By Charles Kumolu
A man, who early had his eyes on the price, narrates the role his inquisitive nature while growing up, played in his becoming a co-founder of Aziza Design, alongside his former boss. Four years after, the firm which is reputed as Nigeria’s first multidisciplinary Design firm, has birthed another subsidiary, Mbari Uno, which is also the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa. His narrative is yet another insight into how millennial’s are audaciously defining the future in Nigeria.
In the beginning:
While growing up, my inquisitive nature saw me asking too many questions, deconstructing objects that I never found a way to put back together. Doing that earned me the title of ‘destroyer’. My first degree was in Fine and Applied Arts (Sculpture Majors), after which I worked as an Arts Director in different agencies across West Africa for almost a decade before heading to the UK to earn a postgraduate degree in Design (Multi-Disciplinary). I came out with distinction honours. Shortly afterward, I returned home, teamed up with my former boss, mentor and close friend, Mr. Obinali Okoli to start Aziza Design which happens to be the first of its kind in Nigeria and I dare say, West Africa. Four years later, we founded Mbari Uno.
I am an influencer
I am a leader of thought and an influence in the burgeoning African design industry. I happen to be the Co-founder of Aziza Design Ltd. It is Nigeria’s first multidisciplinary design firm. Innovating and Design came naturally to me. I am a multidisciplinary designer and design activist that is passionate about creating salable and sustainable design solutions through research and making the right collaborations.
Steps to greatness
Upcoming innovators should think big, aim high, start small and scale fast. Believe in yourself and make the right connections. They should ask questions, never ‘arrive’ and always be humble. They should seek to make the life of the next human better with the skills they have. This is how we can only play a part in making Africa and the world a better place.
Starting Mbari Uno
Having started a full-fledged design firm in Nigeria, we quickly realised that we had little or no local reference or examples to benchmark our practice. There became a need for us to create a platform that would bring designers, design enthusiasts, sponsors, manufacturers, industries and the general public under the auspices of Design. This set us on the part to do something and the name Mbari Uno came tops.
It literarily translates to ‘House of Collaboration.” In essence, it is a platform that fosters working, sharing ideas and developing solutions together.
On this platform, we want to teach design, discuss design, showcase design, profile designers, note down design firms, create great design work and ultimately establish and promote the design industry in Sub-Saharan Africa and as well document the design discipline.
Ulli Beier in 1961
The name, Mbari Uno was inspired by a remote similar activity of the Mbari Club- a centre for cultural activities for African writers, artists and musicians set up in Ibadan, Nigeria by Ulli Beier in 1961.
The word Mbari itself is an Igbo concept related to creation and collaboration. Mbari was an art form practiced by the Igbo speaking people in Nigeria. It usually involved the construction of a sacred house for the purpose of propitiatory rites embarked upon by a collection of artists and craftsmen. The houses featured large opened-sided square planned shelters containing life-sized, painted figures (sculpted in mud to appease the Ala, the earth goddess, with other deities as well, especially thunder and water).
The Mbari houses took years to build and erecting them was regarded as a sacred venture with ceremonies/rituals performed within the structure to a gathering of town elders. Upon completion and at the end of the rituals, going in or even looking at the Mbari house is considered a taboo and the structure is left to undergo one last ritual of being weathered by the elements of rain, and sun among others.
This collaborative culture of ‘making something together’ is really what inspired the name and platform Mbari Uno and the intent is to use the platform to start and situate activities and discussions on and around design in a third consumerist world like ours where design as a discipline/industry is relatively new.
Those that Mbari Uno is set to attract are generally Design enthusiasts. These are people who understand and have a deep interest in Design. It will also attract the Design patrons, consultants, and investors.
Mbari Uno will bring together design professionals both formally and informally trained designers, as long as they are well established in the practice. It will also link up manufacturing and production companies who meet certain criteria that will be set. This is important to ensure that the quality of our output will compete globally. Naturally, Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, with design interests or needs will come to us educational institutes won’t be left out. Lastly, it is poised to attract and retain the patronage of governments through agencies charged with the responsibility of Design and Innovation.
Achieving lofty dreams
We want to get to a point where Mbari Uno becomes a name of recall for all things about design in Sub-Saharan Africa. We want it to become the go-to platform for resource and knowledge of the Design industry. We want to help emerging designers gain access to innovative spaces, trainings, professional assistance, and any other service that will fast track them to success. The idea is to continually chronicle and publish the profiles of design professionals, design firms, design publications, design events, design schools and designs clusters and routinely publish insights, views, opinions, solutions, and positions among others on design-based issues using the powerful tool called media. We want to conceive, design and develop frameworks that will promote the culture of probing, innovation, collaboration and sustainable engagements that seek to improve the quality of life of the common man.
Success factors and indicators
There are so many things to be achieved with Mbari Uno. First is achieving increased collaborative relationships across communities or clusters through regular activities in design, education, and research. It will drive visible development of human capacity and position Nigeria as a leading design nation in Africa and as well see an increase in the number of successful Design startups originating from Sub-Saharan Africa. We’re creating a framework for the establishment of an Mbari Uno Design hub in every city that matters across sub-Saharan Africa. These hubs would serve as the space that allows each host community to actively play a role in designing solutions and prototyping ideas that will benefit them. We wish to get to a point where we develop policies and sponsor legislation in government for the regulation of the Design practice in order to promote excellence and standardise practice. We hope to collaborate with education agencies to continually review and update design education curriculum as we move from Country to Country.
Activities Mbari Uno will engage in
Like I noted earlier, we’ll basically be building on three legs which are Design, Research, Education, and Development.
Research would cover fieldwork activity aimed at data mining, information gathering, content generation and identifying problems. This will normally involve analysis of design goals, investigating many current design solutions and ideating new solutions for a product or a service or an intervention. The focus is on the community. At the end of any research work, we hope to develop or come up with things like policy documents, practice guides, codes of conduct, pricing models, solution whitepapers, blueprints, proposals, and curriculum among others. The idea really is that we want to start doing things for ourselves, by ourselves and with our peculiar realities in strong consideration.
We are tired of importing solutions for problems from cultures and locations that are alien.
The other type of activity taking place would bother on design education. These will be classroom-styled activities for learning, development and deployment. They will involve the organising of seminars, talk shops, tours, workshops, smack fire events, and conferences.
The idea is to create numerous learning opportunities for design. Opportunities such as symposiums to discuss design issues, design-focused business management seminars, design site tours and workshops by designers, design firms, and design enthusiasts. From here, we will keep building on our directory listings of Designers, Design Firms, Design Institutions and Design Hubs.
There is a clearly an absence of a holistic Design directory for the Design industry; where one can quickly look up for design professionals, companies, schools, clusters, markets, and Hubs . There are not enough design platforms for networking and collaboration amongst the design community and enthusiasts. Worse more, there is a huge deficit of designers in the whole of Africa and we don’t have enough yet to cause a change or bring about the much-desired awareness. The USA alone has more designers than entire East Africa. We practically have not set up or articulated our own design practice standards or created a relevant curriculum for design education. We need to understand that design plays a pivotal role in development. And at the very beginning of production or manufacturing, a design is necessary. Any call for made in Nigeria or Africa without factoring in design is like putting a cart before the horse.
There is also a deep fragmentation amongst the few design practitioners, companies, schools, and government. This is detrimental to industry growth and to achieve any meaningful development. We need to entrench the culture of collaboration. We need to formally create a structured design industry very much needed to drive design innovation and ultimately grow the economies of African countries.