DIGITAL ARTIST / DESIGNER
Fizah is a Design Director and the other half of Machineast, a collective brand formed with her partner, Rezaliando in September 2014. Her work with Machineast has been very well received internationally, leading her to set her very own career path. Machineast has been getting a lot of attention from international brands and worldwide collaborators. Fizah has also lead various design teams, working with some of the biggest brands such as Sony, Nickelodeon, MTV, Ministry of Sound Australia, and many more. Having a very extensive experience in the creative industry for ten years, she is one of the prominent figures in Singapore.
Describe your path to where you are today.
I was born in a small town in Sandakan, Sabah. There was nothing much going on there. Just the jungle, crocodile farm and Sepilok (Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre). I always rode my bicycle with my friends in the neighbourhood to go to the jungle or swim near the public pool around my house. Life was simpler back then. There was no big brands like McDonalds or Starbucks. So growing up, I never knew about brands and how it affected consumers’ lives but I learnt a lot about culture. My family moved a lot when I was younger too. It was hard for us to be stuck at one place for a long time. I remember that we had days on the road and I spent them reading or observing everything around me. New town, meeting new people and gaining new experiences. I notice now that one of my creative triggers is being on a road trip. There’s that sense of serenity on the road which helps me to come up with new ideas.
How did you pick design as a career path?
In high school, I wanted to be in art stream instead of science but both of my parents were not keen on me doing art and in order to change your stream, you have to have written consent from your parents. To my parents, you need a solid conventional career to earn a living and design was not one of them.
Ironically, my mum was actually the one who inspired me to do design. She taught me many things like paper mockups, how to sew and things like arts and craft but she never saw art and design as a career path. I liked drawing ever since I was young. So in school I would usually draw on my textbooks and notebooks. Eventually, a few of my classmates saw me drawing characters of a hijab girl. One of my friends then commissioned me to draw a character of her in the same style that I drew the hijab girl. So I did. She then paid me 5 bucks for it. After that, other kids started asking me to draw their characters as well and paid me for it and soon, I didn’t have to pay for my lunch money for a few weeks. That’s when I knew, you can actually get paid doing art or design!
“We believe that if you don’t like something and leave it hanging without any reason, it will become an argument. But if you tell the reason to how we could make it better and how we can fix it, you could find that common ground together.”
Was there a point in your life when you felt like giving up? When was that?
When I was a junior designer, I was working day and night for months until I woke up with a pain in my chest one day. It was hard to breathe properly and I thought I was dying. SARS was going on around the same time so I thought probably I was one of the victims. So dramatic! (laughs)
I went to the hospital to have a health check. I had a thorough x-ray as well as other medical check up. The doctor then asked me what I do for a living. I then said, motion graphic designer. He then told me I was having heartburn and somehow due to stress and lack of rest, my lungs couldn’t contract properly. He then told me to stop working long hours and to focus on my health more. He said proper sleep is essential in keeping a healthy life.
I questioned why I was doing this. But the thing is, “If not this, what else can I do?”. I mean, it was a long struggle to convince my parents that design is the thing I’m passionate about. I worked and bled for it and why stop now, right? At that exact moment, I was thinking that maybe I should do something about my work/life balance. I was totally burned out. I wanted to quit so badly. I even changed to producing for a few months.
How did you get back again and decide to continue?
I got back to doing design because when I was producing, I was so unhappy. More unhappy than the time that I had contracted the heartburn. I had a long thought about my career. Should I pursue web design or motion graphic? So I sat there looking at the FWA and Motionographer. I had goosebumps when I was looking at the great motion pieces so I picked motion graphic route. I also learned how to be more productive by focusing on finishing my task faster and more skillfully. As a result, it is easier for me to manage my time and lead a healthier lifestyle.
"I notice now that one of my creative triggers is being on a roadtrip. There's that sense of serenity on the road which helps me to come up with new ideas."
“One of my friends then commissioned me to draw a character of her in the same style that I drew the hijab girl. So I did. She then paid me 5 bucks for it. ... That’s when I knew,
you can actually get paid doing art or design!”
Machineast has been gaining a lot of exposure lately with your personal projects. How important is personal work to you and what benefits did you get from doing it?
I do enjoy problem solving for clients when I do my commercial work. However, after years of doing it, I had this underlying need to create something just purely for myself. My passion really is in design. I love the process of creating something that you have visualised in your mind and translating it into an artwork. Ando and I decided to collaborate as a collective and called ourselves Machineast. I felt that it was the right thing to do for my sanity. It’s not our first time collaborating. We have been collaborators ever since 2002 when we were studying together. So, this is a very natural process for both of us. We decided to create things that we love. Exploring and experimenting with techniques and workflows that we can’t do when we are working on commercial projects; to create design as an artform solely for yourself. However, what we did not anticipate was the feedback and love received from our personal projects. I am extremely grateful for that.
