Senior Creative Director

Team Advocacy 514 632 3337 farah.khan@50can.org @house9design

Farah discovered her passion for graphic design in high school. After graduating from Smith College in 2002 with a degree in Studio Art, she went on to found Bangladesh’s first ever English-language arts and culture magazine, Flux. She founded House9 Design in 2004 and started working with 50CAN’s founder, Marc Porter Magee in 2005.

Over the past decade, House9 has grown from a shop of one to a team of six. In her new role as 50CAN’s senior creative director, Farah reaffirms House9’s commitment to 50CAN and establishes herself as a thought partner and creative resource for team leaders and executive directors.

Farah was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In addition to Dhaka, she has lived in Alberta, Ohio and Massachusetts, before settling down in Montreal, Quebec. She lives with her partner Alison (who is from Ireland, making Farah an honorary-Irish), her little sister Fiona (“Let me tell you something about millennial teenagers…”) and two cats (who ensure the apartment is covered in a fine coating of fur at all times).

I aspire to be like Ms. M. Here’s why:

Ms. M had a beautiful condo for sale, and she and I both knew how badly I wanted it. In Quebec, down payment funds need to have been in the buyer’s bank account for at least three months, but part of my budget was just a week in. Ms. M convinced me to pay three months of her mortgage while we waited for my down payment to mature in a joint account between the two of us. And no, I wasn’t allowed to move in in the meantime.

While Ms. M was being cut-throat, I couldn’t help but admire her. She knew what she wanted. She knew how to get it. She wasn’t taking advantage of me, because we both knew how far I was willing to go, and she pushed right to that limit. I aspire to be like her, and other women who fight for what they want—women who might be branded “bossy” or “bitchy,” but are strong, confident, informed and fair. These women are everywhere, some famous, but mostly not. Even if I don’t like them, I always, always respect and admire them.

Why I love my job:

I’m a graphic designer and I get to wake up every day and do what I love—design, art direct and lead a brilliant team of artists at my firm. For me and my team, simply designing isn’t enough. Big commercial brands aren’t likely to come knocking anytime soon, but if they did, we wouldn’t accept.

Design can be powerful and persuasive, and we don’t want to spend our time convincing people to buy things or believe in things that might be great for a robust economy, but are in some way detrimental to the human race and the environment. So we’ve chosen to focus on design that helps people.

Working with 50CAN means we get to wake up every day and help make the world a better place.

My connection to public schools:

I’m lucky to have been the daughter of Dr. Benazir Durdana, a professor of English literature at Dhaka University, Bangladesh’s oldest and largest public university. She was the kind of professor who never gave an A (because there’s always room for improvement) but returned every paper completely marked with notes and corrections (because it was her job to make sure you improved). She strove to give each and every one of her students the sort of education they could get at the world’s best private universities—an inaccessible dream for a large majority of them.

My mother, in turn, was lucky. The Bangladesh Liberation War left higher education in shambles and several American colleges and universities held scholarship lotteries. My mother won, and she became the first Bangladeshi women to attend Smith College. Imagine that. In a pre-Internet world, a lower-middle-class Bengali woman traveled halfway across the world to educate herself.

This single event opened up a world of possibility for us: my father went on to get a master’s degree and build a successful business; my brother earned his master’s degree from the University of Toronto—Canada’s most prestigious graduate program in architecture; I went to Smith as well. My sister is just 18, but she’s well on her way—she wants to become an ed reformer when she grows up! We got lucky. But access to education shouldn’t be lucky. Our story should be—and could be—everyone’s story.

What I’m bad at:

Public speaking! Oh, it makes me so nervous!

The image that represents why I work at 50CAN:

I don’t think it’s possible to be human and not care about this planet. According to UNESCO, nearly 20 percent of the global adult population is illiterate. Only seven percent of us have college degrees. If we haven’t already, we will all eventually feel the ramifications of this shameful disparity—the effects of climate change and extreme poverty are already too real for too many of us. The wish for “world peace” might sound like a cliche, but I know it will be possible when every single person has access to an excellent education. 50CAN gets that, which is why I’m here.

Image source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (cc)