Interview by Rehana Harmony
Launching our new iteration of the ISO series in collaboration with Creative Debuts, we have an insightful conversation with Pana Roux Zvakaramba. Pana is a multidisciplinary designer, director and artist who describes himself as a 'Third culture kid', due to his global upbringing in multiple locations and cultures. At the age of only 25 Pana has already developed his almost never-ending skillset to a standard that has garnered interest and patron from companies such as Dreamville Records, Santander Bank, Complex Media, and many more. Pana and his creative Agency Aeism, which offers a wide range of services such as Brand development & strategy, UX/UI Design and visual production, was recently one of the 10 black-owned businesses which received a grant by Samuel Ross's fashion label A Cold Wall. Pana is an extremely talented individual with a wealth of knowledge and experience which we tap into below.
Hey Pana, please introduce yourself? (Where are you from, heritage, age, occupation?)
Hey, I’m Pana, I’m 25, and I’m a multidisciplinary artist & designer of sorts. I'm what you call a third culture kid; being born in Zimbabwe, I was raised in South Africa, & spent my formative years in the UK, before finding myself settled in France, Paris — where I currently live.
We know that you are a Founder, Designer, Strategist, and Developer, it must be hard to juggle all four. How do you stay balanced?
I really don’t balance them at all! Running a multidisciplinary agency is something I’m still learning how to do, and along with that comes managing interpersonal, internal, & external relationships. I use Notion, a productivity app, to cross-reference any planned “thing” in my life, and it’s where the agency “processes” & stored information. Here I can plan my personal life, organise agency projects, and invite our clients to collaborate all on one platform. There’s this philosophy I fell in love with by a this dude Tiego Forte; The Second Brain Movement. Since I couldn't have two me’s, I did the next best thing my designing and setting up an extension of my thinking space. I really suggest anyone else out there looking to run multiple projects invest some time into what I’d call a “human operating system” for your productivity management. All the things that need to be related can be tracked outside your brain, freeing up some cognitive capacity for the magic we call creativity to happen. It’s not a balance at all, it’s organised chaos, like an ecosystem.
Talk to us about what those roles entail, how you decided to get into the creative field, and what motivates you?
Sure, I communicate these labels, but in reality, they’re no distinctions that split us humans into one thing or another. I hate labels, but you can’t go be taken seriously in the creative industry without one for everything you can do, it’s hilarious. I’ve always struggled with labels & identity, even job titles or “roles”. Being a third culture kid, I often found myself often misunderstood & alien to the people I’d have to be around, in school, or old part-time jobs perhaps. Unfortunately, not everyone is kind to people that can’t be put in boxes. I spent most of my time growing up in fear, hoping that nobody would notice just how unlike them I was — especially as a non-conformer to the black British stereotype. My inane sociocultural lens, ideals, and world-view simply didn't resonate or make sense to people around me, including my Zimbabwean born parents…and obviously, me.
My experiences of non-acceptance & miscommunication led to self-realisation; calling into the importance of communication, culture, sociology, psychology, mindfulness, artistic self-expression, and ultimately, the definitive convergence that results as the practice of experience branding. Being so hyper focused on why my perception troubled me so much, it seemed natural for me to leap into the study & expression of perception. In the capital sense, I simply help brand and businesses communicate better, by any means, I can understand how to; hence the multidisciplinary. As a founder, I lead; As a designer, I ideate & concept; As a strategist, I dissect & plan; As a developer, I code & construct. It’s the shortest way of communicating my skillset, but I don’t personally identify with myself as being either or...I feel more people should feel this way. Labels and boxes aren’t identities, and they can so easily consume people, especially in the built environment, that they are their label…but that goes more into subculture studies. It’s a grey area, so I keep my motto in the same space...I tell the world “I make things” - it’s direct, yet ambiguous enough to let my work speak for itself.
If you have studied, what was it and why? How did that help with what you're doing now? If not, what methods do you use to self-educate?
