We met with Melin on a typical Welsh rainy day at her home, where she welcomed us with an aromatic Turkish coffee and shared with us her creative exploits in Turkey and her journey to become a graphic designer and the host of Creative Mornings in Cardiff. Bracing ourselves for the moody weather, we ventured together on a brisk walk around Roath Park and her old neighbourhood whilst chatting about her passion for transcultural and multifaceted design and what her ideal recipe for branding would be.
Who is Melin, the creative mind behind ME Design Studio?
I’m a graphic designer that has a huge passion for branding and currently very indulged in web/digital design and a bit of social media. As my best friend describes me I’m a soup of different cultures; Turkish, Nigerian and now a bit of British/Welsh. I believe this is where the crazy comes in. I’ve discovered I’m very outspoken, too direct and too frank for the Brits. Even after years of being here I still get the odd “what the hell is she on about” look.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I remember waking up early on Sundays as a family, going out for a walk to buy eggs and newspapers, coming back home putting some music on and preparing breakfast. Mostly involving making our signature omelettes to the beats and of course followed by a long chilled breakfast. Oh, and dancing around while cooking, which I still do to this day.
When and how did you become interested in design?
Possibly later than I would have liked to. In high school I didn’t enjoy maths or literature even though I ended up choosing them as my subjects to study. So I was searching myself, trying to understand what I enjoyed. I remember realising that I was intrigued by advertising. I found myself wondering what type of people came up with those ideas for commercials, who got to choose the colours or the actors etc. That is when I realised this was the sort of thing that interested me, that excited me.
Can you talk us through your career path to the point where you are now?
Actually it started with me coming to the UK. Luckily my aunt didn’t assume I would want to carry on doing my Maths & Literature and she asked me what I would like to do. And of course I said advertising or graphic design so she helped me find a college where I was introduced to graphic design. I studied there for 2 years then moved on to my university degree. It was one of the most challenging things I had to do. Graphic design is so interconnected with culture, pretty much everything we do is based on connotations, and I knew nothing about the British culture. This made my journey very difficult, but I made it, eventually! I say eventually because I’ve been told I was shit so many times at university. But I really didn't feel like giving up and running home crying.
Straight after university I went back to Turkey and worked in a couple of design & advertising agencies and realised that I wanted to be back in the UK. When I came back, I landed in a job in London with the company that created the branding for Pret a Manger and Hoxton Hotel. It’s here where I’ve gained a lot of experience in restaurant branding. After that I started freelancing until I had a job offer in an advertising agency in Istanbul. So, I packed up and left again! This was a great experience for me because I got trained as an art director and worked with global brands like Ferrero. This is when I got to develop my digital skills, both on web design and social media. I had the chance to launch Ferrero’s brands Nutella, Tic Tac & Kinder’s first social media pages and manage them, which was very exciting and very demanding at the same time.
The rest is history. I mean really history as I had to flee Turkey because of a theatre project I was involved in as a designer and social media manager. Sounds really difficult to believe. Consequently, we decided to move to Wales with my friends who are the core creative team behind this project, now Be Aware Productions. We always get asked “Why Wales?” and it is crazy but the truth is the writer of the the play has always been in love with Wales and this was a great chance to take that risk and live in a place that was obviously safer and easier to live than London. Since arriving in Cardiff and getting over that traumatic experience I carried on running Me Design. I began to attend a lot of design events out of the need of making friends in the industry in Cardiff. It worked out great for me! I ended up meeting people from the CreativeMornings Cardiff team, and I have since been passed on the hosting duty last year.
So now I’m running CreativeMornings in Cardiff, working with Illustrate Digital designing websites and running Me Design working with brands. Well they say “Every next level of your life will demand a different version of you…” I found that to be very true...
You have also worked as a graphic designer in Turkey. Tell us about your time in Turkey and your experience with the Turkish approach to design and business.
