Kulsum Karolia's positive work shows why it pays to be a multidisciplinary designer

Manchester School of Art graphic design graduate and illustrator Kulsum Karolia has been blending mediums and disciplines to create work that leaves a positive impact. As well as being professionally rewarding, she claims that a multidisciplinary approach allows her to "raise greater awareness and make a change."

"Working on projects that involve social and environmental issues help to push me as a designer," Kulsum tells Creative Boom. And she should know. Her list of clients include the refuge gardening non-profit Lemon Tree Trust, plus she has created campaigns to raise awareness of ocean plastic and a publication that connected creators during the pandemic.

"I want my work to have a positive impact," she adds. "When I'm dealing with real-world problems, I want my projects to have that extra edge so that they carry a greater significance. Design is a powerful tool, and when done right, it can have a huge impact."

To help make this positive impact, Kulsum relies on her multidisciplinary skill set, which mixes analogue and digital design. However, she didn't always view this approach as a strength. "When anyone looks through my portfolio or my website, they see quite a mixed bag of work which I previously saw as a negative," she explains. "Many designers have a particular interest, style or niche, and I felt like I needed to find one by the time I left university."

However, it was art director Luke Tonge who told Kulsum that being a multidisciplinary designer was a blessing, not a curse. He pointed out that for young designers, this adaptability can be a real benefit and that there is still time for creators such as Kulsum to specialise as they develop and gain experience. "There is nothing wrong with having more than one interest and style of working," she says. "Although I have discovered and been told that I am quite a hands-on designer."

This hands-on approach can be seen in her work for the Lemon Trust, where her digital expertise collided with her practical know-how to create a stop motion animation celebrating the power of gardening. "Being able to work with both mediums allows you to express your ideas and concepts in the ways that you think will work best, she says. "You don't feel restricted because there are a lot more possible outcomes of where you can take a project."

Design is a powerful tool, and when done right, it can have a huge impact.

"When I worked on my project for the Lemon Tree Trust, I chose to work mostly hands-on because I wanted to reflect the way in which we garden. I wouldn't have been able to express this as effectively if I'd worked digitally."

To keep pushing herself as a designer, Kulsum stays active within the creative community and works on side projects to keep her brain engaged. "I found that working on side projects allow me to develop my skillset and learn more about myself as a designer, which is always useful when it comes to taking on the next challenging project."

For example, when being asked to draw illustrations for editorials, Kulsum finds that she still thinks with her graphic design hat on. "I want my illustrations to carry meaning even if what they're trying to say isn't obvious," she says. "I like that I can hide little pockets of stories within the illustrations which some people won't understand until I tell them, and then they'll say 'oh yes it totally makes sense' or 'I understand why you did that'."


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