AS we go about our busy lives, trying to make ends meet and pay bills and debts, it’s hard to find time for external projects that are done as a labour of love. Yet without such projects, our lives can be rather bland and unchallenging. Having some external passion is crucial for sparking creativity, which in turn can help our careers.
One person who really believes in this is Nizar Musa, an architect by profession who also dabbles in drawing and writing children’s books and writing plays, among other creative pursuits. Upon graduation with an architecture degree from New Zealand, he joined a big architectural firm in KL where he worked at for eight years before striking it out on his own. Walking away from an established company wasn’t an easy decision to make but Nizar hasn’t looked back.
“We do interesting stuff at QID,” he says. “We call our approach identity+design where traditionally-independent disciplines such as graphic design, architecture and interior design, are unified under one banner.”
Nizar talks to Savvy about why he thinks it’s important to have non-work-related external projects and shares his views about creativity.
WHAT DOES QID STAND FOR AND WHAT KIND OF DESIGN FIRM IS IT?
The company was originally named Qoravant Ideas & Design when I founded it in December 2008. At the time, I was looking for another challenge, to explore my interest in other design typologies outside of architecture. This studio was the means to do just that. At first, we took on all manner of design jobs: office interiors, animation, graphic murals, advertorials, corporate identity, car showrooms, etc. Doing so many disparate things was fun until financial realities began to set in. Clearly, being a Jack-of-all-trades wasn’t sustainable. When 2016 rolled by, we decided on a reboot. We shortened our hard-to-pronounce company name to QID and we reworked our processes and business logic to come up with the identity+design concept. We’re now very specific about what we want to do. If you want to know more, visit our website qoravant.com.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT OF IDENTITY+DESIGN AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Our motto, which means to produce design that forms identity, is a rationalisation of the work we do. It incorporates principles shared by many design disciplines. At QID there’s no distinction between logo, building, and any other type of objective design as they all fulfil the same purpose of being articles of identity to their owners. The differences are only in scale and complexity of function, which for us aren’t an issue since we have the experience and know-how. At the end of the day, clients want to see themselves in the design, and that’s what we give them.
CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF IDENTITY+DESIGN IN PRACTICE?
We’ve just completed a retreat in Hulu Langat called Tanah Larwina where we designed the rooms, corporate identity, booklets, website and signages. It was end-to-end, A-to-Z design. The client’s really happy with the results. And for us, it’s immensely satisfying work.
ANY NEW PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON?
QID’s developing a couple of identity projects, one in Singapore, the other Hong Kong. We’ve also been invited to collaborate on the design of an iconic pedestrian bridge in Sepang, which should be interesting. Our Tanah Larwina client is also keeping us on our toes with more additions to their grounds. The quantum of work isn’t huge, but it’s keeping our small firm afloat.
BESIDES YOUR DESIGN JOB, YOU DO OTHER THINGS LIKE ILLUSTRATING AND AUTHORING BOOKS, PLAYWRITING... — ALL INTERESTING STUFF BUT HARDLY BIG INCOME EARNERS — WHY BOTHER?
Honestly, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t doing art of some kind. My earliest memory of drawing was tracing and colouring Donald Duck with my late grandmother. And then there were the books and comics. Mum always encouraged me to read, and I did that. The best part about reading was that these stories transported you somewhere else. That intrigued me, which led to a huge portion of my teenage years spent creating my own comics, writing plays for school, producing fantasy games that my friends could play. My artistic pursuits today don’t make much money but I enjoy doing them.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOU TO DO A RHYME BOOK THE HELPFUL ROBOT?
This was my first book, released last year under my pen-name Unizaru. I’ve always had a passion for science fiction and technology so having a friendly, Made-in-Malaysia robot, in the spirit of C-3PO and R2-D2, seemed like a novel idea. I’m also big on Asian values, respecting your elders, helping other people, etc. That had to be in there, too. I felt a rhyming story will be an interesting approach for a uniquely Malaysian story. It wasn’t easy to do but how often do you get the chance to rhyme English words with char kway teow? I’m currently working on a sequel.
YOU ALSO ILLUSTRATED THE BOOK. WHAT DOES DRAWING DO FOR YOU?
Sketching for me is like opening a tap — twist the handle and out gushes the things I see in my mind. It lets me test any idea, and quickly. A new book character, logo options for a client, a construction detail to solve a frameless glass wall-to-suspended aluminium ceiling intersection. All the magic happens at the end of my pencil.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE EXTERNAL PROJECTS?
It fills you with good energy. Achieving something through your own blood, sweat and tears is empowering and it gives you a tremendous sense of self-worth. And in a corporate world littered with reality checks, short tempers and biting criticism, that self-worth does wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
External projects for me started when I was 12, when in addition to doing my school homework, I was also drawing, making up games and writing stories. I kept at it through high school, university, even after quitting my job and starting QID.
DO YOU THINK MALAYSIAN CREATIVE PROJECTS CAN MAKE IT BIG GLOBALLY?
Best-selling books? TV shows? Movies? Mobile games? It hasn’t happened yet. We’re a creative people but perhaps our mindset prevents us from striving for better and smarter content. I hope to see in my lifetime more Malaysian creatives breaking out internationally. Out with the jaguh kampung mentality, in with the Jack-Ma-All-Conquering attitude. I want to see Malaysians going toe-to-toe with the big boys at a global level. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having success locally or modest success at the Asean level but I believe we can, and should, aspire to greater heights.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CREATIVE MALAYSIAN TALENT GOING ABROAD TO FIND SUCCESS?
Places like the US, China, Taiwan and the UK all have the creative infrastructure, supporting industry, massive fan base and global visibility to attract our best talents, which irks me a little bit because it contributes to the country’s brain drain. But I’d be lying if I said moving abroad has never crossed my mind. I’ve never seriously considered it though because a part of me — perhaps naively — still believes in the potential of finding success without having to uproot myself. What’s really important is for some local heroes to emerge to inspire others. Just like in sports, when one of us wins, everyone wins. And you needn’t look further than Lee Chong Wei for an example of that. His victories have inspired all badminton players.
IS CREATIVITY SOMETHING INHERENT OR CAN IT BE TAUGHT?
I think a bit of both. God-given talent can’t be explained, only appreciated. Yet talent alone can only get you so far. I was born with an innate ability to draw. Yet despite having that natural talent, I was never the top student in architecture school. There was always someone better than me, even though they couldn’t draw as well as I could. But what they couldn’t deliver in that area, they made up for in others.
They built intricate models out of wood and steel and acrylic. They produced 3D animation. They did paintings. They charmed the socks off our tutors with assured, confident presentations. What I’m getting at is that having natural talent doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be more creative than the next guy. Hard work and good old-fashioned commitment to the craft is required to deliver superb results.