Graphic design and advertising are still relatively new in Turkey as an industry. They all blend in with each other. The general public hardly knows the difference between printers and design agencies. Although like everything else it is growing and changing. However this affects the approach to design in the corporate world. Turkish people are hot blooded, I’ve found that this reflects on to client, agency, designer relationships. Client expects speed from you, which also means we don’t get time to plan and test, or work out a strategy. And if we do, everything gets done very quickly. Nevertheless it is exciting and far from monotonous. I feel that here in the UK people respect that you have expertise on your subject and are more willing to listen and collaborate with you, this can be a little tricky in Turkey.
Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you approach a new project and what are the first steps you take as a Design Director?
I always start with a conversation, face to face if possible, video call if not. This is important for me because it’s the only way to understand the client’s needs clearly, quickly and start a relationship, a mutual understanding. Some clients know exactly what they need, but might be missing a key piece. Other clients don’t know what they need at all. I help them figure it out and put a plan together to help them achieve their goals. I begin by asking ‘why?’. There is a strong message to deliver when we know why we exist.
How do you select your collaborators and what are your strengths as a team of creatives?
It all really depends, when I’m working on the idea or the concept of a project I intuitively know what style would make that idea come alive. I start having conversations on the concept with the illustrator or the photographer and then almost spontaneously it becomes a collaboration. We will then continue to shape the idea together. Of course the client and the budget is very important too. When clients take these type of suggestions well and go with it, it makes the project a lot more fun and interesting!
What was the most exciting project you have worked on so far?
Mi Minor ‒ an interactive theatre play. This project really was the most exciting in so many ways. First of all I had complete freedom in terms of design, and that was great as it sounds but it was also quite challenging. Designers are really used to having set briefs, so when we don’t, starting the project can be difficult but I was lucky because as the creative team we were also very good friends.
Then the play itself, it was the first of its kind in the sense that it was an interactive play that could also be played as an RPG and followed through social media. This meant that the production relied heavily on digital mediums. We live-streamed each performance and the public were given a chance to interact with each other as well as the Mi Minor team & actors online. So I was there for each performance heading up the social media table, managing the digital side of the play together with the writer of the play, Meltem Arikan.
Then the excitement grew, this time in a negative way. We as the team behind the play got accused of rehearsing and training young people for the Gezi Park Protests that took part in 2013, in Istanbul. We became the target of a massive media hate campaign, against all of us individually. The writer and the director of the play was under serious threat, so eventually we had to leave the country. So yeah, Mi Minor will always be a milestone and a remarkable project that I worked on.
How would you define the ME Design Studio aesthetic?
Simple & honest. I don’t believe in trends or having one particular style. Styles go out of fashion but ideas don’t. So I’m happy as long as there is an idea behind the work. This doesn’t mean it won’t have a style, what matters to me is the idea and to be able to communicate clearly and honestly.
What about its branding philosophy?
First of all, I believe that the brand needs to be honest with itself, and then with its audience. This also means being real and being realistic. This is the only way to know how you differ or not differ from the others. I also believe that everything we do needs to have a purpose. Ideally there should be a strategy behind all branding communications, but we all know this is very very idealistic. I don’t know if this is a philosophy or not but let’s say my ideal recipe for branding would be: honesty, purpose and planning.
In your opinion, what makes a good design?
A design that communicates well, wishfully with a clever little idea.
For those who are not yet familiar with CreativeMornings, what is the concept behind it and how did you came to be involved with Creative Mornings Cardiff?
CreativeMornings (CM) is a monthly breakfast lecture series. It’s a free event where people can get together and share breakfast and smiles with a cup of coffee! I became involved 3 years ago, when I realised that I’ve been in Cardiff for almost a year but didn’t know many other designers or what was happening in the industry in South Wales. I was looking for ways to meet new people in my field. I came across an event called Design Stuff Cardiff ran by now a good friend Dan Spain. Through this event and Twitter I found Steve Dimmick and asked him to have coffee, and he suggested I could be involved in the social media of CM and introduced me to Sarah who is the founder of CM Cardiff. After working with Sarah for 2 years she handed it over to me! There we are!
