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by Emerson Welch  |  February 14, 2024

Creativity Without Boundaries: Malla Mela’s Journey as a Design Innovator

Malla Mela can only be described as a seasoned graphic and package designer, whose journey began at an advertising agency at 20 to now working as an independent design professional. She has some amazing achievements to her name, from creating designs with the help of QuarkXPress for an international scouting camp in Korea, to being recognized in Print&Media for the best prints of 2023.

In this Q&A, we explore the pivotal moments, challenges, and inspirations that have shaped Malla’s career, offering insights into her unique approach to design and her vision for the future of the industry. So let’s dive in!

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How did you get started in the world of graphic design and can you tell me a little bit about your journey?

I grew up in a family that valued technical understanding and versatile craftsmanship, as well as art and artistry. At home, I learned to be bold enough to try new things. We did handicrafts, drawing and sewing clothes. At a young age I liked to read foreign craft magazines, and I was particularly interested in the advertisements in them. They were so beautiful and the elements in them were somehow different from anything else I had ever seen e.g., the airbrushed or touched-up pictures were amazing.

I got a job in an advertising agency at the age of 20. The fact that I had experience of making books and other printed matter from my previous job, and that I was familiar with dealing with the typesetter and the printer, certainly contributed to my entry into the advertising agency. Late 80s I was asked to join a new start-up advertising agency called Playcard, and that’s where my real career as a designer began.

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What is it about art and graphic design that you enjoy the most?

I appreciate quality and insightful typography and my love for letters started in my childhood. I often edit letters and QuarkXPress does it very well and accurately. I have a love for fonts, reflected in the 6000 fonts that I have downloaded, yet every time I start a new project I have the same feeling as a woman going to a party: you can’t find anything suitable, you have to get more.

I also love finding ways to solve clients’ problems, whether it’s a logo or a visual identity etc. I love colors and shapes and combining them, developing a variety of symbolism and images, and creating moods. Habitual images often guide people’s thinking and it’s fun to shake them up a bit.

Paper is also a very important and dear material for me, even though its use has been declining in recent years. I like projects requiring paper, including wedding stationery, cards, and party decorations. I also often design printed products for parties so that some of the products are pre-printed and pre-cut.

I love colors and shapes and combining them, developing a variety of symbolism and images, and creating moods.

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We saw that you received an honorable mention in Print&Media for the best prints of 2023, tell us what that means to you?

This kind of recognition for a small, solo operator like me is really great. And the fact that I work in Northern Finland adds to the value of this mention. To be noticed by the industry in this way and for the very things you consider important in your own work gives you confidence in your own choices and strengths, and that your way of seeing and working is the right one.

Tell us about a project that you’ve worked on in the last 12 months that you’re especially proud of?

I consider all works important, no matter the size, as they’re always important to the client one way or another. Of course, the best feeling of success is when the client doesn’t want to change anything, but says that this is really good as it is, or that you’ve captured my thoughts very well, even though I didn’t really know how to express them. I sometimes work pro bono as a graphic designer for the Scouts, mainly camp logos and other such graphics, because I’m an old Scout myself.

In the last couple of years, I did a big project for the Finnish Contingent, when 900 Finnish scouts went on an international scouting camp to Korea last summer and I was involved from the beginning in creating the graphic design and logos for them and designing all sorts of other related products. One of the coolest moments for me was when one of the Contingent Management Team member asked me if I could design a medal for them. I had never designed a medal before, but I was bold enough to take the job. The medals turned out well and will be a lifelong memory for the recipients, just like the camp memories.

I had never designed a medal before, but I was brave enough to take the job.

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What are some challenges you’ve found with art and graphic design?

The industry has been changing ever since I’ve been involved. New tools, techniques, methods and channels are constantly emerging. You just have to adapt and pick up the things that suit you. Some people work in the industry without real expertise, but clients do not always know this and many just go after the cheapest price with the idea that yes, this is good enough for us. Everyone who buys a camera is a photographer and everyone who buys a software package is a graphic designer or illustrator. Many clients also imagine that all work today is done instantaneously, for example using artificial intelligence, but they don’t really appreciate the fact that things are thought through and ideas are processed.

Are there any features on QuarkXPress that help you overcome these challenges?

QuarkXPress offers many practical ways to make a graphic designer’s job easier. Personally, I think one of the most important features is that the logic of the software fits perfectly with my own thinking, making my work much easier and faster. Another good thing is that the basics of the software have not changed much over the years; the same old and well-established practices are retained from one version to the next, so updates are quick to implement without any friction. In today’s very busy world, a fast and stable tool is very valuable.

Can you tell us why you enjoy using QuarkXPress so much and how it differs from other software?

In the early years of QuarkXPress you could enter almost everything in numerical form and do calculations in the numerical menus, which speeds up the work enormously. Nowadays, of course, I use a variety of different softwares, but almost without exception I design at least the sketches in QuarkXPress and only in the final stages do I switch to another software, if required. For example, if I have to do a larger image composite in an image editing software, the base is often done in QuarkXPress due to it being faster and more accurate.

Alternatively, I work on elements in other programs, but the final product is usually done in QuarkXPress, then exported in the desired format or as a suitable intermediate step. Also, making seamless patterns in QuarkXPress is very handy, partly because it’s so convenient to control the work with dimensions and make quick changes if necessary. I really like the fact that QuarkXPress has done a huge amount of development work and always with a customer focus. There are so many features, so each user can pick out the ones he or she needs.

I really like the fact that QuarkXPress has done a huge amount of development work and always with a customer focus.

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Is there any feature or capability of QuarkXPress that you can’t live without and why is that?

I can’t name any one thing, we just have such a long history together that QuarkXPress is more than my right hand and I couldn’t live without it. Back in the years, I created lots of magazine layouts that also had advertisements and anyone who has done such knows that the that the dimensions of the ad materials received are often wrong. One very important feature of QuarkXPress is that you can import the ad material into the layout as a PDF and then chop it up into sections and edit it to the correct format and size natively. This is a very, very speedy feature, as you don’t have to start editing the material in other softwares.

What advice would you offer somebody who is very early in their design career?

Go big or go home! I would really urge those entering the industry to think about what they really want to do and get a wide range of training for it. It is also worthwhile to train interdisciplinarily, because no sector is stable and everything is constantly changing and evolving. It is good to identify and develop your strengths. It is also good to recognize and, in some cases, accept your own shortcomings. It is also important to believe in your dreams and be prepared to work hard to achieve them. Nothing comes easy!

It is also worthwhile to train interdisciplinarily, because no sector is stable and everything is constantly changing and evolving.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with the QuarkXPress community that we haven’t already covered?

Stay brave! It’s great to be part of a community like this. It pays to be loyal to the software company that wants you to succeed.

Thanks for reading! You can find and connect with Malla on LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from you, so let us know what you liked or what you would like to read more of in this series? And, if you would like to be featured in an upcoming post, get in touch! Contact us at qxpsales@quark.com

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