Ayesha Mathews, Head of Global Brand Experience @Nium and WILD Editorial Lead Volunteer, shares her fascinating professional journey toward creating transformative, impactful experiences. We’re inspired by her optimism for the future of design and provoked by her principles for building a meaningful creative career. Throughout her work and her relationships, Ayesha’s passion for people and community sparkles “with love.”
Tell us about your design journey. How did you get started in design? What are some of the most important experiences you've had along the way?
My design journey has certainly been a fascinating one, peppered with unique and interesting experiences. In retrospect, many of these moments played a significant role in shaping my career.
As a teenager, I experimented with hand-making stationery gift products in Bangalore, India. My first entrepreneurial adventure was all about creating custom invitations for businesses and individuals. After graduating from Mount Carmel College with honors with a degree in Commerce & Marketing and an inspiring tenure as College President, I began my professional journey at E-Sign (now Spread.ooo, India) led by creative powerhouse Sonia Manchanda. Under Sonia’s guidance and with the help of my talented peers, my stint at E-sign was my training ground for a year. The foundation helped me navigate Parsons School of Design in New York the following year. The most important lesson I learned from Sonia – something that still deeply resonates with me – is the idea of “pyaar se…” (it is a phrase in Hindi that translates to “with love”). Essentially, it means if you’re going to do something, do it with love.
I moved from Bangalore to New York with $2,000 and a $100,000 student loan to study at Parsons. Both in New York and Paris, my time at Parsons gave me the fundamentals across, brand, experience design, and communication design. I loved the opportunity to explore a range of creative disciplines. What stood out for me was the power of design to alter and shape an experience.
My stint at Duarte, where I worked on the Apple account, was followed by one of my professional milestones. In 2009, I founded PIXINK, a creative agency that enabled me to collaborate with brands like Sephora, Facebook for Business, and The Smithsonian. Each of these projects presented unique creative challenges which enabled so much professional growth. The fact that I got to learn from some of the best in the industry was the icing on the cake. The experience of crafting brand identities and creating immersive experiences for such renowned organizations was both humbling and incredibly rewarding.
Throughout my career, curiosity and adaptability have served me well. The ideas that worked yesterday may become obsolete today. Design is an ever-evolving field — staying open to new ideas, emerging technologies, and design trends has been crucial in my ability to lead creative teams and deliver innovative solutions. I’m a maximizer who amplifies the talent capabilities of the team and embodies ownership mindset. I pursue elegant solutions—i.e., simplicity on the other side of complexity—that are artfully crafted, emotionally engaging, and profoundly intelligent.
My journey in design has been an invigorating canvas of education, diverse experiences, a wide aperture of cultural exposure, and a commitment to creating meaningful, transformative solutions. It's a journey that continues to evolve and inspire me in my role as Head of Global Brand Experience at Nium.
What advice would you give to aspiring design leaders?
Embrace the Japanese concept of “Shuhari” - which captures the stages of learning to mastery — “first learn, then detach, and finally transcend.” These are a few approaches that I’ve tried and would love to learn what’s working well for you.
Codify your “DNA”: Understanding what it is that makes you/ the brand you’re serving compelling is a big part of branding. Codify this “DNA” via narrative and visual artifacts and present it in ways that are relatable for your audience.
Stay User/Customer-Centric: If you want to be a successful designer, you need to check your ego at the door and place your user at the very center of your decision-making process. Understanding the needs and preferences of your audience is fundamental.
Experimentation and Adaptability: The creative landscape is ever-evolving, and the pace of change we’re in today is unprecedented. Continuous learning and “unlearning” is the only way forward.
Collaboration: I'm a firm believer in the power of collaboration across diverse perspectives and skill sets. It's about orchestrating people and ideas effectively.
Impact and Community: Ultimately, I'm passionate about creating experiences and brands that have a positive impact on the community.
What are you most passionate about in the world of design?
I’m passionate about orchestrating people, ideas, products, and experiences that feel transformative, have an innate beauty, and strengthen our sense of community and positive impact.
What are your hopes for the future of design?
I believe that design has the potential to drive positive change in the world, and I look forward to seeing it fulfill that potential in the years to come. I see this happening across two key areas.
Design Advocacy and Leadership: Design leaders should advocate for the value of design and influence decision-makers across industries. This advocacy, in turn, can provide better insights into the impact of design on business success and societal progress.
Design Thinking Beyond Products: Design thinking can extend beyond traditional products and services. The principles should be applied to addressing complex challenges, from climate change and public policy to social justice and healthcare.
Your leadership tips.
My leadership philosophy has many aspects, but the foundation is psychological safety. As a leader, be a multiplier of team well-being. Push for outcomes over output.
Tell us about something you love!
My personal #FFFFFF hex code ;)—Family, Friends, Food, Filters, Fashion, Fabulousness
How do your personal interests and hobbies inform your work?
They enrich my work as a creative leader—exploring museums, murals, design boards… enhances my process with diverse artistic elements and styles. Travel and cultural immersion help me incorporate different cultural perspectives and traditions into my designs. As much as I love staying updated on all things technology, I also want to get better at practicing “tech sabbaths” to disconnect from tech as a way for nourishing my soul! Music and soundscapes as sensory inputs really feed my creative spirit, and I use them to block off time to get into “flow.” When it comes to community involvement, I prioritize projects aligned with causes and values that resonate with me. I’m super invested in personal growth and well-being as it’s impossible to fuel creativity when your cup is empty!
What super power do you wish you had?
“Ctrl Z” on climate change!
Connect with Ayesha on LinkedIn.
As Women in Leadership & Design (WILD) redefines paradigms of design leadership, we elevate the perspectives of the creative leaders in our midst. “WILD Portraits” shares the distinct stories of Bay Area women and non-binary design leaders, highlighting each individual’s unique path and point of view. Together, these profiles provide a sketch of the state of design leadership and how it’s evolving.