What do you think is driving the transformation of the arts and culture scene in the city?
Cardiff is full of people, who are happy to be here, appreciate the city, good at what they do, passionate about what they do, therefore happy to share the love. I think this humility, generosity, and friendliness is a big drive, I really don’t think it is money or competition like most of the big cities. I think it is just wanting to do good work, also enjoy doing it. I absolutely love this city! It’s the kindest, cutest place I’ve lived in. I’m really happy that I can be involved in the creative community here and that i can support it. I hope I’m able to give something back bit by bit.
Who do you admire in your industry?
1) Barbara Kruger for spreading perfectly put together feminist messages with her distinctive style. So simple and so powerful, I love it! 2) Paula Scher for her remarkable work with type. She has been rocking the design world since 90’s. 3) Tina Roth-Eisenberg of Swiss Miss for starting CreativeMornings, for creating and facilitating such amazing communities, that does great things together and globally. 4) Jessica Walsh for kicking ass as a company director to one of the biggest design agencies at such an early age. She got so many rumours about how she landed on that job as she is a woman who went straight to the top, (and we all know how rare that is) but she earned it, she worked hard and used her intelligence from an early age. And that’s the only truth behind it.
What does a typical workday in the life of the Design Director of ME Design look like?
I’m currently contracted with a digital agency called Illustrate Digital. I spend most of my time these days designing for web. I do still keep my branding projects running with my design assistant Esma. So a typical day really varies for me. I could be sat in the office all day designing on a computer, or having meetings with clients, online meetings or phone calls, running around for CM related commitments, or pushing myself to be more experimental on projects by using my ink, nibs and brushes. To sum up, I switch roles throughout the day and run around! I love it and love makes you do crazy things, like I have no idea why I’m doing so much!
What keeps you driven?
Life and all the things I want to do, all the things that excite me. It’s great that most of the things that excite me are related to design somehow. The idea of being able to help people through the things I am qualified to do. Not in a “saving the world” capacity of course, but helping people through my knowledge and design skills to improve their businesses, their projects and their ideas. Love keeps me driven too. Being in love is beautiful, being surrounded by people you love and trust is special. It’s the best way to enjoy life.
What would be your the dream project?
A project that involves travelling, and a project that pushes me into trying new things and interacting with new people. Also working with people I admire would be dreamy.
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
It is definitely by Meltem Arikan. She is the most influential woman in my life and also like a big sister I never had. She has said so many things that changed me that it’s difficult to choose the best piece of advice from her. She has basically taught me how to stop being my own worst enemy, and how to stop criticising myself by comparing myself to others, so I could start to create freely. I realised I was torturing myself in order to get to this thing called ‘success’. In reality, who defines success? What defines success?
Where is one most likely to find you when you are not at ME Design Studio?
Illustrate office or where I call my family home!
When it comes to personal living space, how would you describe your style?
Contemporary grandma, with splashes of colour and always beautiful things to look at. I love vintage interiors, floral patterns, furniture with curves. I’m obsessed with old tea cups and plates with patterns on them. But I like mixing all these delicate, beautiful vintage objects with contemporary furniture and styles.
What are your favourite places to hang out in Cardiff?
What do you do to relax?
Relaxing? Hmmm… Breakfast & films in bed, going for long walks, dancing, making love, cooking for my hubby, spending time with friends (and not necessarily in that order).
What’s next for ME Design?
Currently working on that, probably doing more Cardiff/Wales based branding projects, and creating more opportunities for collaborations. I’m taking a break and going on honeymoon, where i will shower myself with sun, swim and read… and do literally nothing else. Yes, a digital detox! When I’m back I will be fully back on a new strategy do more exciting work!
What about your personal dream and ambitions?
Definitely to travel more. I’ve always lived away from my family, spending most of my years travelling between the UK and Turkey which left no room for travelling to other countries. It’s now time to catch up. Also to grow the physical space I have for work and have a larger space where me and my husband can have a studio/atelier together.