Working at the intersection of graphic design and music, meet Kuala Lumpur-based creative Najmi Arifin
Bridging the gap between the Malaysian capital’s design and music scene, Najmi Arifin founded Room Circle and discusses its inaugural concept album, Botanika.
- Jyni Ong
- 9 July 2020
“Maybe Joy Division brought me here?” muses Najmi Arifin, a Kuala Lumpur-based graphic designer speaking on how he got into graphic design. Having freelanced for the past five years in the Malaysian capital, initially, it was his love of music that introduced him to the medium. Fascinated by the notion of the physical release, he remembers purchasing an album by a local band, Akta Angkasa, titled Kognitif and listening to the album on repeat which “blew me away.”
Immediately he was struck by the layout of the CD, its packaging, how they used Helvetica “in a pleasant way.” He tells It’s Nice That, “every detail crafted with this and silver Pantone, everything in there brought me to a different perspective.” Synthesising his passion for music with this newfound medium of graphic design, in turn, he decided to pursue a career in it: “I always wanted to be part of the history and process-making of music and arts,” he adds.
Years later, design career in full swing, Najmi’s work moves constantly with the ebb of his process. His portfolio boasts futuristic album covers, fancy T-shirt designs, print and poster designs and much more. With a “dark and alluring” undertone ingrained in his effortlessly cool style, Najmi likes to combine an internet-inspired visual language with bold typography. On his aesthetic, he adds: “I was inspired a lot by 70s Japanese graphic designers. I loved Yusaku Kamekura’s artwork, especially the one from Expo ’70 and the designs for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.”
It’s a style that’s informed Najmi’s most recent project, Botanika, a collaboration with Fred Perry and Room Circle; the latter being a creative collective founded by the designer. The project is centred on a concept album compilation bridging the gap between the local design and music scene. Releasing the physical CD last month, the project aims to support the local music industry, encouraging the public to celebrate the physical material of music in this highly designed release.
Taking inspiration from the new age, ambient composer and sound designer Takashi Kokubo’s Oasis of The Wind II as well as Hiroshi Yoshimura’s A Story of Forest And Water, the album artwork design takes its cue from the music’s themes. Absorbing the inspirations for these two pieces, Room Circle studied the history of its graphic representation as a starting point for the project. Drawing on themes of nature, the collective dived deep into the making process, tackling each step of the process hands-on from the design, production and printing.
Eventually, Najmi and the rest of the design collective came up with a design that reflects the atmosphere of Kuala Lumpur’s interdisciplinary creative scene. Using the colour orange to reflect warmth, sunshine and the topics, overall, the design evokes the mood of the concept album’s sound. Perfect for going out for a drive in the warmth of the evening’s sun. The campaign also makes use of green foliage, a nod to the symbol of the lotus position in Buddhism as well as a characteristic viewpoint on nature.
Botanika is just one of many musical projects for the graphic designer. Elsewhere he’s collaborated with a friend Allya Matisa on a visual exploration of time and space. Similarly influenced by electronic and ambient sounds, Universal: A Guide To The Cosmos aims to captivate the viewer and listener with its “mysterious and dark visuals,” touching on science fiction fantasies and narrative illustrations to achieve this feeling. Explorative at the core of his practice, the intersection of music and art continues to drive Najmi’s future projects. “Things of quality have no fear of time,” he finally goes on say, “I’m still learning every day to make lasting works that impact people and really touch them.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.