Fungi Dube is a brand and visual designer based in Zimbabwe. She has been designing for the past 7 years and is very passionate about elevating African narratives through modern design. She’s become an expert at telling meaningful stories through her designs. Fungi shares from her wealth of knowledge tips to explore your different design discipline and individual style to come up with something that will tell different stories in an authentic African way.
As we look at the world nowadays, the African narrative has been misconstrued. There are questionable interpretations of what the African nation is. Sometimes we see it in movies, and in how western cultures document narratives of African culture. The reason why that happens is because we’re not putting ourselves in a position where we tell more and more of our stories. When we put the storytelling in the hands of someone else they’ll communicate a few ideas in your background and history but they’ll miss out a lot of details. These are the things that only you could fill in from experience.
The African narrative is multi-directional and multi-diverse. I’m speaking to you as a Zimbabwean and have a different historical context from Nigerians. How we dress, what we eat, and our languages would be different. So the stories we tell would be diverse because we’re coming from different lenses but the foundation is that we’re all african. It becomes more interesting to experience all these because there are several stories that would come out from an underlying thing.
How do we conceptualize ideas?
I get asked this question a lot of time. Many people are interested in telling the African narratives but they don’t know how to go about it or where to get the resources. We are all in different stages in our journey as designers.
The things that we’re learning are foundational. Things like how to use color, white space and principles of hierarchy, balance, etc. to build designs. We must now use all of these tools and redirect them to something that’s more culturally inclined. That means we must shift where we get our inspiration from. We can look a little bit more inside. Look into our backyards, our grandmother’s kitchens, our hair, afro curls and gather inspiration for our designs.
Someone here may be wondering what this looks like so I’ll share with you my personal process. We have to think about our creative toolkit. Then we need to ask ourselves how we’re going to gather inspiration and turn it into our own design and at the end of the day come up with a strong design. We want to project our designs to an international audience so we want to make sure that our designs look really good and attractive.
The creative process includes 5 steps: discover, research, iterate, conceptualize, and execute. These are the stages that I personally go through in my designs.
Essentially, when I’m thinking of infusing culture into my work I go through a discovery process. Firstly I ask myself important questions.why is this important? Who would I like to engage in this story? What resources do I need to make this happen? Do I need to write a book, interview someone, create a documentary? Do I need to have a conversation to find historical events? How am I going to execute this? What sort of style do I need to capture? Do I need someone to do an illustration or do motion?
Secondly I need to research. Any good design process includes a research. As much as you can google, sometimes you may have to go through unconventional ways of getting information. You may need to get up from your desk, going to craft market and feed your eyes on unique pieces and different perspectives and see how people express their arts.. You need research to give insight to how you express your designs and mor depths to explore.
The third stage would be to conceptualize. Here you have to put all of these bits you’ve collected together. You need to see what works and what doesn’t’. You decide on what you’ll use and what you’ll discard for the project.
We want to be able to ensure that we test our design to see whether things are working. Whether you need to pull some things out or include more things. You might need to go back and forth between the previous steps until you’re satisfied with the outcome.
Nowadays you don’t have to go through a rigorous process in testing designs. You can put things out to the design community or to a mentor and get good, constructive feedback that would help you iterate on your designs if you need to.
The execution is something that puts all the pieces together. You want to make sure that all these designs follow the fundamental principles of design and also come up with something reflecting the african design and still be able to compete in the international market.
What can african inspired design look like in the real world
I’ll like to show you various designs that could inspire you to start thinking about your own areas of application.
The first case study is the Mam’gobozi based in Johannesburg. It is made up of a male and female designer who infuses African symbology and culture. They did the branding for the Africa Centre which is in the United States. They took cultural symbols from different places and infused in such a way that’s outstanding. So the designs are strong fundamentally and still give the African narrative.
The second case study is by Chisaokwu Jobson who is based in Lagos, Nigeria. He came up with this logo for Ayoka which is a media house company. They do photography, cinematography and videography. I felt the design was so brilliant with the concept of joy coming from the sun and the light.Just looking at the design you can tell that it’s African based Once again the design is fundamentally balanced and still communicates a cultural feel.
The third case study is a project by Nontsikelelo Mutiti, a Zimbabwean designer based in Berlin . She came up with this experimental series where she channeled braided typography inspired by strand braids. I’m so obsessed with this particular design. This project shows how we can get inspiration from things around us. I challenge us to channel the common things we see into unique and competitive designs.
This final case study is by me. This packaging design was inspired by the picture on the right. It’s a picture of a coffee planter looking at her coffee plantation. It shows that patronizing the products would yield more uplifting stories. We can draw inspiration from all of this and translate them into our individual styles.
I hope this would encourage you to see how you can infuse a little bit of who you are into your designs. I hope you’ll try and start exploring because we need more diverse African storytellers in different design disciplines. We need to build our own library, books and archives.We need more documentaries that reflect our culture. I think the principles of design hang on education. We need to be able to make sure that we’re doing something for ourselves and for the future generations.
When we look at textile design in Africa, the amazing prints that we were, there’s a whole process and history behind how it was made. The people who spearheaded these patterns we see in this print, created the geometrical arrangement and gave meaning to these abstracts are actually the women in the society. Our mothers have always had the creative instinct between them, It’s something that was inbuilt. This should encourage every African woman.
At the onset, I was so scared to design. I deleted every design post that I had on my Instagram and it’s very different to what I have right now. I decided to go forward regardless of how it would be seen. I was confident because It was coming from passion, from my heart so regardless of how it was received I knew that I was going to put it out there.
Do not feel intimidated and like you cannot explore any form of design. Do not feel like you cannot be successful in design because that creative spirit is something that has been with us since the beginning of time. For as long as you’re pursuing this, be confident and sure of yourselves.