Posted 10 January 2022
Mention Asel Tambay
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke

For Zak Group’s art director Asel Tambay, inspiration can be found in every word

Art director Asel Tambay has always been driven by language-based design. With influences ranging from large-scale installations by Jenny Holzer to a bumper sticker design by Lawrence Weiner, she is inspired by the impact that words can have on people. Before graduating with a BA in Graphic Communication Design from Central Saint Martins Asel knew that she wanted to work for a design studio that focuses on contemporary culture. Securing an internship at the Zak Group upon graduation, she has worked her way up to an art director, working on projects for Fact Magazine, TATE, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Serpentine Galleries, Gagosian and more. Having also worked in a type foundry in Copenhagen and with a background in assisting artists, here, Asel talks about the different ways to learn your craft, learning from a variety of experiences and the importance of being proactive.

Asel Tambay

Asel Tambay


Based

London

Job Title

Art Director

Place of study

BA Graphic Communication Design, Central Saint Martins (2015–2018)

Website

zak.group

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do? And specifically what you do at Zak Group?
I'm a graphic designer and art director at Zak Group. As an art director, I work through all stages of a project, from developing a concept with our creative director to briefing other designers in our team and guiding projects through to production.

Our work focuses on identity and creative direction for cultural figures who are actively shaping contemporary visual culture. This means that I get to work on a lot of projects with people whose work I admire. We have a core team of creatives and designers at the office as well as a team of regular collaborators from around the world.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Art was my gateway to design and it has always been the main influence behind my work. Artists have always been an important reference for me – especially artists that work with language like Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman and Jenny Holzer. Prior to joining Zak Group, I worked in studios of artists that made language-based work with a focus on typography.. I love the immediacy that comes with text-based art. I’m interested in using design as a vehicle rather than the design being the end point of a project.

Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies by Zak Group
Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies by Zak Group
Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies by Zak Group

If you could pick an image to describe your job, or what it’s like to work at Zak Group, what would it be and why?
A bumper sticker designed by [conceptual artist] Lawrence Weiner because it’s a reminder that the best results often happen after you think you’re finished; when you push an idea further than you think possible. Also a still from [artist] Laure Prouvost’s film They Are Waiting For You at Walker Art Centre. This is because in the years after graduating I realised that ‘un-learning’ is as important as learning. Each project is an opportunity to look at things from new and unfamiliar perspectives.

Bumper sticker by Lawrence Weiner
They Are Waiting For You by Laure Prouvost

What recent project at Zak Group are you most proud of?
Last year we established the Zak Group FUTURE FWD Scholarship in partnership with Central Saint Martins. The idea was to improve access to design education for students from underrepresented communities. Together with CSM we awarded a £30,000 scholarship to Aaron Reid last September, and he’s now on the BA Graphic Communication Design course. As a CSM graduate it’s very exciting to be part of developing a scholarship that can make the education I received more accessible, and to create change within the industry.

“It’s exciting to develop a scholarship that makes education more accessible, and to create change within the industry.”

What kind of skills are needed to do your role? And would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
More than a particular skill set I think it’s about being curious, interested, understanding what needs to be done and being able to work with a wide range of people. I worked at a type foundry in Copenhagen which gave me strong formal training in type design. I also work with a lot of type designers which has also given me a shared language.

ICONS by Zak Group
ICONS by Zak Group
MMK symbol by Zak group
MMK by Zak Group

How I got here

How did you land the job?
[While I was at university] I was in conversation with the studio about starting an internship once I graduated. I started at the office the day after graduating, and my role has grown over time. As you go through your degree, it’s good to pinpoint studios and people that align with your interests and start conversations with them.

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I’ve always had a strong interest in art so I knew that’s where I wanted to start out. When I was studying I started reaching out to artists that I liked and worked with them on various projects. It started with simply helping out on anything they needed and then progressed to focusing on design and typography.

Over time, I started to feel more confident with navigating between things and handling projects. Having different work experiences helped me to understand what I was really interested in – which was working in the wider cultural field.

“Having different work experiences helped me to understand what I was really interested in.”

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be?
Fischli and Weiss’ 1991 manifesto, How to Work Better, for understanding structure; Ed Ruscha’s They Called Her Styrene for instant inspiration; and Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age for working with language.

Fact Magazine, Issue 1, Art direction by Zak Group
Albert Oehlen catalogues by Zak Group
Faust by Zak Group

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
“Think today, finished tomorrow”. In 2019, for Barcelona design week, Zak Kyes [founder and creative director of the group] wrote a manifesto for our work. “Think today, finished tomorrow” is a motto borrowed from the artist Martin Kippenberger’s punk approach. This statement has always been motivating. Come up with an idea and do it, don’t overthink.

Recently we created a poster of this manifesto with the artist Jim Joe. He remixed this advice to “Think about finishing tomorrow.”

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
My advice is to be proactive and to just start putting things out there. There is always so much to learn and getting lots of different experiences really helps you to figure out what you want to do. Reach out to people, help out and put things out there even if it feels like a small contribution.

Mention Asel Tambay
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke