’s strategic brand direction.
How I stay organised, work efficiently and stress less
Our modern lives are hyperconnected. There is so much to manage! Having the right tools to deal with everything smoothly is critical, and will make your life easier.
Creative types in particular are notorious for avoiding ‘admin’ because we want to focus on the stuff we love. I totally get it. Who wants to prepare invoices when you can finish the next artwork or design! But let me say this from personal experience: Dear creative friends, if you learn to embrace the right workflow, systems and tools like these below, you will have loads more time for doing the projects you love.
Here are tools I use on a regular basis that make my life easier:
Trello.This is an absolute gem, at the heart of my personal and team organisation each day. I’m a Trello junkie. In the last few years I’ve converted many people to using it. Think of it as a super easy, super flexible free visual tool that is perfect for managing both individual and collaborative projects. I have a whole series of Trello boards that I use for managing personal goals, client projects, internal and team projects, idea development and loads more. Get started and thank me later.
Slack.This is how my team & I communicate. It replaces email by combining instant messaging, file sharing and has loads of cool functionality that will get you addicted in no time. I have channels setup for each different client project and for bonus points for integrating perfectly with Trello.
Evernote. An amazingly versatile tool that many people are already using. I have thousands of notes tagged and sorted. Beyond the basic use for research, writing, web clipping and storing ideas, I also use it extensively for sharing notebooks with team members or colleagues on certain projects. Try listening to this podcast for some great power tips.
Harvest. This is how my team & I track our time and project budgets. For any service business or creative business, you’ll need accurate, easy timesheet management for all projects, even for internal projects. I’ve tried several over the years and Harvest is by far the best and easiest to use. It gives me a live financial snapshot of everything we’re working on and helps me predict any project issues well before they become problems. If you’re a solo operator you can use it for invoicing, or if you’re like me with a team, it can integrate nicely with Xero, see below.
Xero. Ahh finally accounting and bookkeeping software that doesn’t suck. When I switched a couple of years ago, it was the first time I’ve ever been excited and happy about doing the books. I can easily manage and track my transactions daily, monitor my accounts and Paypal in multiple currencies. If you’re in business, embrace daily bookkeeping or forever be stressed by cashflow. Switch to Xero and don’t look back to the dark ages.
Buffer. If you use social media for business, especially with a team, you need this. Buffer helps you schedule and manage content and posts across multiple platforms easily. I get my virtual assistant to load up around 50 posts at a time which I then edit & approve for automatically posting over several weeks. I still make personal posts each day direct to social media, but this way I know it’s always active. I also use Hootsuite sometimes to check out interaction and engagement.
A short while ago the current Principal of my old High School contacted me and asked me to address the entire school on it’s annual graduation day. I’ve presented in front of Prime Ministers, Powerful Sheikhs & Billionaires, but the idea of trying to keep 1000 teenage boys interested was actually quite intimidating. Anyway, it seemed to go down well, and here is the talk:
"Well the last time I was on this stage it was 1999, literally the last century. It was the final assembly and I was the guitar player in the school band. Instead of playing the school song as the principal walked down, we played Darth Vader’s Imperial March. Everyone went completely silent, waiting for the Sith Lord to reprimand us. Luckily however, our principal was really cool, and it went down well. In fact, most of my memories here at Sydney Tech are really good ones.
For about the last ten years or more I’ve been running a design studio, working on projects for a really interesting mix of people all over the planet. I have a cool team around me and each day brings a variety of creative challenges. We help people and companies develop their ideas into brands, which involves lots of thinking, brainstorming and graphic design for things like apps and social media campaigns. It’s worth noting that in 1999, there were really no such things as apps or social media. So if you add 15 years from now, I can hardly imagine what kinds of cool stuff you guys could be working on.
I consider myself really fortunate to be in this position, so let me take you back on the journey of where it all started. My art teacher in years 11 & 12 was Mrs Wright who was able to inspire and guide our class to produce some really great work. In her classes I developed an appreciation for the great masters, classics and contemporary work, many of which I still love today.
