Salwa Najafi is an Interior and Product Designer based in the UAE. Having been interested in art from an early age, she was eventually drawn to design and is now Assistant Professor and Mentor at American University Dubai, and a Founder with a keen interest in sustainable design.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
From a young age, I had an exceptional amount of interest in art. I got exposure to the world of creative thinking from my brother's work in marketing. This allowed me to learn more about the power of design from product to customer experience. In subsequent years my interest grew beyond sketching pads and paints into a deeper curiosity of the process of ideation and creation. Ultimately, this obsession evolved into academic endeavours and then a full-time profession, allowing me to do what I love for a living.
What kind of work does your role involve?
As an interior and product designer, my work focuses on finding inspiration to create unique and experiential concepts for interiors whilst researching innovative routes to achieve form and function in products.
What gets you excited about your industry?
Design is too often portrayed as either a visual form of our environments (interiors and buildings) or a commodity we purchase (furniture or products). In both instances, design is put forward as a noun. However, to truly define design is to look at its impact. Design is a verb - an action - it is about improving our world.
What motivates me as a designer is to transform design from a commodity to something with purpose that can move a community forward.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
"Know your audience."
For any successful design, it's crucial to understand the user needs of the space. We all experience colours, textures, and proportions visually as well as psychologically. I've learned to use design elements as instruments to convey the required emotion within the space.
What, or who inspires you?
I'm inspired by research and history. Exploring the unique opportunity and responsibility design has to shape the future and present of our built environments and its impacts.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I enjoy engaging with new suppliers and designers to learn more about up-and-coming fabrication solutions and methods. Furthermore, as an assistant professor and mentor at American University in Dubai, I'm always inspired by the students' fresh and creative thinking.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
Navigating the challenges of 2020 on businesses across a plethora of industries has definitely been complex. However, it also allowed for companies and individuals like myself to re-focus on their driving purpose.
I've been working with Dr Mariam Ketait (an Emirati doctor and a public well-being strategist) on launching our furniture collection. Our collection aims to create spaces and pieces that cultivate a balanced lifestyle - to merge work and play. The sensory-focused details are designed to cater to a diverse audience (commercial and at-home work solutions). Together, we've adapted to the current challenges and continued to move forward with solutions to the hurdles. We're engaging in a series of projects with global brands to work with inclusive spaces while maintaining sustainability and the UAE's deep, rich heritage as main pillars to our identity.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I'd like to invest in and help with "biomanufacturing" especially in the UAE. Bio manufacturers are making leaps in developing sustainable fabrication and materials by partnering with nature today to create tomorrow's building blocks.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I spend a lot of my off time outside with my two young nephews, surrounded by nature and getting inspired not only by wildlife but also my nephews' inhabited imaginative world.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
I hope we continue to design and build our world with consciousness for a green future, whilst celebrating the lessons from our heritage and culture.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Yi-Fu Tuan's humanist study about Space and Place is a book I would recommend. The central aim of the study examines the "Space" and "Place" — the "basic components of the lived world" — within the perspective of experience. The core theme of my work is influenced by Yi-Fu's study — how humans experience and understand the world.
How should people connect with you?
I love to engage with other designers and suppliers from the industry so please feel free to contact me on my website www.salwanajafi.com,
or directly through Instagram (@salwanajafi) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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