For Yemeni Agency Snono, Art is a Part of Business

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 07/20/2017 | 11 Minute Read

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It’s hard enough starting a design agency—but imagine if after nine years in business you picked it up and moved to another country entirely? That’s exactly what Snono did. After leaving Yemen and arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, this agency has thrived even despite the challenges it has faced. We spoke with Abdulrahman H. Jaber, Art Director at Snono to learn more about the history of their studio, the work they do, and what inspires them.

This post is a recurring series where we interview designers and agencies with ties to the countries affected by the immigration ban. This is an effort to promote an understanding of the cultures, and we hope that these insightful Q&As highlight the need for diversity in all aspects of life. If you are or happen to know agencies or designers in any of the included countries, please reach out to us directly:

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First of all, tell us a little bit about Snono and your team.

Abdulrahman: I officially launched Snono around 2006 in Yemen. Initially, it was meant to be a personal project driven by my passion and the love of design. At that time, I just aimed to introduce creativity and sort of an “out of the box” design model in Yemen and make a difference in the industry.

I had no team at that time and I started building it myself, and in a matter of few months I created a team consisted of passionate individuals and creative minds. By 2014 we reached 8 full-time team members including myself. I'm proud to say that we began very small as a design studio providing specified design services, but we eventually settled into a full-service agency serving a wide range of clients, NGOs, and governmental sectors.  

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What is the meaning and importance of the name, “Snono”?

Abdulrahman: Snono is the Arabic name of the swallow which is a small bird and known migrant who is always ready to set off on long journeys. I was looking for a light name that would reflect freedom and movement, yet easy to be pronounced in both Arabic and English. This also related to me wanting to live and experience other cultures and countries. I also think that a good art crosses barriers and migrates everywhere on this planet, and Snono is all about aiming to achieve that.

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Top: images of Sana'a, Yemen; Bottom: images of Istanbul, Turkey.

The agency began in Yemen, however, you have since relocated to Istanbul. What has that adjustment been like?

Abdulrahman: This is true, so far we have been here for about a year and a half. It's wasn't an easy journey—it still isn’t.

First, moving out after 9 years of working in a place where your company and team was built and flourished, to a new place that you literally need to start from scratch is without a doubt tough. It felt as we have started from zero. It was really exhausting to think of ways to regain our confidence, potential, and to network. Also, the fact that we are working in a country where we hadn’t mastered the local language add to this challenge. However, as a team, we didn't allow this to hold us back. We have been heavily engaged in language courses so we can grasp the nature of business here and fully integrate into the industry.  

I am personally grateful for the experience though. Istanbul is an inspiring city that’s filled with rich culture and history. Creativity in design is key aspect in here and in spite of the language barrier, we were fortunate to network and meet with key members of design and art. As a designer, I feel I'm growing and learning by this wide and rich art spectrum around me

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What design philosophy have you adopted at Snono?

Abdulrahman: Connecting art to business is the philosophy we adopted in our company. It is how we process things and get work done with the best ultimate result. We also encourage our clients to express their ideas and share them with us throughout the process. This is a really good way to maintain decent relations with them and achieve better outcomes

What, if any, unique cultural aspects of Yemen make their way into your work?

Abdulrahman: I’d like to think of Yemen as the country of wonders—in every corner there’s a story to be told, in every street’s wall there’s a scribbling to be inspired by. It’s a country where history, rich culture and diversity all meet at once. Generally speaking, this surely has inspired me in many ways and my work was mainly driven by the mixture of the charm of traditions and the modern world today.

Yemen is a country that’s been always portrayed by violence. If the media decides to bring Yemen to the light (which is rarely being done by the way) then they do it through exhibiting images of conflict, as if there’s nothing else to share about Yemen. I am glad that I was able to bring a different narrative about Yemen to the surface through my design work.

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What are the recent design trends you’ve seen popping up where you are?

Abdulrahman: That’s a good question, thank you. But with the rapid changes that are happening in the world today, it would be hard for me to identify one trend in a comparison to another. I can’t define a certain design trend that is dominating the scene. There is a huge diversity in design and each has it’s own audiences and supporters. You could always spot complex designs as well as novice ones in many different styles. Typography designs play a strong role in here and designers (in general) has a good taste in adopting it in their work’s style.  

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an agency? How have you overcome them?

Abdulrahman: In Yemen, one of the biggest challenges was finding and maintaining good designers. We worked with many but it wasn’t good enough, as they didn’t have the needed skills and the creative minds we were looking for.  So we decided to go to universities and education institutes and hire recent graduates. It was time-consuming and wasn’t an efficient methodology for searching for new talents, yet we enjoyed it and we thought that in a way or another we contributed to our society. Also, the conflict in Yemen created an unstable market; businesses kept falling down and that affected us as well. We lost many clients; it was like a huge slap in the face. Again this is why we moved to Turkey.  

When looking for design inspiration, where do you turn? How do you keep the team at Snono inspired?

Abdulrahman: I believe that humans are curious about other humans. Wouldn’t you agree?

I am inspired by people around me, a single conversation can lead to a great idea. I find knowledge sharing is the best source of inspiration too.

I do encourage my team to seek out opportunities of interactions and mingle with those who can feed into their minds things that they had never experienced before. I also keep them inspired by giving them the space they need so they can be challenged and try different things. There is no limit of what they can do and can't. They are aware of that.

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You have a team with a wide variety of talents! How do the different parts of the team work together on a single project?

Abdulrahman: I love the environment of our workspace, we really feel that we are one big family, and the fact that we are various in ages and professional experiences allows for direct mentorship to take place and each learn from the other. That’s something I’m really proud of.

As for our approach to work collectively on a single project, it’s not hard to figure out since we have established a flexible working environment. It goes like this: prior to any new project I ask more than one team member to make some drafts for a certain project (usually based on the previous creative brief). After we define the path with the client, I usually ask one person (unless the project needs more) to be fully in charge of the of the whole project. Of course, this is being done along the supervision of the Art Director but in a way that it doesn’t make him/her feel less controlled.

We also allow our team members to communicate with the clients directly to get feedback and discuss details with them about the project. This is really beneficial.  Given the trust we built within the team, I believe that allowing team members to have a direct connection with clients is a good way to make them care more and act responsibly toward finalizing everything before the deadline.

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Tell us about one of your favorite packaging or branding projects you’ve worked on.

Abdulrahman: One of my favorite projects is titled "Leena.” It was our first packaging project. So that was really an exciting kick off our journey. It was designed for a Yemeni fragrance company manufacturing natural reed diffusers

Leena was inspired and designed based on unique Yemeni ancient illustrations that could be historically witnessed in buildings and architectural spaces in Yemen. It’s really hard to not notice them, especially in less modern houses. The target market for this product was Europe and countries around the world and so I aimed to include a slice of our culture in it.

How do you hope to make people feel through your design work?

Abdulrahman: I always aim to produce something that would trigger attention and that it won’t be easy to grasp at first hand. I want people to feel intrigued and ask questions. I also want them to feel the changes of tests and inspirations as we progress in our work.

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