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Ajna Zlatar: Fight against visual pollution

This article is also available in: bsBosnian (Bosnian)

Ajna Zlatar (1971, Sarajevo) recently replaced her many years as creative director of the Sarajevo Communis agency with the status of a freelancer. She is a graduate of the European Institute for Design and the Academy of Contemporary Arts of Brera in Milan. She has worked at Zigurat in Milan, and in Sarajevo, at Sagafilm, Creative Center Cardea, Ideologija and Communis.

Ajna readily answers the question of why she chose to work in advertising. She came to love the profession because of the LP cover designs by Dragan Stefanović, and works by Neville Brody, David Carson, Oliviero Toscani and Fernando Testa who were decisive influences on her in her early years. They were an inspiration, but the Bosnian-Herzegovinian market and the state of the economy after the war posed a particular challenge. The knowledge she gained in Italy could now serve to strengthen local brands in order to prepare them for competition with foreign brands.

After graduation, Ajna Zlatar and her colleague Anur Hadžiomerpašić decided to focus their creative strengths and professional commitment on the development of visual communications and advertising for BiH companies. In 1998 they founded the Creative Center Cardea in Sarajevo. There they initiated ‘Made in Bosnia’, an international project intended to promote new design, which gathered together a large number of creative professionals from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Italy. The exhibition ‘Made in Bosnia’ was realized under the auspices of the prestigious agency McCann Erickson Milan. In 2002, Anur and Ajna founded the advertising agency Ideologija together with their collaborator Tarik Zahirović. They are the designers and creators of the visual identity of the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art in Sarajevo. In 2006 Ideologija joined forces with the agency Communis and Ajna accepted the role of creative director.

To list all Ajna’s awards would strain the dimensions of this text. In any case, she considers her son Nizar her greatest award ever. Among clients, she highlights VF Komerc, Elektroprivreda BiH, Tobacco Factory Sarajevo, Raiffeisen Bank, FedEx, Toyota, Klix, LogoSoft, Bosnalijek, Nobel, UNIQA, Jazz Fest Sarajevo, Sarajevo Brewery, Union Bank, Al Jazeera, Energopetrol, INA, SEIC, Imperial Tobacco, Marriott, Peugeot etc.

Asked whether there’s a campaign that she wished she hadn’t done, Ajna replies: “I think every creative has a number of such examples. Each campaign that represented a terrible compromise, to the extent that it became alienated from the primary idea – those are the ones I wish I hadn’t done.”

All the people with whom she has worked have eventually become close to her. And that seems to be an effective recipe. Anur and Ajna were a good creative partnership. There’s also her long-time associate Hamdija Pašić – a copywriter. Then there are her young associates, art directors Elvira Bojadžić, Goran Lizdek, Amila Hrustić, Jelena Vranić Simić and Naida Begović, and the account people are also close associates to creatives: Ada Viđen, Azra Dedić, Edin Karabegović, Rino Babić, Mirza Dedić, Alisa Pašić, Nevena Sijerčić, Arif Avdić.

Ajna’s technique of creative thinking is physically very demanding. It’s accompanied by vacuuming the house, putting clothes out to dry or walking. She has to be in motion while she thinks. If she isn’t moving, then she is in a good brainstorming session or just having fun with colleagues, and inspiration comes from the jokes that come up in the process. She draws inspiration from the need to break boring or disparaging communication with a client, or in the fight against visual pollution. As her best professional experience Ajna singles out the CD cover for a Dino Merlin album. After a few different ideas they found themselves ready to terminate the collaboration. The numerous argumentative emails generated a new creative proposal. What followed was a complete shift, “a moment of creative blackmail and absolutely sincere inspiration”, which Dino gladly accepted. So the whole thing ended as a perfect interaction.

And her most difficult professional experience? “It’s when you address the task sent to you by a respectable company, and you invest yourself in it completely. You’re genuinely pleased with the conceptual design, and then this potential client listens to you absentmindedly while writing messages to a business partner who is watching the presentation via Skype. Then you receive a rejection notice, and on the billboards you soon see a campaign that they produced in-house.” In your disappointment, you wonder how it’s possible that they are unable to recognize creativity.

In contrast to these experiences, a time of honest advertising and a transparent approach is coming. The best brands will not be those with the best fictional stories, but those that give a realistic picture of what they are doing in the interest of the consumer, so they feel special.

Design has a great influence on our lives. What is pleasant on our eyes leaves an impression – it affects and changes us. It’s nice to be surrounded by beautiful things, says Ajna. The designer has a responsibility: to raise awareness of aesthetics, to educate, to fight against visual pollution. Do not underestimate the intelligence of the consumer. Offer them something which will beautify their surroundings and make them feel special, regardless of their purchasing power.

Where does Ajna see herself in ten years? She is certain that as long as she lives she will be in love with graphic design. Her wish is to pass on her passion to young colleagues, those who are only now joining this adventure. And this, apart from good will, always necessitates time, which Ajna chronically lacks: “If anyone has a surplus of time, let me know in my inbox, I’ll pay good money for it.”

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