Amazingly, the art department had the foresight to see potential in digital art and they invested in an Blue G3 Mac with an A2 printer - which was almost unheard of back then. I loved this computer, and I remember long hours getting to grips with Photoshop while having the freedom to experiment with tools and techniques that would serve me well for years, into university and into my professional design career. There were no YouTube tutorials to follow, there was no YouTube, it was just explore and try stuff out. I did enjoy and still enjoy the interplay of technology and visual art and the creative potential it unlocks.
And while I’ve created digital artworks that now hang in fancy galleries and collections, the very first series I did was created right here in the art barn with Mrs Wright. I noticed earlier today that my series is still actually hanging on these walls in the Principals office after all these years. So I’m very grateful to her and all the creative teachers at tech who gave students like me our foundations, but also the freedom to explore and learn ourselves. But it’s definitely time to change that artwork in the Principals office!
My other favourite subject was called Design & Technology. My teacher in Years 11 & 12 was Mr Riley and also he also gave our class opportunities to think about innovation and broad aspects of design. Of course I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but those subjects also laid great foundations and taught us fundamentals that are timeless in Design. Learning about project briefs, research, developing concepts and the importance of impressive presentation really kickstarted an interest in professional design. Taking a brief and trying to solve that problem creatively, and trying to produce something that benefitted people in the world directly, it just seemed so much more fun and exciting to me than anything else, especially algebra and physics.
If you think about it, every man-made thing around you is just an idea that someone has acted upon, involving some aspect of design at some point. That chair you're sitting on, the shoes you’re wearing, the icons on your devices, the graphic interface on your favourite games. Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a designer, having a basic understanding for design thinking and critiquing visual elements in your everyday life will help you a lot, whatever you end up doing. We’re surrounded by advertising and marketing, with over 5000 messages per day, 25,000 new products launched at us each year and 40,000 brands in an average supermarket. If you can understand how and why that works, you can unlock some very powerful tools to use for yourself and your own ideas.
My Year 12 HSC design project was called ‘Gizmonet’ - which was a system and website I’d created to help younger kids learn how to use the Internet, with a little character called Gizmo. It wasn’t like now when toddlers just pick up iPads and go, lots of people still didn’t understand the Internet back then. In fact, in one of the lessons, I introduced kids to using Google which came out just the year before. If only I’d taught them (or myself) how to invest in Google shares, we’d all be millionaires now. Anyway the project went well - I came first in the State, won a $2000 government prize for it, which I promptly then gave back to the government in university fees when enrolling in UTS Design school.
I also learned a lot from Business Studies in those buildings just over there, and understanding the basic mechanics of companies and small business gave me the confidence to try it out. I charged $20 for my first ever professional design project in year 11 to a classmate, for his Magic the Gathering tournament poster. I’m certain the design was really terrible so I’m willing to offer the guy a refund any time. But the classes in Business Studies really paid off when I started my first company a couple of years after school and found myself having to learn really quickly how to run a company. So don’t discount all those little things that might seem useless now, you just never know when it all comes in handy later.
So always be ready to embrace life and take the opportunities it presents you to do awesome things. Find ways to be creative and don’t feel the need to squeeze through the one crowded door like everyone else, there is probably another way around if you look for it. Be grateful to your teachers because what they share today might be just the thing that helps you later.
A friend joked that every week I seem to be launching a new project, or about to launch a new project. That's not entirely true but when it happens, the feeling of being productive and benefitting others with your work is a major blessing. In this post I’m going to share some of the habits, tools and systems that I’ve developed over the past ten years.
1. Being busy means nothing.
We are all busy! Everyone around us seems so busy with life, work, study & family. The days go fast and they all fill up somehow. But are we really getting closer to our goals? Don't confuse being busy with meaningful action that will benefit your life. And when you are busy, make it count.
2. Start with BHAGs.
What are your Big Hairy Audacious Goals? These are the major things you want to achieve in life. It’s surprising to me how many people haven’t thought deeply about theirs, or can’t articulate them well. What do you want to be doing in 2, 5, 10, 50 years from now? Your BHAGs are a distant mountain that should influence the paths you take and decisions along the way. I’ve written mine down in detail and refer to them often to keep me on track. I have a detailed description of what I'd like to be doing in 2025, inshaAllah. It was guided by big questions: What would you do if you only had a year to live? What would you do with a billion dollars? What are the guiding principles in your life? Writing detailed answers to these forced me to think. So when opportunities do come up, having this long term vision and purpose can give you focus and clarity - does this guide you closer to the distant mountain (your goals), or further away?
