Creative Director at Nihilo
Emunah
Winer

Emunah Winer, Creative Director of visual design at Nihilo, specializes in brand identity, systems, and brand activation. Her work has been recognized by brand publications such as Brand New, Communication Arts, It’s Nice That!, and The Brand Identity. She has collaborated with clients and agencies across the world, such as Design Studio, DICE, Peter & Paul, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, and The Little Beet.

Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel • September 23, 2022

What led you into design?

Growing up, I'd spend my summers in Manhattan with my grandparents. That was my one bit of culture against my Midwest small-town upbringing. It became a powerful dichotomy to me – each year, my very mundane high-school life was interjected with colour and vibrancy and chaos when I'd visit the city. My grandmother used to take me to the Met. I remember feeling both very small and very large there all at once. I think it was then that I got interested in the arts in general.

I'd originally planned on going to college for fine arts, but in a spur-of-the-moment decision, swapped that out for a design program. I realized I could still create beautiful things, but with far less patience than what's required in fine arts. I also enjoyed solving actual problems with more people than just myself. And so it began.

What does a typical day look like?

I'd love to say I wake up at 5:30am, go on a run, have a shower, meditate and start my day, but that would be a lie. I have three children and my mornings start with them. After getting them out the door, I'll do my own little breakfast routine and have a coffee. I typically start my work day from the couch, reviewing what I need to get done and checking emails. Then I'll move to the office, get some work done, have some meetings. I'm with my kids from 4pm-7pm, and if I'm in a creative-work mode, I'll work a bit more at night. I get my best creative work done in the nighttime, with no distractions and no one to answer to.

What’s your workstation setup?

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My desk is currently not pretty enough to photograph and covered in my childrens' art, but here's a screenshot of my home screen for your viewing pleasure. Investigate away.

Where do you go to get inspired?

Good question! I think research is what inspires me most. I can't generate any new ideas without learning where I'm pulling from. I'll often find a gem within some historical reference and build from there. That, and creative restraints. Creative restraints are what invigorate me—they narrow down the options of possibilities until we get to the exact, specific one. Without restraints, I am lost.

I'll also add what is probably true for most artists—which is that my best ideas come when I'm away from my computer. Either lying in bed at night, going on a walk, or looking at a book. You have to make space for your brain to connect the dots.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I get very happy any time I see a really well-designed chair.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Very early on in our working relationship, Margy, (my co-founder at Nihilo) and I collaborated on a poetry and design project called Two Jewish Women. We were passionate about the synergy of poetry and design and were determined to show it to the world in some way. It was the beginning of lockdown, and we desperately needed to release our creative energy. We had no idea what form the project would take when we started. The prompt was simple: we pick a topic, Margy writes a poem, and I build out some form of visual representation of that poem on the internet. You have to understand, I have zero development experience, so I was truly at the disposal of what I could figure out on WordPress. I think that's what I loved about it—the pushing and pulling of the boundaries of my own capabilities, and allowing that to have a direct correlation with the project outcome.

In the end, we were able to tell a beautiful story of our own experiences through the tools that we had. I'm very proud of this project to this day.

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What design challenges do you face at your company?

We focus heavily on visual and verbal brand creation. We'll only work with companies that require a strong conceptual point of view from the get-go. That being said, we are not a digital-first agency, and that means we sometimes see our work die when it matters most—the websites. We are working to grow our in-house team to change that, and in the meantime partnering with excellent partner agencies to solve for this.

That is possibly the most practical problem we face at this time. There are other, more nuanced ones we also encounter, although less obvious. We are two women running an agency, and we do experience misogyny more often than we'd like to admit. Not within our industry, but among clients and founders. They simply cannot imagine how two orthodox Jewish women can help their male-founded, male-funded, tech-heavy, startup in any significant way. It must be too complicated for us to understand.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

There are no good projects or bad projects. It's what you make of it. There is no boring subject. You can push a B2B Saas company as much as you can push a Millenial hot sauce company. It all depends on your relationship with the client and the collaborative effort to push boundaries. Boring industries are only boring because they haven't been “made cool” yet. The mattress market was not ripe for cool brand experiences until Casper made it so; office spaces weren't cool until WeWork decided they were. The list goes on. Don't be jaded by what is categorized as a “cool” brand or a “boring” brand. Make great work with great people, and that's what makes a cool brand.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

We recently shared a very large internal deck documenting our processes and examples at every step. We were inspired by a lot of smaller agencies recently leaning towards transparency and sharing documents, costs, etc. We're living in an age of democratized-everything and design shouldn't be any different. I'm a big believer in sharing as much information as possible—there are plenty of opportunities to go around. I'd like to think this deck could help some emerging designers.