I studied Biochemistry at LSBU, followed by Design Management at UAL, LCC. I dropped out of both universities for personal reasons. I was so deeply dissatisfied with the idea of spending the rest of my life wearing a lab coat & analysing people’s piss. Sorry to be crude - that literally my attitude as a frustrated 18 year old. I enjoy the idea & philosophy of science, but as a “career”, I hated the idea of knowing exactly what I’d be doing and what salary I’d be earning in year 1, 5, 10...and so on. Similarly with studying design. My experience in design school was disappointing. I’m in debt because society convinced me university will fix my life & guarantee me a “future”. By the time I started Design School school, I was already earning some money through my explorations in design, production, clothing, music, and this one magazine I did with my friends. University numbed me in favour of hierarchical thinking. I didn't feel rewarded for being a free, non-unilateral thinker. The idea that I’d graduate as a Junior Designer, and follow enough instructions until I was a middleweight, then in a few years become a Creative Director...I saw these systems and thought, well, I won’t be missed if I’m not here.
My contributions would have been empty & totally invaluable. Ultimately, the idea of sufficing into the division of labour left me feeling quite purposeless. So I quit, twice. I hesitated, but I never went back. I believe universities, studies, and funded pedagogy is awesome, but only, and only IF there’s a true passion for it. Forcing young people to go university and because the mass media portrays it as the “right” thing to do, is harmful & puts out a lot of aspiring flames. I remember being told I wasn't good enough to work in design by my form tutor in sixth form, in front of my whole class. It was humiliating, but I fought the pain and kept exploring where I could find myself. So I taught myself design...downloaded Photoshop (cracked of-course), saved up and bought a camera, contacted people to shoot & make websites & branding for...all I can say is, take a leap and follow your interests, explore and don’t overthink. Read books, watch tutorials on YouTube, ask questions. Try reaching out to anyone doing what you want to do. Admit to yourself you don’t know something because ego is the kryptonyte to talent. Try to be humble and open to making mistakes. Be patient. And be kind to yourself on the journey.
How do you feel like your skills and confidence have developed since you first started?
I’d say the biggest expansion of my self-development was right after I got into working with a certain unnamed UK media channel, and I ended up being owed £10k in invoices for about 6 months. This led to me not being able to pay my bills, and my anxiety and depression came back like a tsunami. At this point, I decided to start meditating to cope with stress & try to make better decisions about how I ran my creative practice...and who I worked with. This meant setting boundaries, understanding how and how much I can charge, and why; what I can do to avoid the same situation happening, and so on. As soon as I admitted to myself I can learn from my mistakes, I was comfortable with using my anxiety as a tool to gauge when I’m uncomfortable. When I get anxious at work, I know I need to meditate and think about what’s triggering me, and thus, try and mitigate the barriers to my growth. Being more mindful has really elevated my confidence; I’m much more certain of my strategy, pricing, skillet, and so on. Follow your anxiety, don’t ignore it. There can be some really powerful realisations stuck inside.
So you have a website coming? How important is social media and having an online presence to you and your brand?
The irony is, it’s not that important. Instagram and social media is the outside of a business. Plus, social media is one of many, many channels you can attract business through. It’s easy to assume the facade is all that matters. I used to post almost daily on Instagram, thinking “If I hit 10k, or 20k followers, I’ll be able to make more money”...I’m sure that’s the case for some people, but in my case, not so much. At the agency, 80% of all new business is word of mouth or recommendations. 15% is outreach, and 5% are people coming to us. These are some takeaways that have been milestones in this journey so far:
Define your products, services, strategy, and audience. Different people need different things, but also don’t be a robot and compromise on a case by case
You should consider a well curated portfolio, deck, and/or website with great value proposition
Find an operating system & process for everything you repeatedly do so you can measure & iterate things gradually
Be kind, assert yourself, and do not let anybody be unkind to you, ever
How do people respond to what you do?
Until my full personal & agency websites are out, the only people that truly know what I & the team do, are the clients I collaborate with. I find it funny. As I said, “I make things” and “we make things” are huge euphemisms for just how complex our scope can get! Hence, I like to think the work to speak for itself - a conversation naturally sparks up when someone’s interested in creating some value.
What do you think you could do to improve your craft?
I need to work on waking up early, sleeping earlier, and knowing when something is ”good enough” to stop designing or thinking about. I need to engage in more conversations within design, but I work so much I rarely find the time to cross-pollinate with other designers. Especially working remotely after COVID, the social element is truly missing.
Are there any other creatives you think are doing well at the moment (doesn’t matter what they do)? If so who are they?
My absolute favourite sources o & designers right now are:
Sage Toda Nation