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Meet Ani Avanian in Downtown Crossing

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ani Avanian.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My drawing professor and mentor in college, Diana Attie, once told me, “Keep doing what you love and keep your eyes open for opportunities. Good things will definitely happen.” I don’t even know if she remembers telling me this, but it was Diana’s response to my “What do I do now that I have an art degree?” In 2006 I was graduating from the University of Toledo with my Bachelors of Fine Arts, proud, but terribly stressed out about getting my first job out of college. How would I become financially self-sufficient and yet do what I love every day? It sounded very abstract at the time, but it all came together in a very unexpected way.

For my BFA thesis show, I had created an art installation made out of hundreds of individually handmade fabric sculptures which made an interesting texture, so one day I decided to pick up the phone book (yes, in 2006 we still used phone books 🙂 and cold called all the photography studios in the city to try and sell the installation. I pitched it as a backdrop for photo shoots. After many disheartening conversations, I finally reached someone who was intrigued by my work, but not for the reason that I had initially intended. The person was interested in hiring me as a graphic designer for their photography studio. I said yes, of course, and the rest was history. From there, I advanced my skills in photoshop and learned how to apply my drawing and digital media skills to solve design problems. That job led to another, and then another, and soon I realized that I should learn how to code HTML and CSS because business owners were starting to realize the necessity for online presence. So I learned about coding and user experience design principles by reading a ton of books and online tutorials by night, and applying my newly learned skills on the job during the day… I was also lucky to have my brother, Haik, who was also pursuing design, so I always had him as a resource for feedback and information. After working as a graphic designer for 2 years, I moved to Boston to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts / TUFTS. I picked the program because it was flexible enough to create my own curriculum. So I took an eclectic mix of classes, like entrepreneurial marketing and typography, alongside installation art and art theory… After receiving my MFA, I joined EF for 3.5 years as an Interactive Designer and afterward decided to take on my next challenge by joining a Boston based startup called Wanderu, where I’m currently the VP of Design and UX. I maintain my freelance business on the side and take on projects whenever something interesting comes my way. So I keep doing what Diana advised. “Do what you love and keep your eyes peeled.” I’m probably going to live by that mantra for the rest of my life, it seems to be working!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It certainly has not been easy. Deciding to leave a comfortable job and a steady paycheck to attend a very expensive graduate program in Boston was definitely a risk, but I knew I wanted to give myself that experience. Going to school full-time and maintaining a freelance business had its own set of challenges, but I stayed motivated because I actually enjoyed doing the work. Freelancing empowered me to pay for school while I was going through it, therefore I was able to avoid student debt. So the incentives to pull those all-nighters to meet client deadlines were very real.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
With over 10 years of experience working in the field of design, I provide brand identity and product design services. I aim to create simple, meaningful, memorable and intuitive design solutions. Whether I’m working on a logo design or an app, I always approach projects from a user-centered perspective. At the core, my process is always driven by user experience and human psychology principles. Rather than concentrating on aesthetics first, I start with research and involve the client in the project definition process. Once a clear goal is established, I then move on to the problem solving stage which often goes through rounds of revisions where I collect feedback from the client at every step. One of my favorite design quotes comes from Richard Buckminster Fuller, an American philosopher, systems theorist, architect, and inventor, who said: “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

What were you like growing up?
I was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia. My mom, brother and I moved to the U.S. in 1995 thanks to the Green Card Diversity Lottery. I was 11 at the time. Armenia’s economy was in shambles after the split from the former Soviet Union. The complete governmental collapse caused scarcity in basic resources like food, electricity, running water and heat… So when the opportunity presented itself, my mom applied to the US Green Card Lottery hoping that it could be our ticket to a new life. It was definitely bittersweet when we found out we had actually won, but making the decision to move was an obvious one for my single mom. Since my father had passed away from cancer at a very early age, (I was 4 at the time), my mom already had a lot of extra responsibilities and pressures. She knew that the only way to give us the best life possible was to bring us to the US. Although it was incredibly difficult to leave our family and home, she knew the sacrifice would be worth it. So we packed 4 suitcases, put together all the money we had saved up to book flights, and took a leap of faith. Of course, starting over in an unfamiliar country with a new culture and language was not easy either. We faced all kinds of challenges as we started from scratch, but one thing became clear quite quickly. In this country, hard work pays off one way or another. So we persevered through the difficult times, always finding motivation in my mom’s bravery to take such a huge risk. Now I rely on our story to help me stay focused, motivated and always ready to take on the next challenge.

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