Hasan is the creative director at Kolaps, a multilingual branding and UX design agency based between the two cities of Barcelona and Beirut. With a background in business, he began his path in the creative world later than most designers, something that comes in hand when being 'more emphatic towards clients'. I sat down with him in the studio and later at the renowned Bar Marsella in Barcelona to talk about memories, thoughts and moments in his path that brought him where he is now.
Words + Interview by Vitor Manduchi
Photos by Felipe Gottardello
You don't have a background in design, but before we go into that, could you tell what were the things you did before you entered the design world? I graduated from school, and as most people, having no clue with what was going on with life. I didn’t have a big picture, I didn’t have a strategy, so I followed basically the most common route, the one of least resistance – and it was business, because you have this idea that business is actually beneficial. But at that point I also wanted to do graphic design and the thing is that they didn’t accept me as a graphic designer. Graphic design was part of the engineering faculty and even though I had decent SAT scores, I didn’t have enough for it. 
So I forgot about it, studied business, graduated and was a mutual funds analyst. I have a thing with numbers, I like logic, I like systems, so that engaged me for a couple of years and then I came to Barcelona to do a MBA, to propagate my business carer. But it was during this MBA that something just clicked, even though I like numbers, I like systems, I like things that balance out and give me a satisfaction; I realised that I didn’t like the spirit behind it.
"I have managerial experience and a good network in Lebanon, we can combine this good quality team with my skills and see how it goes. This is how it started."
The personality of people who excel in the finance world tend to be not as emphatic as I would like, they tend to be a little bit distant, because that is what you need to be, you need to be ruthless in a way. It is a game all about ROI (Return of Investments), it is the only thing that matters – especially in mutual funds, where it’s a company that just collects the stocks and investors are already super far from why this company does the things it does, all that matters are the numbers.
And it all came together in this one class where a guy was trying to teach us how you have to hold a glass or shake hands in a networking meeting, and then I could just think ‘no, no, no, this is not for me.’ It also happened to be at the time of the peak of the financial crisis, which means that people were seeing the damages of this sort of ethos that is the ROI and the school, because they didn’t have time to adjust the curriculum – it was all about inflate value, push yourself – it was all too off tone and a break happened between me and that objective to propagate my business career.
So when I finished, I didn’t apply to jobs, but I had no clue what else I wanted to do. And then, as life happens sometimes, things fall into your lap. At that time in Spain, 40% of 18 to 28 year old people were unemployed and a Master’s student with a 800 euros salary meant that the person kind of made it. My roommate was an Elisava Master’s student and he was working on his final project with his team. I could see the process, I was mesmerised. Because in reality this is what I always wanted to do – the conceptualisation, the visual aspect of it, it is almost like you are revealing something no one has seen before.
Instantly I was hooked and I told them “Hey guys, your future doesn’t look so prosperous” (Laughing). But I could see the quality and knew we could do something together, I have managerial experience and a good network in Lebanon, we can combine this good quality team with my skills and see how it goes. This is how it started.
Just like me, you are a foreigner – originally from Lebanon, but now living in Barcelona. Why did you move here and what do you think this decision changed in your life? Huge changes happened in my life. Lebanon is a country that came out of a civil war, I was born during it and just started understanding life after it. So there’s this sense of disbelief and cynicism in everything, you don’t believe in a city hall that is trying to help the city, you don’t believe in governments, you don’t really believe in anything. And then you come here and you realise that there are some systems that are created with good intentions, there’s actually people sitting in their offices and trying to fix your problem, that for me was like a new dawn in terms of cultural understanding.
This impacts your personality, impacts your role in society when you feel that you’re not alone, when there’s a communal sense to do better. And that made me, I think, a better person. It allowed me to believe again in good intentions, aspirations and not purely ‘how do I extract the most value out of any system that I exist in?’. This mentality comes from injustice, when you don’t feel secure in a system that is genuinely unjust, you turn on all your defence mechanisms and the strongest defence mechanisms are actually aggressive ones. Here I realised ‘shit, I don’t need so much defence’.  
That was the positive side. The negative side was just being away from family and friends, but it’s not that far and I always managed it well.
"I hadn’t started in design when I was 18 and went to school and already started being conditioned, I was already awake as a full adult before I had any technical idea about it..."
