Depths of a Designer
D i s c o v e r i n g A b u b a k i r O . B a l f a q i h
Abubakir’s fifteen years of experience in visual communication is vast and clear. From branding and packaging to 3D modelling and animation, Abubakiris, as his colleagues and friends have branded him, “a walking production house.” For those of us who do not know Abubakir, it is only through walking the same path he’s trailed that we can begin to understand him as both a person and a multimedia/visual communication mogul. I must admit to having had quite a few conjectures about my interview with abubakir, as i walked into his studio at b&avcc (visual communication consultants). But my preconceptions were brought to a surprising end when i saw what lay before me. There it was, a vulnerable, yet strikingly sensitive portrait of a little girl staring right into my eyes. All judgment and stylistic scrutiny was driven out of my mind in order to accept what was purely captivating and personally touching. Through the eyes of this girl, i witnessed a spirit in abubakir’s work I had not encountered before
I MUST ADMIT TO HAVING HAD QUITE A FEW CONJECTURES ABOUT MY INTERVIEW WITHABUBAKIR, AS I WALKED INTO HIS STUDIO ATB&A VCC (VISUAL COMMUNICATIONCONSULTANTS). BUT MY PRECONCEPTIONSWERE BROUGHT TO A SURPRISING END WHEN ISAW WHAT LAY BEFORE ME. THERE IT WAS, AVULNERABLE, YET STRIKINGLY SENSITIVEPORTRAIT OF A LITTLE GIRL STARING RIGHTINTO MY EYES. ALL JUDGMENT ANDSTYLISTIC SCRUTINY WAS DRIVEN OUT OF MYMIND IN ORDER TO ACCEPT WHAT WAS PURELYCAPTIVATING AND PERSONALLY TOUCHING.THROUGH THE EYES OF THIS GIRL, IWITNESSED A SPIRIT IN ABUBAKIR’S WORK IHAD NOT ENCOUNTERED BEFORE.
To Abubakir, talent is only the first step to gaining ground as a professional designer, “When you have a clear vision of how far you want to go, you need to make the right choices from the beginning in order to get there.
” He resigned from BBDO, an advertising firm, after only two days of work in order to seek amore exciting opportunity at Saudi Sign Supply, a local printing press. He admits that the move was unorthodox, but was one of the best and most important decisions of his career.
“Even though the job was no walk in the park, the experience was exhilarating,” he adds. Success, to Abubakir, is not defined by working for a high profile company; it’s defined by what experience you gain to become a successful high profile individual. Treading towards the path of success requires a certain level of guts, and Abubakir seems to possess that in abundance. The next venture on his quest for knowledge took him all the way to Malaysia. “I left the security of a steady job in Saudi and decided to move to Kuala Lumpur for a SR. 2,700 per months alary. I joined Click Graphics, where I learnt how to work as a true multimedia designer. When I finally returned, my value in the market tripled to what it was before I had left.” Abubakir emphasized the importance of getting out of his comfort zone to expand his skills and knowledge.
Abubakir O. Balfaqih
At a certain point, he decided to take another calculated risk and put his skills, knowledge and discipline to the test. On how his company B&Awas first started, Abubakir comments, “I started out with nothing more than a blue Toshiba laptop at Starbucks and SR. 200,000, which is what Ihad earned over the past few years. Today, I have over 10 employees. AlHamdulilah, I’m doing well and the company’s value has shot up tremendously in less then five years.”
When asked what he had to say to those who labeled him as having “expensive work”, his answer was simple: “ They usually start out by saying that. Then they’ll follow-up with a comment about how one cannot be cheap and expect to get quality. At the end of the day, I see the industry’s positive response to my work and the impact it has had. You know you’re on the right track when people want to either copy, debate or challenge your work.”
In order to fulfil his mission of raising design standards locally, Abubakir takes time out of his, average 12hour-a-day schedule to teach and conduct training sessions for graphic designers. “Teaching is very important to me. I believe that passing knowledge is an essential part of personal and social development.” Education is not unfamiliar ground for Abubakir. His older brother, Ahmed, was a teacher and his forefathers taught and wrote books on Fiqh (religious knowledge) -as his family name Balfaqih suggests.
The passionate mission:
It’s no secret that Abubakir has his own philosophy on design principles. You can often hear other designers call him “The Anti-concept,” or “Antirational Guy”. He firmly points out that such assumptions are not true, “Concepts are very important, especially when we need to develop a full ad campaign. On the other hand, design does not always need to start with a concept or rational; the rational or concept might find its way into the design at a later stage.”
He reveals, “I looked at some of my grandfather’s books that were passed down to me from my father. Everything in them was thought of and executed to perfection. At that point, I realized that thinking to perfection is a concept that has almost disappeared from the mindset of modern Muslims. I then felt responsible to carry that same700 year-old legacy and pass it down to others by personally living their values and teaching others to treat their work with dedication. ”As part of his on-going effort to educate and encourage upcoming talent, Abubakir has release a series of three books, B- the Book, The 5thIllustration Design Showcase B2 and GAT (Graphic Advertising Tips). All of these books showcase local talent and give tips on creative thinking and approaches. Most of all, these reference books are the first of their kind in Saudi Arabia.
On a spiritual note:
Abubakir defends his sense of perfectionism by sharing an alternate point of view on how faith should influence design; “I don’t have to show Arabesque symbols and Islamic calligraphy to show the influence of faith in my work. I’d rather practice Islamic values when I work with people. For example, I make sure that I perfect everything I do. Just as the Prophet’s saying goes: God loves those of you who work to perfection.”
Abubakir gives an example of how he exercises that influence, “Whenever, I take on a project, I make sure that I exceed the amount of effort I would normally put in by challenging myself and focusing on the details. This is how, I as a designer, can show the influence of faith on design. Talent will only get you to the foot of the door; discipline will keep you inside. Every Muslim should remember this fact. Unfortunately, many of us here seem to skip that part.”
There is, however, that other side of Abubakir; that side that has manifested it self through the eyes of the little girl whose photograph had initially captivated me.
What had brought on this sudden shift from the graphically complex to the emotionally gripping, especially in the photographic series, The Passionates? What is it about his work that stops his critics from analysing how and allowing them to just appreciate the experience for what it?
“I always look for what’s missing in the environment around me and try to address it. The series you’re looking at was an idea I created after taking an unsatisfied look at the life less and boring studio work I’ve been seeing around.”
More importantly, Abubakir reveals, “it’s probably a reflection of what I’ve been trying to do with my work for a long time. I’ve always been interested in exposing the soul and spirit of each piece I make. Whenever others see a part of themselves in my work, I know that I have brought out the soul in my piece. When I see other work with no life or depth, I feel that the artist or designer has not sent an honest message.”
The Perspective on it all:
Strolling through the mind and spirit of Abubakar’s a journey filled with complex answers framed in simple expressions. His track record as a designer and a businessman displays a firm ability to overcome obstacles and to influence those of us who seem to be lost in the details.
He has always been a restless designer with distaste for conformity. Yet today, Abubakir’s identity has evolved to paint a more content, expressive and emotional portrait of an inner child living his dream.