3. Set S.M.A.R.T goals.
“If I had 8 hours to chop a tree, I’d spend the first 6 sharpening my axe” - A. Lincoln. Translate your BHAGS into the stepping stones that will help you get you there. Setting goals & planning are the keys to productivity. We all know this. But make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T: 'Specific - Measurable - Attainable - Relevant - Time Bound’. If your BHAG is "be a world renowned author who gives free writing workshops around the planet" one of your early goals would be “Write a book this year", and the first SMART goal would be, “Write 2000 words by Tuesday.”
4. Build strong systems.
There are many awesome tools & apps out there for helping to get organised. Find one that works for you and make sure you actually use it daily. I’m a huge fan of Trello and have converted many people to using it in the last few years. My personal Trello boards define goals into categories: Mind, Health, Spiritual, Family & Business, each with a series of simple goals underneath. For example, 'Mind' has ‘Read 30 books this year’ and when clicked I can see my specific progress with each book title checked off and next on the list. I use a large 40” 4k monitor at my office and have Trello permanently open to see my goals at all times. It helps me see a snapshot of the big picture and the little details in one place. I also use Evernote extensively with thousands of notes tagged into a giant library of my thoughts, ideas, research, inspiration and many other random cool things.
5. Develop solid routines.
Creative types & startup founders are notorious for working crazy hours and trying to outdo each other with all-nighters and marathon work sessions. They love to boast about how little they've slept. I did that for a few years when starting out, but am far more efficient and productive these days with my daily routine. My ideal weekday starts with prayer just before sunrise, dhikr, some stretches, then opening up Evernote on my Macbook with a daily gratitude journal (I use an IFTTT recipe to automatically create a daily template). I write 3 things I’m grateful for, 3 things that would make the day better, and read 3 short affirmations linked to my BHAGs. Then I check my the schedule for the day, set most-important-tasks (MITs), and reply to any key emails usually by the time my kids are up and ready for breakfast. During the day I try to take at least a 20 minute walk (fresh air & inspiration from nature) or a long break away from my desk with some reading or a video lesson from an online courses. I avoid working weekends, and am home by 7pm most nights.
6. People & Places: Create the right environment
I’m comfortable working at home on my couch, but am most efficient at the office which is specifically designed as a creative space with natural light, bright colours, books, beanbags and a giant whiteboard wall. Being close the beach & halal cafes is a bonus but I didn’t have that for the first ten years, so don’t make it an excuse or barrier to productivity. I’ve been very fortunate to grow a wonderful team of creative people around me who are much better designers than me, and are the backbone of my success. Empowering my staff with responsibility enables me to manage many projects at once, especially paired with a strong studio workflow and design process. I have an awesome virtual personal assistant on the opposite side of the globe who is awake when I’m asleep and helps me with research, administration, scheduling and social media planning. Throughout the day I send her tasks and when I wake up they are ready. In life & work, find the areas where you add the most value (or enjoy the most), and try to delegate or outsource the rest.
7. Stay motivated & focussed.
"Let's go invent the future" - Steve Jobs. To be sustainably productive you need a system that works for you - and everyone is different. My system has evolved over time and I’m certain it will keep doing so, along with my goals themselves. I regularly listen to a range of podcasts and audio clips while driving, walking or cycling, I read & share articles (try Flipboard) and stay hungry for inspiration and excitement wherever it can be found. I actively look for mentors and interesting people from a variety of backgrounds who are much smarter than I for guidance (even if they are younger than me). I’ve been able to develop friendships with a few incredibly talented, uplifting successful people who I can turn to for help. I found them over the years by actively looking - at events, networking online, community circles - but always trying to be useful and be at their service first before asking for their help. If you have good intentions, and find a unique way to bring value to other people’s lives, many amazing doors will open for you, inshAllah. "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want." - Zig Ziglar
8. Relax & enjoy the ride.
Whatever happens, I try to remember that “God is the best of planners” (Quran 8:30) and that gratitude is the key to happiness, no matter how productive or successful you become.