Do you think you would be a designer if you had stayed in Lebanon? Maybe yes, but maybe not as good as the designer or creative that I’m here. Because it is a different culture, there are some sort of stimulus that this city offers, the different backgrounds, things you can’t find there. Plus there’s a certain level of dedication that I find here between the creative people, regardless if it is good or bad, but they want to do something good. 
But there’s something that I find really interesting, that I think is one of my strong points, is that I was immature professionally and had no idea about creative work, and I did this switch. I hadn’t started in design when I was 18 and went to school and already started being conditioned, I was already awake as a full adult before I had any technical idea about it and now over these last 7 years I developed these skills. That’s why I think I can always bring in a certain empathy towards the client or towards people who don’t have an education in design because I understand them, I understand the gaps in their understanding, I understand how sometimes they feel that they are being pressured, because they don’t know. It’s like a double personality that I have. (Laughing)
Actually my first interaction was me listening to my roommate, who became my partner, trying to convince a client to accept a service through Skype. I could hear that the client was speaking Chinese and he was speaking Japanese, and that it actually fit, he was offering what the guy wanted, they were just not understanding each other. So I talked to the client and the guy said “Yes, that’s what I want!”. This is where I realised that there was somewhere in the middle that I could enter into the creative world.  
To create something beautiful you have to be totally consumed by it, but sometimes it has a side effect of detaching a little bit from the client, sometimes even from the audience if you get too protective over what you produce. I have had fights with clients in the beginning, because I think design has two sides – one is totally quantifiable and the other totally abstract, it’s totally about perception, and in the beginning I inflated too much the second one, because of pride, not accepting feedbacks, losing clients, fighting with people. But today I try to reengage with these people, I think we all grow with these experiences.
"Because it is a different culture, there are some sort of stimulus that this city offers, the different backgrounds, things you can’t find there."
What were the difficulties that you faced opening a new business in the design market? Barcelona’s ecosystem is not very big and the nucleus of this ecosystem is super close, dominated by one group of people. Luckily when we started, I knew that I was super weak in this network, so my business strategy couldn’t rely on getting business here. So what we did was sell Barcelona design level to the Middle East and that was what got me in. 
On the technical side, it was actually pretty easy. When I opened the company, I was not even a resident here, but I was still able to register the company and do everything, in terms of bureaucracy, it was easy flow. To start serving, I had some sort of strategy – that was to rely on the Lebanese market, but that was nothing compared to how you actually create an agency. 
I don’t even think that we made it, we don’t have a concrete identity yet, we are starting to. In the beginning you have doubts, can I do this at a good level? Then you start doing and you realise that you actually can do it at a good level, so afterwards the question is, can we push the level up? And then yes, you can push the level up. I think in the end we are at that level, now the next question is who are we? And how can we really put something from us into our work? In the end it is to create an identity, not just a style of execution, but to reach that you need to get the confidence that you can do things properly.    
That’s the real challenge, how do you go from nobody to somebody? Now, being somebody great is also another challenge, but first you need to become somebody. 
Considering that you entered the design world later than designers usually do, what is your earliest design memory? It’s actually a very clean memory. I think I was 10 or something around that, and I studied in a school that was pretty focussed on math and sciences, and there was not so much space for expression and things like that. And one day they come in and give us a huge piece of paper that had the outline of a watch, it was a school competition of a watch company to fill out the design – it was all over the country, every school, every student could do it. Then I went back home and without knowing it I was going through the same of process of ‘what’s the concept? What does the design mean?’ and my idea was actually pretty simple, it was a desert concept.
Basically half of it was the desert and half was the sky, so blue and yellow. In the middle was the sun and a cactus at 3, 6, 9 and 12, and that was it. Then I went the other day to the school and I find people that went all over the place, like this guy that used foil mixed with other stuff and I was like ‘daaaamn’, so I forgot about it. A month later they called me to the administration office and I was like ‘fuck, what did I do?’ and when I got there, there was a photographer and a guy and they were like “Hey, you got second prize!” and I was like “No shit”. (Laughing)
And that inspired me, it’s not about overdoing, it’s more about being sincere. That was kind of my first confirmation, or first illusion that I could do something.
"The fact that I had to think about that topic at some point in my life, widens the scenarios that you consider. I didn’t want to be part of it, but I was."
