Samia Kallidis MFAD ’13 is currently running an independent design practice in Dubai, working with a select few small to mid-size businesses on a wide range of design services from Brand strategy and identity design, to product and experience design, helping them develop their brand from the ground up.
She has co-founded and is currently running the region’s first Ninja Warrior and Obstacle Training program for women, Bia Warrior, which is focused on empowering women to overcome any physical or mental obstacle, and help them achieve their biggest goals. Along with her team, she does this through an 8-week training program, a series of workshops and community events focused on the physical aspect of overcoming obstacles, as discussions on women’s mental health and wellness.
Samia is also co-host the Dubai chapter of Ladies Wine and Design, an event series to connect female creatives and encourage leadership in the creative industry. She always enjoys finding ways to interweave two of her passions – design and fitness.
Tell us about some of your most interesting projects?
I feel lucky to have been involved with some amazing projects over the last few years, where I’ve worked directly with businesses on their brand strategy and experience. Some of my favorite projects include branding and product development for Showbox, a fun and interactive portable truck on wheels for events and activations. The user experience and interface design for ABC Kuwait, a center for kids with autism in Kuwait; providing awareness, care and education to families and kids with autism in the region. The interface design for Gulf Photo Plus, a photography center in Dubai that does it all – a gallery space, photography workshops and events, photography walking tours, print center and photo shop.
Which designers do you admire most nowadays?
My work has always been multidisciplinary, and I have a passion for social impact, female empowerment, and storytelling. I admire Jessica Walsh who is doing a lot for female creatives, and has a fun and experimental design approach. I’ve admired Brian Collins since working with him at SVA – he’s such a great storyteller and has a brilliant design mind. Leland Maschmeyer was my thesis advisor in the program and has always pushed me to dig deeper, question things from multiple angles, and tell a captivating story – I continue to follow the work he’s doing at Chobani. I’m also inspired by the social impact design projects Hyperakt work on.
What keeps you inspired to do such beautiful work?
I try to immerse myself in a variety of fields and projects that are unrelated – I enjoy music, photography, and traveling to new places – those have been great sources of inspiration for the work I do and have opened my eyes to new possibilities. I like to self-initiate projects, take classes to learn new skills, and listen to podcasts like Debbie Millman’s Design Matters and Kerning Cultures, to name a few.
What advice would you give incoming students?
Enjoy every single moment. The late nights, the nerves before presenting to the most incredible professors, the feedback, both terrible and promising, your classmates, the incredible city that is New York.
Do you best, but don’t worry too much about not being able to do everything, because you won’t be able to, especially in first year. Think of it as a design bootcamp, where you’re pushed to your limits and really discover what you’re capable of. So pick a few of your favorite projects to excel at and spend most of your time on, and spend a little less time on others. You just can’t do it all and that’s okay. You won’t sleep much, but it will be worth it. Spend time with your classmates, and professors. Make the most of the incredible resources you have at your disposal. The entire MFA Design program and staff is magic.
What was it like being an international student at SVA?
Nothing short of incredible. I recommend it to everyone and anyone I meet who is considering attending grad school. I grew up in Dubai in a high school with 90 different nationalities, so being around different cultures was nothing new to me. But there was something different about being surrounded by people from all over the world in our program, in a city like New York.
In your opinion, what’s the best part of the program?
Spending so much time with likeminded, talented, and smart individuals, who have become friends for life. The incredible wealth of knowledge and experience at our disposal from the amazing roster of professors, and opportunities that have come from being part of the SVA MFA network. The program really equipped us with endless ways to tackle real life challenges. Most things I apply in my professional life today, I took away from the MFA Design program.
What impact has SVA MFA Design had on your career?
I’ve always been passionate about creating – I get a special sense of fulfillment with self-initiated projects, rather than using my skillset to design for others. A lot of what I’m currently doing professionally goes back to the program. MFA Design has helped teach me to really think like an entrepreneur, not just a pixel pushing designer.
It has taught me that being a designer means being a strategist, problem solver, and entrepreneur – with the visual design skills to make their vision happen. It taught me that all those things that are interesting to us, outside of our design project, can be the subject of our design project, and the work we do on a daily basis. And that’s what I’m trying to do with my work today.
Even after moving back to Dubai, I collaborated with my fellow MFA Design grads Justin + Jose from The Collected Works – I commissioned them to design a publication when I worked as Creative Director at Brownbook Magazine a few years ago.
Tell us about the program’s multidisciplinary approach.
Almost every project I do in my practice is multidisciplinary – I always approach a project from a broad, open-minded perspective, and the final outcome varies depending on the problem we’re trying to solve, be it illustration, print, digital, or even a physical product. Having this skill in your pocket is a powerful thing that allows the focus becomes the strategy, the story, and the discipline becomes the vehicle. It has allowed me to produce better work.
If you could choose a thesis topic today, what would you pick?
I had a hard time picking back then, please don’t make me do it all over again! If not Jointly, then it would definitely still be something that has a social impact. I’m passionate about education, health, and social justice. So if I had to do it all over again, that’s where I’d start. My current venture, Bia Warrior, could also be a thesis project!
Thank you so much Samia. It’s been great Catching up. Any final shoutouts?
Let’s collaborate! If you’re interested in some of the same things I’m into, please get in touch. I love connecting with people, and always happy to help in any way I can.