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Interview – Nursema Yilmaz

How do you find your own path as a designer? How can you integrate culture and religion into your personal design language? Interview with Nursema Yilmaz, intern at JUNO.

Nursema Yilmaz

What brought you from Pforzheim to Hamburg?

I study visual communication in Pforzheim. Normally you do your compulsory internship there in the 5th semester. But because of the pandemic, everything got mixed up for me. I decided in the fourth semester to do a year abroad in South Korea. So I'm actually in the seventh semester now. In South Korea, I met a friend who comes from Hamburg. That encouraged me to apply here.

How did that happen with South Korea?

Timing. There were exchange students from South Korea at our university. I made friends with them and eventually got into K-pop and K-drama. I liked the language, knew people in Seoul and then said to my friend: I'm coming too. All in all, I was there for ten months.

How did you like studying there?

I found the balance between urban and nature very successful in Seoul. You can be at the sea or in the mountains in three hours. In my first semester there, I did a lot of back-to-the-roots stuff, like woodcarving. But we also had courses on printing, binding techniques and poster design. I learned a lot there. Most of the courses were in Korean. But I could work a lot with my hands. So the language was quite manageable. The students there often had a lot of skills. In terms of 3-D, for example, but also aesthetically. I was very enthusiastic about the handicraft courses offered at Hongik University. The university offers a future and is committed to advancing technology. At the same time, it preserves tradition and teaches centuries-old crafts. I visited several exhibitions, as it is customary for students to present their work during the winter semester. I have always noticed how seriously they take their work, the criticism and the presentation. Even in class, I was always amazed at the students' skills and their use of the programmes. The execution of their work was always professional.

Seoul is super-modern and the K-Pop videos, for example, are blatantly produced with CGI. Or in the city itself, you check in constantly and everywhere via QR code. With the super app KakaoTalk, you can do almost anything. I found it impressive how connected everyone is. Not just with social media – but around the whole way money, transport, online shopping, Corona measures are governed digitally. It felt good when my phone finally met all the criteria and I could use it like any local. This includes things like a Korean bank account as well as a Korean mobile phone number. It was just cool and much more convenient to be a part of this digital network. I can only advise everyone to study abroad for a while.

And how did you find JUNO?

One of our professors gave us a link to studio-index, where graphic design studios from all over the world were listed, and I filtered by city and looked at JUNO, among others. The website appealed to me a lot. It is true that agencies choose who they accept as interns. At the same time, I think it's important to say: Hey, what do I actually like? Does the agency appeal to me? Then, of course, I took a look at the social media presence and liked it very much. I then simply applied. Another positive thing I noticed was that I got a message from you right away about my application and the interview went very quickly.

Was it always clear to you that you wanted to study “Visual Communication”?

It has always been the case with me that people have often advised me to do different things – perhaps because my strengths are easily recognisable. That was already the case before I went to grammar school and also when I studied in Pforzheim. My teacher at grammar school also studied in Pforzheim. I really liked her lessons and in 2016 I took part in 3-4 taster days at the design faculty and it was clear to me: it will be the university in Pforzheim. I just see myself in design. I have always painted. My whole family is artistically gifted – but I am the only one who is now making it my vocation, so to speak. In Pforzheim, I like attending the courses of Silke Helmerdig, who teaches artistic photography, and Mathias Kohlmann, who teaches free drawing.

What particularly interests you about design?

I know the future is digital. But I have a love for the tactile and the analogue. I also do analogue photography. That's something I can't let go of. Paper, bindings and things like that are missing in digital. You have a good balance between the two in your agency. Details make a lot of difference to me.

Nursema Yilmaz takes photos with an analog camera

And how do you like agency life?

I always wondered if I could cope with everyday agency life – getting up, working and solving tasks. Here I'm experiencing that I can do that. I've learned a lot about teamwork and got a feeling for what my job could look like in the future. There are people here with experience who have been doing this for a while and it's cool to see what they do and what you can take away. The practical semester is very important for application. We are supposed to gain professional experience and that is only possible if we are in the profession and are allowed to work. I also think it's great that we're treated as if we've been part of the team for a long time. We are taken seriously and as a result we take ourselves seriously. I was allowed to set a brochure for the Hamburger Kunsthalle here myself and I'm proud of that.

You are involved in a platform for creative BPoCs in your spare time. What do you do there?

I'm involved in a fellowship programme in Berlin, the Datteltäter Academy. It's a platform for creatives from areas like video, design, content, direction and more. There we have mentors and set ourselves tasks. That's super cool, because I don't think you get that often in Germany. Creatives from different cultural backgrounds and beliefs get a stage and a place to exchange. I have the feeling that I don't have to explain myself much there. No one asks why I have a scarf on my head. Already at the first breakfast we talked about profound things and minutes later we laughed heartily about other topics.

Polaroid picture of group of people

What is your cultural background?

I am a German-Turkish Muslim with a migrant background. I was born here, I speak the language, I have my friends here and I love my pretzels. My parents are from Turkey.

What do you talk about in the Datteltäter Academy?

There are many people who are lost between cultures. For me, it would be between Turkish and German. Many don't know exactly where they belong. For me, that hasn't been a problem so far. But I hear from my environment that people don't get jobs or are dismissed because of their migration background. In the programme with the creatives, we all come from different cultural backgrounds. And in addition, we are all interested in creativity – that is very attractive for me. Because this way I can bring my culture as well as religion into my work. Also, I can contribute to increasing more Safe Spaces like this one and tell people about them. Safe Spaces don't necessarily require a physical location. Talking, understanding and listening – that is already a safe space for me.

How do you manage to integrate culture into your work?

Religion is the centre of my life and has always felt right. I want to integrate God into my everyday life. For example, in my second semester at university, I helped my friend Anja Saleh create poems called “Loveletters to Cairo”. Or I show Muslims in my surroundings in a photo series. It shapes me and I don't want to leave it out, I want to present it. My project at the Datteltäter Academy is also religiously inspired. I find it meaningful to try to bring my point of view to the outside world and offer insights into it. Dialogue and communication are just super important, no matter what it's about. That's how we learn and experience from each other, there's no other way.


What advice would you give to agencies that want to be culturally open?

To understand people. Where they come from, what is important to them and what stories they tell. Create awareness for the disadvantaged. It's always said: someone is suffering because I have social advantages.

What's next for you as a designer?

I want to learn even more. I have noticed here where my strengths and weaknesses lie and I see how much you have to be able to do. As a designer, it's not enough to be good at just one or two things. I would therefore prefer to be a kind of multi-designer who can do 3D, animation, editing, video, typography and much more. But I would like to focus on illustration. I've been doing that for years and that's where I thrive. I want to travel internationally and would like to be self-employed in the future. I haven't found my style yet and I don't know if that will ever happen, but maybe that's why clients will approach me in the future and want me precisely because I'm fluid and changeable – also in what I do.

More about Nursema and her work