Interview

Talking to Mirella Arapian: Design, with Purpose.

The impact of design lies far beyond aesthetics. Rather, it manifests in its influence to create brands and products that empower people to keep the interest of society and the planet a priority.

With social justice, climate change, and human rights movements increasingly taking centre stage in public discourse, creative agencies are now thinking of design more critically. There are plenty of constructive lessons to compile from past and current experiences throughout the industry empowering creatives to take better intentional decisions in design. 

This week we sat down with Mirella Arapian, a creative director, an activist, and a founder with an authentic vision and purpose. Specifically, we spoke to Arapian about her perspectives on leading a purpose-driven design studio, positive adaptions in the industry, and the way to move forward.     

Hy Mirella, really nice to e-meet you. Thanks for joining us today to talk about sustainability and branding, and how you see the creative industry going forward in terms of environmental awareness.

Hi Hala! Nice to meet you too and thank you for having me.

Before we start, could you introduce yourself to our readers, and please give an overview of what you do?

Hi everyone. Thanks for taking the time to be here. I’m Mirella, an Armenian-Australian creative director, designer, and mentor. I’m the founder and creative director at Mek, a purpose-driven design studio building future-ready brands with social and environmental impact. I’m the founder and director at Womentor, a global mentorship program for women in graphic design committed to improving gender equality in the design industry. I’m also an animal rights activist and volunteer for various organisations across social justice, animal welfare, and human rights.

In your own words, how would you describe environmentally positive design and branding practices? Do you think the same description applies to individual creatives as well as studios?

 
I would describe it as being hyper-aware of the resources, materials, processes, and systems we use to ensure design and branding practices minimise harm and impact, and extend this to our clients. For example, at Mek we’re conscious of everything brought into the studio. As part of our procurement process, we do our best to avoid products and objects destined for landfill. Our studio materials are plastic-free, cruelty-free, recycled, and biodegradable (where possible). Our food waste is diverted from landfill and composted. Studio furniture is refurbished or upcycled, and our equipment is repaired for as long as lifecycles allow. Our operations are regularly evaluated from an environmental lens to further reduce emissions. In terms of design we only recommend sustainable solutions to our clients across print, packaging, inks, and materials, and partner with trusted suppliers across the latest technologies and innovations for reducing waste and environmental impact through printing processes. On a larger scale, everyone in our industry from individuals to studios and agencies has a responsibility as citizens of our planet to look after it and minimise our harm and impact, and the best and only way we can do this is to design with intent.

Can you tell us about your participation in redesigning The Green Dot*, and how it was received?

Mek was invited by the climate initiative TwoºCreative to redesign the Green Dot* symbol as part of an ongoing campaign within the design industry. We live in Australia so we weren’t really aware of the symbol and The Green Dot initiative but through our research, it became apparent how problematic it really is. We’re so pleased to be involved in the project and hope it leads to positive change through awareness, education, and hopefully The Green Dot rebranding its design misnomer that’s deceptive to consumers who want to do the right thing.

Mek defines itself as a purpose-driven studio that values social and environmental impact. From your time leading the studio, what would you say were the main lessons/takeaways that you gained, and that you’ve taken forward in your journey?

The main lesson I’ve learned is to be unapologetically authentic in everything I do without compromising myself or my values. This has led to attracting the clients and projects we want to work with and building a community of like-minded friends, peers, entrepreneurs, and activists who are passionate about making a positive impact. I wake up every day incredibly grateful and excited to work on projects that help our clients change the world, and I’ll always take that gratitude forward in my journey.

What positive adaptions do you hope to see in the creative industry in terms of sustainability, both in the short and long term?

I truly hope our industry starts questioning the practices and ethics of the clients and companies we work with and using our seats at the table to challenge greenwashing and humane washing.

What interesting collaborations did you see in 2022 around sustainable design? Such as reports, books, initiatives, campaigns, creative designs etc. that you may like to highlight. 

Mek’s creative campaigns to raise awareness of endangered species and slaughterhouse works in collaboration with WWF Australia and PETA Australia respectively.

Nike’s ISPA collaboration with Clarino uses Wabi Sabi vegan suede and leather on its latest releases ISPA Link and ISPA Link Axis, which incorporate three separate pieces that fit together without stitching or adhesives, making them easier for recycling. 

And, while not 2022 but 2019, Jorge Gamboa’s collaboration with National Geographic on its Planet or Plastic? Campaign. 

Critical conversations within design help us question the messages we amplify and the clients we work with. Raising questions is the first step to finding answers and mindful solutions to root sustainability as a philosophy in creative practices. We aim to create opportunities within the creative industry to align business objectives with our commitment to the planet. If you are with us on our mission to advance sustainability in the world of digital design, share your views, ask questions, or pass on your own learnings, then reach out to us at hello@sustainabledigitaldesign.com.

* The Green Dot symbol is  created in 1990, it means that the a company or a brand has joined The Green Dot Scheme. Which is a financial contribution made towards a recycling system or causes. However, it is not an indication that their product is recyclable or recycled.

    Written by Hala Alsadi

    9 September 2022