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Intellect, Relationship and Art

Bahrain’s Proving Ground for Architecture and Design

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Hamad M. Janahi & Afaf E. Ahmed run Inoui Designs, a top-flight Bahraini architectural firm providing start-to-finish design services for high-end, competitive and international clientele. Artists and designers to their core, they are accomplishing it all as a husband-and-wife team. Ever wondered how to achieve this level of success? Hamad and Afaf are here to tell you. If you’re ambitious and curious, Read on!

Thank you so much for being here. Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves? How did you meet, and how did your collaboration begin?

Hamad: We got to know each other at the university. We were competitors, always working to see who could get the highest grade or create the best design. Our teachers and professors viewed us as two unique individuals who were always competing to be the best of the best.

This competition led us to become great friends. We worked together as lecturers in our early careers at the university.

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A lot of people ask us today, “How can you work together as husband and wife?” When you love your job and profession, it becomes part of your life. When we go to the office, it’s like we are at home. Wherever we are, we talk about design, art, movies, and music. At the end of the day, there are multiple forms of art that’s around us, and they all affect us as artists and designers.

Over the course of our studies, we realized we needed to be together. We got married, and it has continued ever since. It’s been twelve years now, and we have worked, created, and designed together since 2007.

When you were at the university, was your intention to eventually start a company?

Hamad: That had always been my intention, from day one. I would say that every designer’s intention is to create their own designs and contribute their own signature and landmarks to the society. No matter what stage are you at, in your life, you always have that dream. You just have to take the proper steps toward fulfilling it.

Going into the real estate division within the banking and investments sector, which was booming in 2005 and 2006, was a good move to help me understand what was happening in the real world. While I was working in the investments department, I was representing the client. I was dealing with designers, so I came to know the position a designer needs to be in for the client to be satisfied which I figured when the tables were turned.

By 2007, we were ready to start our business. After a year, we were a team of twelve. Over time, we reached a total of 35 employees: all designers, 3D renderers, graphic designers, architects, interior designers, site supervisors, and draftsmen. Unfortunately at that time, the whole world plunged into a financial crisis.

How did you manage to overcome the hurdles that came with the financial crisis?

Hamad: We did it by maintaining strong connections with individual clients, who brought us constant projects; clients we worked with on various projects throughout the years. We created very strong relationships with them, which we still have till-date. They saw a quality of design that they may not have seen from the other designers they’d worked with.

Afaf: Actually, those clients didn’t want to take the risk of trying different designers. At that time, from the client’s perspective, they wanted to have something that fits their criteria and budget. The financial crisis didn’t allow you to go spending money on something that wasn’t right. They narrowed their selection of designers, and we did the same with our clients.

Hamad: We did not limit our capabilities. Clients were happy, because we were like a one-stop shop for everything they could want in terms of design. Whether it was architecture, interior design, graphic design, marketing or PR, we provided a complete service. We did not limit our clients to Bahrain only.

How did you go outside Bahrain?

Hamad: We participated in a lot of exhibitions initially, either as exhibitors or as visitors. Suppliers in other territories that we regularly worked with opened some opportunities for us, whenever they had a potential project that met our criteria. Plus Meeting a lot of people, through seminars and networking, opened a lot of doors. Instead, we focused upon clients throughout the Middle East. We had a lot of connections, and we worked continuously with them.

What were the biggest failures and mistakes you encountered along the way? Did they actually contribute to learning new things?

Afaf: I wouldn’t say failures; maybe just growing too fast.

Hamad: We grew too fast in terms of numbers; but of course, no one expected the market to go through a crisis. We were simply going with the flow. As the waves got stronger, we had to get stronger, too; otherwise, we would’ve been stepped on. That led us to grow a lot faster than expected.

How do you build a positive company culture?

Hamad: By considering everyone as equal. We stay late with our designers. If there is a deadline the next day and I see my graphic or 3D team working until one o’clock in the morning, I will sit with them and work until the job is done, and so will Afaf. It’s a journey we enjoy, and our team enjoys it, as well.

Over the course of the past seven years, have you benefited from any of the public programs available for small businesses and entrepreneurs—Tamkeen or Bahrain Development Bank?

Hamad: Very little because but the process of getting the help requires a lot of effort and work. When you’re busy, it’s like, am I going to spend two days filling out forms, or am I going to finish two designs in that time?

Do you have any advice for Bahrain’s young entrepreneurs?

Hamad: All I would like to advice to all you entrepreneurs out there is to be passionate about your work and patient. Never, ever give up.

Which of your designs are you most proud of?

Hamad: For me, I would say the Maya La Chocolaterie brand and franchise, because I completed about 80% of the design, and Afaf adds her beautiful touches at the end. I’m very proud, because every time we bring in a new element, we make it as flexible as possible to the space. That is one of the projects I’m quite happy with, in terms of achieving.

Afaf: I’m proud of the King Hamad University Hospital, seeing our design go from theory to reality was a true design signature.

Excellent, thank you Hamad and Afaf for giving us the opportunity to talk to you and inspire our readers. We wish you the best!

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This interview was originally published and conducted by Startup MGZN here: [Link]

Photo Credit : Ali Alriffai

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