Born in Bosnia in 1994, Nijaz is old enough to have lived through some of the worst of the war but young enough that he doesn’t really remember it. He moved with his parents and older brother to St. Louis in 1998, joining an aunt and uncle who’d already settled near Gravois Park.
“We lived in a giant apartment complex surrounded by a Bosnian community, so I still had friends who spoke the same language,” he says of the transition.
Nijaz’s earliest recollection of life in America is vivid. “My first memory, ever, is seeing a massive South County Walmart parking lot. I was stunned. It was amazing. Pure Americana was the first thing to register.”
After that, Nijaz’s childhood memories are dominated by one thing only: Soccer. He and his brother ate and slept the game — even literally, opting to stay in their gear overnight so they could hit the field again first thing in the morning.
By the time he was 10, Nijaz was playing on a local team and tech-savvy enough to have a Myspace account and a general understanding of the early web.
“My soccer coach wanted to build a site and a logo and, essentially, a digital roster. I looked up how to build a website and I built it for him.”
That early website and logo assignment — two pieces of clip art layered in Microsoft Paint — ignited an obsession. Nijaz says he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what excited him so much about the project, but he knew instinctively that he wanted to do more like it.
“It sparked some fire in me that I couldn’t understand, and it was an avalanche effect. It gave me the same adrenaline rush I had been getting in soccer. At that point I started splitting my attention between soccer and design.”
Now, one might assume that such an athletic and entrepreneurial child of immigrant parents was obedient, measured and disciplined. And one would be partly right.
“I was a pain in the ass in school,” Nijaz admits. “I was for sure the worst kid out of the three of us, and probably had the biggest transformation.”
He describes himself as a cut-up and a class disruptor. But he had an uncanny sense when it came to testing his teachers’ limits — and his coach’s.
“Junior year, my soccer coach told me if I didn’t make my grades I couldn’t play. That drew a hard line and I started being a goody goody after that.”
Nijaz didn’t just buckle down at school, he excelled at soccer, eventually earning a full ride to play for Lindenwood. Unlike most students, he says college was less of a challenge than high school, even with the demands of being a student-athlete. Being able to finally focus on the things he truly enjoyed — design and soccer — made both come easy.
Nijaz’s twin passions also overlapped in ways that surprised even him.
“In soccer, I was typically the most creative person on the field in that I’d be the one to take on and dribble players. The outcome of that is unknown, so lots of players aren’t willing to take that risk,” he explains.
“It’s the same with my design process. You don’t know what’s going to happen; you just have to try it.”
It sounds freewheeling, but, like everything Nijaz does, there is an underlying studiousness involved. We’re talking about some of his other interests — architecture and electronic music — and the thread that seems to bind them.
“I love the process of understanding something I’m enjoying,” he says finally.
It’s an approach that suits his role as an interactive designer at Paradowski, where he imbues intuition and functionality into arresting visual concepts.
Blending the experimental with the established is something Nijaz does deftly. Lately, he’s been making his own soft EDM music and learning how to 3D model the architecture he admires.
“I’ve been fascinated with photorealistic compositions of 3D renders. How can you fool someone that well? So, now I have to figure out how you accomplish that.”
There’s little doubt he’ll achieve it. He knows what it is to work hard; he saw it first-hand.
“My dad was working, like, three jobs to support us, and my mom was working a night shift while staying home during the day so we didn’t have to go daycare,” Nijaz says of his early years. “My dad is a big problem-solver. I think I get my process-driven side from him. But I think I get my design eye from my mom.”
In some way, everything Nijaz has accomplished traces back to their example. Even his scholarship at Lindenwood was born of a love for soccer and sense of responsibility.
“At first I wanted to go pro, then I shifted to getting a scholarship so my parents wouldn’t have to pay for college. There were kids in high school going to Germany for a year to play soccer! My parents had already sacrificed so much, I would never ask them to do that.”
They’re proud of his career in advertising, even if they don’t quite understand it.
Nijaz laughs, “They were shocked you could even pursue design professionally, that you could have a client via cloud you’d never met and could serve.”
As for Nijaz?
“I’m most proud of my transformation from being a shithead kid in the back of the room. I’m proud of being able to refocus myself and understand there are things expected of me.”