There’s only one Malika but who is Malika?

Q: Why did you do this in Malika’s style?
A: Who is Malika?

Many times I get forwarded portfolios from fresh grads seeking internships or employment. Sometimes, I get to participate in portfolio assessment events on campus.

Portfolios give me a glimpse into what design education is doing, and generally, allow me to measure the pulse on what design trends are hot right now — portfolios do reveal trends.

The problem with trends: The flavour of the moment happens to be what every young designer is trying to replicate in their portfolio.

“To arrive at this UX/UI, I referred to Zerodha.” Resulting in a piece of work which, is more or less Zerodha. Logos and identities? Probably it will look like something from Logo Lounge’s annual trend report. Posters? Publication design? Kinetic Typography? Packaging? Chances are they won’t be too much different from the top hits on Pinterest.

This brings me to Malika. Malika is always a popular and timeless entry in students’ portfolios.

Actually, not just with students. 

There are numerous Youtube videos that teach one how to instantly achieve Malika’s style:

Even big brands rip off her style shamelessly. For example, W for Woman.

W For Women Ripping off Malika

Although her illustrations are deceptively simple, her process is not. If you were among the 1500 people who heard her speak in Goa (Designyatra 2015), you will know that.

For example this series of illustrations on Canary Island

Canary Island

… came from careful observations of the island.

Screen grab from Nicer Tuesday's video
Watch Malika explain her process

The point here: Malika’s style didn’t come from Pinterest or a YouTube tutorial. It came from years of carefully observing places and internalising the observations, perfecting the balance of light and shadow, positive and negative space, executed by using minimal colours with the aim of achieving maximum visual impact. All that, can’t be contained in a YouTube how-to video.

Don’t tell me imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There’s only one Malika, so don’t even try to be Malika.

By that extension, there’s only one ____________, so don’t even try to be ___________.

Which leads me to the question “who is Malika?”

More than likely the student has chanced upon Malika’s works on a Pinterest board by some random curator. It has been cropped heavily and reduced to an image to be referenced, without credit to the original artist.

The student will pick up the style and start doing his/her own versions of woman + green leaves with reflection on her shades, never having to know it was in fact a gorgeous poster made for Ville de Lausanne.

Frankly, the question “Who is Malika” always breaks my heart. Inspired by and paying homage to is different from appropriating a style without knowing the original creator’s works. Blame it on Google. Blame it on Pinterest.

I recently attended a conference where a speaker was showing off a series of type installations using everyday materials paired with some provocative copy. It disturbed me.

It is impossible for a seasoned designer to not be inspired by Stefan Sagmeister’s type installation works.

An installation which I actually saw, by  being in Amsterdam at the right time and visiting the right place

But. There’s only one Stefan. Let alone presenting it to an audience, maybe it ain’t such a good idea, to begin with, to do something which has almost been Stefan™.

Anyways. I’m pretty sure — someone will inevitably ask, “Who is Stefan”?

Who is Malika? Follow these links:

Who is Stefan? Follow this link.

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