What are your awesome productive tips & hacks?
Some of my favourite resources & people to learn from: Syed Ahmed, ProductiveMuslim, Tim Ferris, Michael Hyatt, ZenHabits & Muslim Life Hackers.
Join the team of awesome people making a difference
Salam! Did you know there is a global creative team of people working to make the Ummah more awesome? It’s easy to join, just say Bismillah and follow these steps:
1. Dream Big. Just over ten years ago I wrote a description of my ideal type of job, running a cool creative studio working on Islam-inspired brands & projects. I had recently become Muslim and was looking everywhere for cool projects that reflected the beauty & creativity of my new-found faith. Leaving some lucrative mainstream opportunities, I searched high & low for a cool Islamic design studio that would engage my passion for creativity, art & design. But I couldn’t find it. So I decided to risk it and grow my own studio, seeking out the people & projects to work for year after year. Basically I tried to create opportunities rather than accept what was presented to me. Alhumdulilah I was able to dream big and am incredibly blessed to share that, ten years later, I was able to reach that goal of my ideal job.
Consider this: The vision of my own cool Islamic creative studio was like a distant mountain. I didn't have a path to follow, but having that mountain in the distance helped me make small decisions along the way - down through valleys and past cliffs - figuring out each time if those small obstacles took me closer to the mountain, or farther away.*
2. Invest in Your Passion. If you haven’t found it yet, try this simple exercise: If you could create your own dream job and money wasn’t an issue, what would it be? That is your passion. Use your unique blend of talents and interests that no-one else on the planet has. Now go and build your career around that. Will it be hard? Probably. Will be harder than a life of working at a boring job that doesn’t engage your true passion and talent? You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Where do I start? Start local. If your passion involves a creative talent, find friends, family and community members who value it. My first paid design project was $20 for a poster that a classmate needed in high school. Don’t give away your time too much for free (aka ‘free-sa-bi-lillah’), even a modest amount will help you to get started. Value your work first or others won’t. Get online and connect with like-hearted people and be prepared to take constructive feedback - try to find a mentor.
For every person that completes the above two steps, the Ummah becomes more awesome. Collectively, the Ummah becomes more awesome because you positively inspire everyone around you to do the same. Say Bismillah and go for it.
What is your distant mountain? How are you investing in your passion to get there?
Alhumdulilah there are so many blessings in my life today. I run a successful design & branding studio working on projects that I love every week. But that wasn’t always the case, not by a long shot! In fact, I was so close to giving up on my dream. Thank God I didn’t.
Just over ten years ago I first started travelling to classical Islamic cities like Granada in Spain and Fes in Morocco. Every year I would save up money from my mainstream freelancing design business and pay the enormous sums of money it cost to fly from Australia. In the first few trips I was able to also make Umrah, and have incredibly memorable experiences in cities like Beirut, Damascus & Istanbul. Every time I would return home on a creative and spiritual high. I would be like "How cool is this Ummah, we have the most amazing artists and creative heritage in the world! I want to be part of that!"
So I set about creating a collection of artwork that fused the traditional, classical influences from my travels in the Middle East with my modern graphic design style. I thought they were so cool and I worked really hard on making them something special. I decided they would be a hit at the next Eid Festival that was coming up (to help pay for more travel, of course!) and I spent a lot of time, money, blood, sweat & tears getting everything ready! (The blood came from piercing fingers while piecing together artwork frame
At the Eid Fair, I couldn’t really afford my own stall so I shared with someone else and setup my print collection in a hidden corner of the bazaar. I was sure people would be amazed by how cool they were! But they weren’t.Hardly anyone noticed, or cared. During the entire day, I sold about two and went home disappointed. Maybe Muslims only liked the old, traditional style I thought.
Not deterred, I kept working on my ideas in my spare time over the following year and revamped the whole collection. I hired a full stall next Eid, invested in some better marketing and was ready to be a hit! But, again, hardly any sales - I couldn’t believe it. I got lots of compliments and interest but what was I doing wrong?