How do you think your upbringing shaped your ideas and the way you work? The cultural progression that I have seen in my life is something. The first culture being from a rural village because we were trying to escape the war, and a rural village with all the rural village things that come with it – like a lack of diversity and ethnicities, but since the beginning I felt I didn’t belong to any group there, even though I was in a super homogeneous one. Then we moved to an underdeveloped city, a place that after 10 years became a proper cosmopolitan city because it’s been 20 years since the war, and then doing the jump and moving to Barcelona, which was even going a step further. 
So, I think that the fact that I’ve seen and actually lived this wide range of the cultural spectrum, it allowed me to see things from a wider point of view. Even when I’m with people that are much more technically and culturally advanced, I still feel that they have a smaller angle on seeing things in this way.
Experiences like, in 2006 I was 21 and I was still in Beirut, in a moment that we were at war, not a civil one but one with Israel. So there was a point where I was in a building, gathered with my father and some other men from the family in the parking, trying to analyse if shit hits the fan, which side of the parking should we be to not get hit by the projectiles. For them it was totally normal because they lived 17 years of civil war, it was like they were talking about ‘how do we do this sandwich?’. For me in the beginning was normal too, but then I stopped and realised ‘what the fuck are we discussing right here?’ 
That’s the difference, people in societies that have been stable for a long time tend to forget how fast and how easy shit can happen. The fact that I had to think about that topic at some point in my life, widens the scenarios that you consider. I didn’t want to be part of it, but I was.
But now my question is, how do I continue my cultural progression?
"...I’m trying to learn the idea that the world can be a good place, that the world can be positive and that good intentions do have a place in it. And finally I’m trying to see how can I bring that out."
Has there been anyone in your life that has had a profound impact on your path or that you’d consider to be a mentor? Yes, there’s one person. It’s not gonna be a famous designer, even though there’s a bunch of great people that inspire me, that I love their art, but one person that I’m really grateful for was my first partner, Ralph Msann. He is a genuine artist and genuine designer, and I think I was lucky, because I could have been introduced to design through less passionate or dedicated people. I learnt from him that drive to try to attain perfection, even though it is something unattainable, but always trying to get it, always unsatisfied.
I’m not saying this is the way you should be, but he made me see a certain attitude in design. A very serious approach, one that is not about being cool, it’s not about playfulness – you should enjoy it, but it’s a very serious thing that you are doing. I think the fact that I started in this sort of tone, gave me a very good base to go on.
I will always be grateful for him and I will always see him as an inspiration. At some point, when I’m trying to make a decision, I think to myself ‘how this sort of persona would approach this design problem?’. His ethics towards design are something to be looked up to, I don’t think he knows that, I never told him that, but it’s something that I’m always grateful for.
But in general, we are all here to learn, it should be our main thing. Anyone who gives me a new idea, I’m forever grateful for them, regardless of who they are. If I deny that, it means that I’m not being sincere.
And to finish – right now, what are the things you are beginning?
In the beginning of anything you have a lot of struggles – financially, with management, practical things that consume you. Once you start getting everything under control, it still gets a little bit overwhelming sometimes, but you get used to it. Then now you think, who am I and what sort of imprint I want to leave – If I want to leave. (Laughing) 
But now I’m trying to learn the idea that the world can be a good place, that the world can be positive and that good intentions do have a place in it. And finally I’m trying to see how can I bring that out.
Age, experience and the recurrence of patterns are making me see the world in a different way. When you’re younger it’s harder to see data patterns, but after some time you start to sport very clear patterns and you start to spot what’s totally non-productive, non-functional, unnecessary and what are the things that cause you bad feelings, trying to find the roots of what pushes you negatively and positively. Once you get to this level, where the pragmatic things are under control, then you can find yourself. 
And how am I trying to get there? Through my ultimate inspiration, that is to create movies.
I’m writing some stories, but I need more time and a trigger, like a deadline, then I think I can do it. It’s all about a concept, said in a certain way that means something to me and that might mean something different to you, and other people might think it’s bullshit. There’s never really a social story in it, it all comes from observation – for example, one story that I’ve written, that’s the life of a lighter and how it changes hands. In it the camera is always fuzzy, you can hear, you can kind of interpret what is going on, but the only time you can see things clearly is when the lighter is actually lit. So it moves from hand to hand until the death of it.
You might find the story very silly, you might not – but in the end, it doesn’t matter.