What do studios and employers look for in a great creative team and inspiring collaborators? We’ve partnered up with Creative Lives in Progress to bring you Team Building; a series setting out to investigate just that. We’ve called upon some shining industry figures to share their ultimate creative collaborators – and what makes each of them so desirable. This time, we’re passing dream-hire duties onto Bijan Berahimi, founder of studio and gallery FISK.
Illustrations by Imo Crossland.
Bijan Berahimi is a master of many things. As the director of Portland-based studio and gallery FISK, he leads a team working across design projects, exhibitions, a clothing line, book publishing and their print and riso offering, Noor. If this impressive line-up wasn’t enough, in 2020 he also launched JOON, a thoughtfully curated magazine capturing the arts scene in Portland through joyful design and print.
Having founded FISK as a collaborative project while studying at California Institute of Arts in 2009, Bijan has since grown the team into a workforce of eight, comprising designers, developers, a project manager, gallery store manager and an intern. In keeping with Bijan’s own multidisciplinary approach, he describes everyone as having a “kind of hybrid” role, applying broad skill sets to a wide range of briefs – be that an album cover for Alicia Keys, a website design for The Local Optimist, or work for the likes of Nike, Google, Fader or musical artist Toro y Moi.
So what qualities does he look for when building a solid creative team? For Bijan, one of the key ingredients that holds it all together is friendship. “Maybe not best friends,” he adds, “but just on that spectrum of someone who you think is pleasant, who you want to be around.” In Bijan’s opinion, not only does this provide a good sense of healthy competition, it also creates a trusting environment, where you can learn from one another. Collaborating with people whose company you enjoy is also only going to add to the collective nature of the work, and since you spend so much time together, they ultimately become an extended family.
That said, we know whittling down your dream collaborators into a lineup of just three is no easy task, but Bijan fully embraced the challenge – highlighting three multidisciplinary luminaries who embody what he looks out for in his own team.
Meet Bijan’s fantasy teammates…
Donald Glover / Childish Gambino
“I just feel like we’d be good friends,” says Bijan of his first fantasy collaborator, Donald Glover. “I don’t know him personally, but I really respect his approach to his practice and the fact that he does a lot of different things. I think we’d get along.”
Much like Bijan, Donald is something of a creative chameleon. His work sees him switching seamlessly between writing, directing and acting in a show like Atlanta, to starring in epic films like Star Wars, to producing and performing much-loved music under the Childish Gambino pseudonym. While Bijan finds inspiration in the breadth of work Donald’s career has yielded, what he most admires is the fact that his world view remains central to whatever he creates, and he’s not afraid to go bold with it.
Take the writing, production and music video for his iconic Grammy-winning release, This Is America, as an example. “There are a lot of layers,” shares Bijan. “He’s sharing how he feels about racism in America; making a rap song that white people are going to listen to, talking about something that they’re involved in, and that they’re maybe not aware of. Sometimes he’s poking fun at people, and it’s that sense of play that I really enjoy.”
How can you be more like Donald Glover?
Stay open to different ways of working
Alternating between various forms of expression has now come to characterize Donald’s work. As Bijan notes, this embodies a kind of openness to the world – a reminder to keep experimenting and having fun with your work, embrace brave ideas and remain flexible to new formats. Working in this way also has the added bonus of steering clear of obvious trends, making it less likely to blend into the crowd.
Fully embrace your passions and interests
It’s no secret that Donald uses his work as a way of expressing his opinions and passions – whether that’s through a politically charged video, or a stand-up skit. In Bijan’s mind, demonstrating your interests is a quality that will help you get noticed. As an example, Bijan recalls a portfolio he was sent as part of an application for a design internship, featuring a photo series of pizzas they’d made. It might not be a big political statement, but the work stayed with Bijan for its confidence in embracing a passion. “If someone just supplied images of pizzas, they probably wouldn’t get the internship,” he says, “but I’m interested in learning about people. I would rather see work where I can learn something about them, because it ultimately makes you stand out.”
“Underdog” might not be the first word that comes to mind when it comes to Solange Knowles, but as he reflects on her career trajectory, Bijan is fascinated with Solange’s rise from megastar’s sister to musical icon in her own right. Growing up as a first-generation Iranian-American, “always standing out a little bit, not being the best at sports or stuff at school” as he remembers, it’s this journey to carving out your own space and identity that resonates with Bijan.
As a singer, songwriter, performance artist and actress, Solange is also the founder of Saint Heron, a multidisciplinary platform amplifying Black artistry in music, design art and literature. “Her vision is unique,” shares Bijan, “from the sound to the visuals, to the creative direction, to the people she works with.” Like Donald, Solange isn’t tied to a single medium, with a talent for innovating and pulling off the unexpected. “I feel like she would throw out crazy ideas and be really, really passionate about them,” says Bijan. “She’s chosen not to follow the obvious path and create something on her own. That’s an important quality to have on your team.”
How can you be more like Solange?
Trust your own tastes
Faced with career-related or creative decisions, Bijan advises to always go with your gut, especially where that means sidestepping the expected route. “Believe in your own tastes and journey,” he encourages. This can also mean getting comfortable with standing out – because it’s actually a good thing. “It’s about trusting yourself; not forcing anything, being yourself and not being ashamed of the things you’re into. Even if it’s different from your classmates or co-workers.”
Stay confident in your vision
“Solange is someone who does a lot, but with a cohesive vision. I think you have to be confident in that,” says Bijan. Solange might be further proof that you don’t have to stick to one medium or speciality to succeed, but it’s undeniably her taste and aesthetic that holds it all together so beautifully. While trying out new formats and ideas is important, it’s always a good idea to keep coming back to your drive and purpose.
There’s much more to a professional basketball player than just their athleticism, and LeBron James is a fine example of this. Having played for The Lakers since 2018, his work and influence now stretches far beyond the court. Among many other things, this includes his involvement in HBO show The Shop, during which he hosts in-depth conversations with politicians, comedians and professional basketball players – “people you would never see in a room together,” adds Bijan.
But it’s his role in pushing for progress within the basketball industry that really captivates Bijan, and essentially makes him such an excellent dream teammate. “I like how vocal he is,” he says. “I think there’s a certain responsibility you have when you’re in the spotlight and I feel like LeBron has done a great job of challenging his fan base – expressing how he feels about what’s wrong in this country, or with basketball, in a really positive and productive way. And that’s not easy.”
How can you be more like LeBron James?
Show attention to detail
LeBron’s work ethic permeates every aspect of his career. Not only has he refined his craft to world-class status, his ambition has also driven him to try new things, take risks and apply that same passion to everything he does. For Bijan, this trait is incredibly appealing and something he looks for from the first encounter. “I get sent a lot of portfolios via email where you just don’t feel that dedication or attention to detail,” he reflects, confirming the importance of making your first impression count. This might mean spending extra time fine-tuning and editing your portfolio, personalizing that all-important introductory email, or simply bringing your best, most motivated self to new opportunities.
Embrace your identity
By speaking out on what he cares about, from his views on politics to human rights, LeBron stands out as both a relatable and memorable figure. In the same way, Bijan encourages embracing your opinions and the individual elements that make you, you – sharing that he loves discovering student projects that get personal. “When people draw connections between graphic design and their upbringing or identity, that's really interesting to me, because it expresses something human,” he notes.
If Bijan’s incredible lineup of teammates were to ever work together, we would expect nothing less than a collaboration of pure fire. Although this magical collective may remain a dream, there is a great deal to be learnt from their mix of originality, refined craft across multiple forms of expression and dedication to their own unique take on the world.