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Aia Zaina

Interior Design, Salutatorian


April 2021

It all stays in your head if you do nothing

Start off with who you are, where you’re from.
My name’s Aia Zaina. I’m Australian Palestinian.

What made you decide to follow a career in the creative arts?
I’ve always been interested in creative arts or using design as a means to express myself and a means to illustrate who I am, my history, my skills. I’ve always been a very hands-on person.

What did you study?
Interior design.

What am I going to be designing? It's what comes with the project and where I am in life and the experience it offers.

Do you see yourself as being someone who goes into a commercial career or are you not going to limit yourself at this stage? I feel at the moment, I don’t really want to rule it out. What am I going to be designing? It’s what comes with the project and where I am in life and the experience it offers.

I’m particularly interested in everyday mundane things. Think about how your experience acts as simple as washing your hands, how can you change that experience? Things that have a function. Can you experience everyday life, from the moment you wake up, as a function symbolized by objects?

At the moment I’m interested in how you design. How can you get yourself out of that box of what something looks like, of what a door looks like, what a floor looks like, and how can you really push those boundaries? That’s something I’m really keen about.

I don’t really like putting myself in a box and saying “I want to do a residential project. Or I want to do a commercial project”. At this stage. I really don’t know where I’m heading.

Illustration by Zainab Al Shibani, 2021 ©Zinab Al Shibani, VCUarts Qatar

Top: Image from Aia Zaina, 2021 ©Aia Zaina
Aia Zaina, 'Connecting Homeless Women to Place', Interior Design, 2021 ©Aia Zaina

My biggest issue is how I’m starting pretty late but, I’m starting to reanalyze the way I ‘design-think’, there’s always been a pattern to the way I think.

Every person thinks in a certain way but there’s this continuous, almost, ABCD formula and I think one of my achievements is getting out of that mindset. Because I’m currently working on my exhibition, you think it’s different to a client brief. What does a residential space look like? Does it have a sofa? Does it have a desk?

These constraints drive and push the way you think. It’s like using multidisciplinary arts whether that’s graphic design, whether that’s painting and printmaking, whether that’s through cinema. It’s like a big moment, taking symbols out of objects and taking names out of objects, to see things in different lights. I consider that an achievement.

In the past, maybe for two years, I was just so stuck on the importance of how I had to understand the rules. I had to understand the codes. I had to understand how things worked, so that I could build on them. I think that was an important space, but now I’m trying to break apart from it and see things in a different light. I think that was one of my humble achievements.

Aia Zaina
Aia Zaina, ©Aia Zaina

I’m starting to reanalyze the way I ‘design-think,’ there's always been a pattern to the way I think.

Exhibition View, Interior Design, 2021
Exhibition View, Interior Design, 2021 ©Raviv Cohen

I think I’m really into being able to express these top forms, changing ideas into reality. Suddenly. it wasn’t just on paper anymore. It became space, became about experiencing it. And I think that’s what I’m all about. That’s what I’m really dedicated to growing. It’s about creating that pleasant experience, that interesting space and enabling people to enjoy the experience.

I know we have so many spaces that we’re occupying and they really, somehow, dictate how we live our lives. But where I really wanted to get to, even in my thesis projects, what I really wanted to create is not just simply space, but create traits or create a place that creates a meeting in place.

Space goes beyond just a roof or beyond some experience. I think that’s something that struck with me here. How can I create something tangible that can change the way people interact, the way people live life, the way people move around?

Aia Zaina, 'Connecting Homeless Women to Place', Interior Design, 2021 ©Aia Zaina

I told you about the Arab Engineering Bureau Excellence Award. The faculty anonymously nominates students for this award, which acknowledges and gives prize money to the students of design excellence.

I am also having some research published. It’s usually for masters’ or graduate degrees. But my professors thought we should just give it a try so they really pushed us to apply as we normally wouldn’t have heard of it. Anyway, it’s for environmental design, so, I submitted an abstract from my thesis and it got accepted and I’m doing my conference in like a month or so.

Aia Zaina, 'Connecting Homeless Women to Place', Interior Design, 2021 ©Aia Zaina

Success for me is to do things that I can see in real life. Because while university is so creative, so fun, and sometimes tangible. But it isn’t large scale, real scale. And I want to be able to make things that are real, that are big and make an impact. A lot of things I’m interested in are like social changes. So, how do you feel when you enter a pavilion, or a space? Do you feel different when you leave? Something that’s very experiential, with a lot of light and shadows and I’m just smashing it. For me that’s success, when I can create things that are moment-changing, not life-changing but moment-changing.


An open resourceful platform that is inspiring, equipped, and helps you build a foundation. VCUarts Qatar really is like a huge stepping stone. It really did shape the way I think, the way I present things. Always pushes your boundaries.

Aia Zaina, 'The Making of an Experience'

To her younger self

Such a cringy response, but I think I’d say, just do it. I was a very reluctant person. I couldn’t make choices. Couldn’t make a decision. Always had to think three times before I did anything. Now, I just tell myself, just do it! That is what design has taught me. You don’t know what the outcome is until you go through a process, so you just have to keep producing. It all stays in your head if you do nothing.


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