Features

Sweet FA 2020 Winner: Karishma Puri

Karishma set up the Mutual Aid group for Kentish Town in response to the lockdown in March this year. She organised support for vulnerable people in her neighbourhood, helping with shopping, medication and delivering 100s of home cooked meals to those in need.

Alongside the aid group, Karishma also worked on a project called Isolating Together, a photographic project of over 70 portraits of people and their stories. It documents the faces and stories of people she has met over the last few months through the mutual aid group that she set up. The aim of the project is to cement the sense of community that was created during lockdown and always remind people that no matter how difficult times get, together we are capable of extraordinary things. These portraits and stories will soon be on display around Kentish Town.

We met with Karishma to see how she feels about being a Sweet FA 2020 winner and to learn a little more about her.

How does it feel to be a Sweet FA 2020 winner?

I feel honoured to have won, especially given the circumstances this year and the focus of the awards on kindness.

Why did you set up the mutual aid group and the project Isolating Together?

The pandemic has laid bare the deep sense of isolation within our communities - people were left in dire need of help with no food, no one to call and no idea how they were going to survive. I wanted to support my community and also be connected to it. This is what inspired me to create a Mutual Aid WhatsApp group - I had no idea what this was going to entail and little did I know it would grow to be such a big part of my life.

Some people picked up shopping and medication for their neighbours, others delivered fresh home-cooked meals. Together we checked in on each other over the phone, text messages and WhatsApp. Running a Mutual Aid group made me realise that the real strength in our community comes from being able to support each other. There were no specific ‘givers’ and ‘takers’, only community members.

I feel honoured to have won, especially given the circumstances this year and the focus of the awards on kindness.

My neighbourhood came together in an extraordinary way and I wanted to tell this story through individual perspectives. Isolating Together is a series of portraits and personal stories of 70 Camden residents that came together during the COVID-19 crisis. These portraits will transform into an outdoor, public exhibition for 10 days in locations such as vacant shop fronts, local businesses, library windows and cafes. The aim is to remind people how the community came together during a time of need and inspire people to build on this re-kindled community spirit, creating togetherness and eradicating social isolation.

Let's learn some more about you:

What do you do?

I’m a Graphic Designer, Art Director and documentary photographer with over 8 years of industry experience. I’ve delivered a variety of projects ranging from campaigns for charities to producing high-level events; creative direction for music and fashion to, documenting progressing nations in Africa and  educational board games in conflict zones.

How did you become a Graphic Designer/Art Director?

I’ve always been a creative person and have enjoyed experimenting with various creative mediums. Over time, I felt drawn to using that creativity to communicate a message cleverly and clearly. Well designed communication can be very impactful and I saw that all around me. The more work I took on, the more I realised that I wanted to focus my skills on visual communication with social impact.

I have had the pleasure of working with Karishma across a number of high profile projects. Karishma goes above and beyond in her attempts to deliver her brief, always keen to develop ideas further and to find ways to offer her clients something fresh. Unafraid to question her brief, this enables Karishma to really deep dive in to what her client thinks they want and why, and she then presents several ideas, always respectful of the brand and the brand guidelines but not afraid to push boundaries. Karishma has a desire to keep her skillset current and as a self-starter she never hides away from new challenges, instead she sees them as an opportunity to develop her knowledge and broaden her offering to her clients.
Richard Briggs, Print & Procurement Manager
How long have you been freelancing?

Just over 3 years.

Why did you decide to go freelance?

When I originally started freelancing, it was only meant to be temporary. I felt like I wasn’t ready to make the long-term switch because I felt I had to develop a big client base before I could risk a stable paycheck. I was meant to freelance just for a few months before I found an exciting full-time position. Being on YJ, I found more briefs that challenged and excited me than I did reading through job descriptions and that is when I felt I could never return to full-time. I loved the idea of a variety of briefs, across sectors. To me this meant that I was always learning and absorbing a different set of skills and knowledge from each brief. One month I could be working with a musician in India, and the other in education in Uzbekistan.

Even though as a freelancer, the hours are longer and it is harder to have a typical week structure, I still felt that my life was flexible and I was much more in control than I have ever been.

What's the hardest thing about freelancing?

The hardest thing about freelancing is not knowing when to accept or reject work. There have been countless times that I have allocated time to either do a course, or develop a personal project but I get offered paid work and feel pressured to accept. The pressure comes from not knowing how long it will be before another project comes along. As a result of this, personal projects and personal development take a back seat and can go years without being prioritised.

What's one thing no one ever told you about freelancing you wished you'd known at the beginning?

Especially when I was starting out, I mostly got hired to support the full-time creative team, so I couldn’t own any of the work I spent so many hours doing and my portfolio was stagnant. I wish that someone had told me how important it is to always have a personal project going to not only build your portfolio, but also to complete a project from start to finish.

How has YJ helped you as a freelancer?

It has given me stability in an uncertain world - through a constant flow of briefs and assurance of being paid in full and on time.

Can you tell me about a project you're proud to have worked on?

Working on projects with social impact is always the most rewarding for me. I’m proud to have been the creative director for a UN-funded board game. ‘Play for Integrity’ has been used in several conflict zones to educate students of varying ages about the key concepts of integrity. It had to be easy for the schools to print out and assemble the board game themselves, along with elements that could be added or subtracted to change the level of difficulty. The unique challenges along with the impact made this a really exciting project to work on!

I also created editorial content with photography and design that grew readership from a niche magazine targeting a subsection of women in Africa to the worldwide African diaspora.

Art Direction for New African Woman, an international lifestyle magazine placing black women front & centre in an otherwise whitewashed medium.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a Graphic Designer/Art Director?

The world of Graphic Design and Art Direction is very wide, so you can go down many different routes and keep switching up in the middle - it’s what I love about it most. Keep learning new skills so you can grow as the field does. Recognise what you find most rewarding and chase that.

If a client was reading this, why should they hire you?

I look at the bigger picture and focus on overall impact. I’m all about understanding briefs, spotting potential issues and problem solving while producing quality outputs.

Karishma produced amazing assets for two big events we ran - both very different in style (one was a B2B networking/ celebration evening, the other a big recruitment event focussing on employer brand). For both she carefully collected our requirements, thoughtfully communicated with stakeholders across the business, and produced some fantastic results well within deadlines to ensure we had a coherent, beautiful event. From pencils to huge vinyls, physical event spaces to powerpoint decks, with Karishma you get the feeling that no job is too big or too small! :)
Felicity Winkley, Head of People, TotallyMoney

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Meet Karishma

Karishma is a graphic designer with over 8 years of industry experience. Delivering a variety of design projects ranging from campaigns for charities to producing high-level events; creative direction for music and fashion to educational board games in conflict zones.  She is a big believer in letting the brief dictate the boundaries and freedoms, allowing for a fresh perspective every time.

I look at the bigger picture and focus on overall impact. I’m all about understanding briefs, spotting potential issues and problem solving while producing quality outputs.

Karishma Puri, Freelance Graphic Designer / Art Director
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