The following year, I said to myself, “Alright, this is your last chance Muslim community! If you don’t like my stuff then I’m going to quit and never focus on Islamic art or design again!” I was serious, I couldn’t really justify spending a lot of time getting work ready that never got sold. Creating the artwork was fun for me but it would just have to be a personal hobby once in a while. I was planning to stop doing any creative projects for Muslims and just focus on my own mainstream graphic design. And, SubhanAllah, do you know what happened? I sold out of every single piece I brought that day, Alhumdulilah.
What changed? When I think back, it was probably a few things. One, I listened to people. The first two years I made assumptions about what people wanted. I found out there was a massive difference in taste between generations. The Uncles & Aunties just didn’t get it - and were happy to keep buying hideous plastic gold & black ‘artwork’ made on a factory floor. The younger crowds totally liked the artwork & design approach but the format I was selling it in was too expensive and impractical. In the third year, I found a way that made it easy to buy, transport and frame. I refined the artwork itself much more than my earlier crude efforts too. That event boosted my confidence and kickstarted my career working on Muslim-oriented creative projects. I also made a whole bunch of contacts and it got me thinking about international events that I started attending the following year. After a couple of those larger events, I was able to connect with a huge network of people and, before long, I had some amazing projects coming my way from all around the world.
To think, I was so close to turning away from the kind of creative work that is now at the core of my day! So, to everyone who purchased my artwork & prints from me that day, JazakAllahu Khairun!! Allah is the best of planners.
Note for aspiring entrepreneurs: Did you notice that the ‘problem' itself remained the same during all three attempts (i.e. a lack of contemporary Islamic art & design) but the solution changed. In the startup world, they would call this ‘making a pivot’ - trying different solutions to a well defined problem. You usually need to pivot many times before the finding the best solution and business model. I also needed to understand the customer segments better. This ‘pivot' served me well, so when I attended the large international events, I knew to just smile at the Uncles & Aunties but start conversations with the younger crowds
Tips: Don’t give up easily. The creators of Angry Birds released 51 games unsuccessfully before their mega hit. That is incredible tenacity and dedication. I was ready to give up after 3!
Have you had any failures that you’re trying to turn into success?
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the bigger picture around us. The news gives us so much gloom, doom, suffering and negativity. How can I help when the problems are so huge? That’s when we can follow the Starfish Principle.
Two friends are walking along a beach covered by thousands of dying starfish, who have all washed up on shore. As they walk, one of them picks up a starfish and throws it in the water. He does it again every few steps. The other asks, “Why bother? It doesn't make a difference” and the friend replies, “Well, it made a difference to that one”.
The point is, we do our best with whatever is in our means. There are many awesome creative projects we could each do to help larger issues. And like they say, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
I used to personally and individually reply to all enquiries from my website and Facebook page with advice and resources to many aspiring creatives and entrepreneurs. But as time went on, I realised it was pulling me away from client projects too much and it wasn’t sustainable. There had to be a more effective and creative way.
Consider this: On average you are hit with over 5,000 messages a day, and 25,000 new products a year. There are around 40,000 brands alone in your supermarket.
Yet, many of us never take the time to understand how branding & marketing really works. I believe that if we just get familiar with a few basics, we can be aware of the tools being used on us daily. Even better - we can instead use them for good with our own beneficial brands and ideas.
The logo is not the brand, it is the gateway to the brand. When talking about brands people often think of the logo as the brand. Instead, think of brands as a collection of feelings towards certain products and companies. When I see LEGO advertising, it makes me think of playful experiences, I don't think "Wow, what a great logo, I'll buy that!" Tip: Many small companies and organisations make the mistake of investing in a logo or website without thinking about how to strategically and emotionally engage customers through the right messaging, imagery and a compelling brand story. A unique & memorable design visual identity is important, but only part of what is needed to make a brand compelling. There is a huge difference between "logo design" and "branding strategy".
The product is not the brand either. You will never see an advertisement for Coca-Cola saying “We sell sugar-packed black liquid!” Instead, they will try to create a story or campaign message. For Coke, it might involve trying to make the product 'cool' - a beautiful beach scene with people smiling and drinking Coke. This it's a typical coded message that our nafs (ego) may subconsciously decode as “If I drink Coke I will be happy like them!” even if our conscious knows better. It might even by association with certain celebrities or product placement in movies (think Volvo in Twilight) - over time all of these have an effect on our feelings towards a brand, regardless of the product itself. Tip: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (facts and features).
Positioning is the heart of branding. I remember this lesson form my first year of design school many years ago. You’re thirsty and need to buy a bottle of water. Do you buy the cheap brand or the more expensive brand with the cool bottle? Hmmm... alright, let’s save the money. DING! It doesn’t matter what you choose, both are owned by Coca-Cola and they’ve got your money either way. One brand is intentionally designed to look ‘cheap/value' and the other one designed to look more expensive - it’s just the one company using positioning to differentiate in our minds. Did you know that the Unilever corporation that owns Dove, famous for its advertising celebrating ‘normal’ females, also uses terrible stereotypes of females when advertising it’s Axe brand? Both are hygiene products with similar functional purpose but the brands are positioned very differently for different audiences. Tip: Clearly define and communicate your brand's unique offering and personality. What makes you different?
Brand experiences win: Did people go crazy for Angry Birds because it had a great logo or great advertising? No, it was because it was a fun, simple and addictive gaming experience (and did you know that company had over 51 failed games before it was a hit?). When you walk into an Apple store, do you feel this is a bargain basement shop for cheap computers? No, it’s full of cool-looking stuff, young people and products that make you feel differently about the Apple experience. "We are not in the business of making boxes" Steve Jobs said, in one of my favourite videos, driving the brand with a remarkable vision. Tip: Successful brands will think hard about every single touchpoint their potential customers might interact with, and try to make it a memorable, enjoyable and engaging experience through the entire journey.
Authenticity wins: People trust the brands that resonate with their values best, they believe in them, and build relationships over time. A brand like Hadith of the Day was created to inspire people every day with wisdom, not to make huge profits for shareholders at the expense of others. Tip: People will see through shallow marketing efforts. An honest, personal approach to business has always worked for me alhumdulillah.
This post is inspired by Marketing guru Seth Godin
If you saw a Buraq (winged creature in the Islamic tradition), you would stop in your tracks! Wow, a Buraq! But, if you saw them every day, you’d probably stop noticing them as much. Until one day if you saw a bright purple Buraq, then you would stop and say, "Wow! A Purple Buraq!"
The same is true with a remarkable brand. Remarkable means, “worth making a remark about” - and it might be to your friends, family, colleagues or people on your social media networks in your tribe/community - who would then also say, "Wow!", and tell their friends. A remarkable brand generates strong word-of-mouth, which is the ultimate marketing channel.
Is it remarkable? If you’re developing a product, brand, experience or creative campaign, try to make sure it’s remarkable, and that you have something truly unique. Every business needs a 'Unique Value Proposition' (UVP/USP) but many people underestimate how important that actually is. How can you tell if your brand is remarkable? How do you know you have a Purple Buraq?
How can I be sure? Determine if your idea is just 'better sameness' or is it 'disruptive'? Too many people make assumptions without testing and it leads to failure. I recommend and use the Lean Startup methodology and tools like the Lean Canvas to validate ideas to make sure they unique & remarkable enough for real people to be so impressed they tell others. (Like me telling you about this free course for startups, it's amazing!)
Have I got the basics right? If you have a truly remarkable product, make sure it isn't let down by poor design, packaging or ineffective online experience. I once had incredible coffee in Indonesia but the packaging was so terrible that people would never trust it. Also try to launch with a strong strategic creative campaign that clearly communicates your point of difference to a niche audience. The response from that group should be "Wow! I’m going to tell my friends/tribe about this right now!"
What products or brands experiences were so amazing you had to tell your friends or colleagues?
There are so many precious gems and jewels to be found in the works of Rumi, a 13th-century poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. One passage that has always inspired me deeply is:
"Load the ship and set out. No one knows for certain whether the vessel will sink or reach the harbour. Cautious people say, “I’ll do nothing until I can be sure." Merchants know better. If you do nothing, you lose. Don’t be one of those who won’t risk the ocean."
In it we find beautiful timeless advice for entrepreneurs and change-makers in every generation. To me, it basically instills the courage to try, and be bold. If you have a great idea, say Bismillah and go for it.
Rumi’s words have inspired millions over the centuries and is one of highest-selling poets in the United States.