Machineast is design in an artform. Why do people paint? Why do people write music when they are not musician? It is the same thinking that Machineast is something that Ando and I do just for the sake of having fun doing it.
We now have people coming to us asking us to do something for them because of the work that they saw. It is really different now that people come telling us they like Rainbow Paper or Molecular Blob. “Can you do something for us as a collaboration? It is something that we want but it will be your own concept, idea and style.” We are free to do whatever we want. (laughs..)
“... if you look past that and put yourself outside and try to evaluate your work from another perspective, you will get better. You will learn how to balance fighting for what you believe is right and deciding to listen to critiques.”
Have you ever fought when working together with Ando?
Designers have this ego that is somehow a mechanism to protect their artwork. So it is quite easy to fall into that defensive mode when people give you suggestions. I believe most designers would understand this. (laughs)
We are lucky that we have known each other since 2001. Ando and I have healthy discussions and not argument because we know each other so well. We have these discussions to make our work better. We are also very honest in giving criticism and feedback to each other. If there is something wrong, we will just say to each other “This does not seem right.” and the other person would go “Why do you think so?”. Afterwards the other person would elaborate on why it is not right and give suggestions as well into solving the problem with the artwork.
We believe that if you don’t like something and leave it hanging without any reason, it will become an argument. But if you tell the reason to how we could make it better and how we can fix it, you could find that common ground together.
What is your thought on community?
I think we need a community that is accessible for everyone. It is supposed to be a fun thing because people are struggling. Even when I was younger, I wanted to be a real, good designer but nobody could help me and guide me. If I had someone, or a community that could help and guide me throughout my career, that would be great!
There is no community to market to create awareness of motion graphics locally. In other countries, people know if you say you are a designer. It is different. When I said i was a designer to them they would be like "Oh My God! That is amazing. You create something out of nothing! You make things beautiful!" They have a high respect for designers.
But where I come from, they would be like, "Oh you design? Because you are lazy and you don't know how to study well. You did not do well in school." But that is not the point. I think people do not understand that design is important. If design was not there, then you wouldn't want to buy an iPhone.
“After a while, I feel that there is too much noise in the world when everything is accessible. It is so noisy that you will get more confused if you get too much. You consume too much and never produce anything. Talking to friends will also give me new ideas and inspirations.”
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
This is a very big question! I guess I would want people to know that there are many talented designers here in South East Asia. Singapore is a great place for art and design. There are a lot of great designers here and there is a level of respect that comes with it.
Is there anything you wish you would have known when you were starting out?
Back when I was a young designer, I was slow. Due to that, I tried to absorb everything like a sponge. I would listen to the art directors, creative directors and seniors when they gave feedback on my work. Sometimes it’s very hard to swallow because every designer has their ego. But hey, if you look past that and put yourself outside and try to evaluate your work from another perspective, you will get better. You will learn how to balance fighting for what you believe is right and deciding to listen to critiques.
How do you find inspirations and ideas?
When I was a young designer, I have an archive of my favourite designers/studios work in my computer folders that i’ve collected throughout the years. Internet was slow back then and it took forever to load a video so we had to save them to our PCs for quick reference back. I was also trying to find my own voice and style. So you tried to be technically good like your idols first.
Now, I don’t do that anymore. I hardly visit Vimeo or Motionographer nowadays. When I need inspirations, I will look at other stuff that’s not motion graphics, like photography, interior design, fashion design or architecture. I will look into other things that are not even related to our field because i feel like I wanna create something that I like.
After a while, I feel that there is too much noise in the world when everything is accessible. It is so noisy that you will get more confused if you get too much. You consume too much and never produce anything. Talking to friends will also give me new ideas and inspirations. As I mentioned previously that one of my creative trigger is being on the road. That is inspiring.
Do you read books? Do you have your favourite books? Favourite TV Shows, Movies?
I don’t have a favourite book but I’m currently reading Designing Design by Kenya Hara. I have previously read his other book called White. It is an intriguing read so far. I like how he approaches redesigning design and collaborating with other designers from different backgrounds. Collaboration is an important aspect to help you grow and get inspired as a designer. Besides Kenya Hara’s book, I also bought Singapore Brand Guide which was initiated by Foreign Policy Design showcasing local progressive brands and their designers. I really adore their work and the book is definitely a treat for the eyes.
I’ve also just finished watching season one of Narcos on Netflix. Brilliant title sequence done by Digital Kitchen. Title sequence sets the mood for the show you’re about to watch as well as hinting what it’s all about. I don’t skip the good ones. It’s the same feeling as when I was a kid watching Transformers cartoon opener.
Are you satisfied with where you are today?
I am happy at where I am at the moment. However, I am nowhere near where I aim to be yet. I am still learning but not going to let it tie down to just technical aspect of it. Someone told me before that when you are satisfied, you are stagnant.
What is next for you?
I’ve always wanted to have a design exhibition in the future which could be a platform for collaboration with other designers/artists.
Do you have your mantras or quotes that keep you going?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.” -Mark Twain