We started our Design Around the World interview series in Nigeria with Dá Design Studio. It was a defining place to begin.
We learned about the challenges of designing in a country where design is considered a luxury, and the vision two designers had for the future of Nigerian design. That was three years ago.
Recently, in catching up with Seyi from Dá Design (I had the honor of meeting him in person this year!) I learned plenty has changed since 2017. So we decided to continue the conversation, this time with Lagos-based designer & front-end developer, Kolapo Oni.
Here we talk with Kolapo about the fast-growing tech scene in Nigeria, the radically changing quality of design work and the bold, new confidence of the Lagos design community.
First, tell us a little more about yourself. What first made you interested in design and development, and how did you learn? Do you work independently?
My name is Kolapo Oni. I’m a web designer and front-end developer with a passion for interactive design, aesthetics and clean user interfaces. I love photography, and I take nice pictures which I mostly put on VSCO. I’m also interested in architecture and interior design – I have boards on Pinterest where I curate this.
I enjoy crafting beautiful and interactive experiences. This passion, coupled with the fact that I studied computer science at university, also played a part in my design and development journey. My first major experience in design started from game design and two really interesting games I designed are Pong & Fading. Fading is a minimalist 2D game where you traverse the mind of a man whose wife is dying of cancer. I started working on it while I was in university and it took quite a bit of my time as I had to do UI design and level design alongside programming. The process I worked through for Fading is pretty much how my learning process goes. It’s mostly individual learning, loads of practice and teaching myself the things I want to know.
Getting into web design, I started out designing interactive web experiences and some relevant projects I’ve worked on to date are beautiful experiences,Ose games and my 2019 Year in Review site. You can check out my portfolio website to see more interesting projects I’ve worked on. Although I freelance occasionally, I currently work full-time as a front-end developer at the digital lab of Sterling bank in Lagos, Nigeria, where we’re focused on building digital products. At the work front, a product I’ve worked on is a digital bank called Gomoney, for which I’ve had to work on the early access website, the marketing blog, a web payment portal, as well as a dashboard for viewing user transactions.
Africa is one of the fastest-growing tech markets in the world. How do you see that affecting your work and the creative/design scene right now? Does the growth feel tangible in any specific way at this point?
Yes, the growth is quite tangible. From Nigeria alone, these past few years have seen a drastic rise in a couple of tech companies (both old and new) and this has kind of broadened the career diversity in the tech space. Now there are more graphic designers, photographers and content writers and other creative roles in the tech space than we’d have seen like, five years ago. As a person who draws inspiration from my environment and people around me, the diversity in the tech space has made a positive impact on how I think and work.
As we understand it, getting design gigs can be more difficult in Nigeria because clients believe they will get higher quality work elsewhere.
Is this still true today, generally speaking? How is it for you, especially working independently?
Looking at 2017 till now, we have seen a positive radical change in the quality of work that Nigerian designers have been putting out, so I don’t think getting design gigs based on quality of work is more difficult for Nigerian designers. I know designers who get gigs both within and outside Nigeria. I’ve also had discussions with a few clients interested in working together based on my portfolio.
As recently as last year, I got more emails and messages from people I’ve never met, from Nigeria, Europe and the U.S. appreciating my work. So if we’re discussing quality of work, I think the global impression is positive as more than a few of us are already known for putting out dope work.
What is your opinion of the current state of graphic design in Nigeria right now? What about in Africa overall?
I can’t really say about Africa in general, but for Nigeria, particularly Lagos, the current graphic design scene is becoming bold and daring because studios like Dá Design and Niyi Okeowo have set new standards and raised the bar of expectations for graphic and visual design in Nigeria. This can be seen from a couple of outstanding works they’ve put out there.
In our interview with Dá Design Studio, Seyi said many local clients, when outsourcing their work to other countries, “fail to realize the importance of context in design, especially when designing for Nigerians.”
What makes designing for Nigerians different? What is the context a designer from South Africa, for example, might not have?
I agree that context plays an important role in design. Generally, culture and environment influence design, and certain elements like color and language hold cultural values. Language, for one, is diverse across nations and color is also an element that can have different meanings across cultures. A South African designing for Nigerians might find it difficult to convey a message a Nigerian can pass across when working with translations that deal with metaphors. Same way a Nigerian designer might struggle in the South African context.
Have you been able to find a network or circle of like-minded creatives in Lagos? Any local design platforms or networks that you participate in?
For me, it’s mostly casual hangouts with friends that are already in the creative space. There are also events centered around art, photography and design I’ve attended in Lagos.
Usable is also a design meet-up that is held every last Thursday of the month at CCHUB in Yaba, Lagos. It is one of the most consistent design meetups, which I’ve attended a couple of times.
In our interview with Dami and Seyi, we learned good design is still considered a luxury in Nigeria, given the country’s other more pressing problems.
Why do you think good design is important (despite or maybe because of these problems) and what does good design mean for you?
So irrespective of these problems, I think good design is important because it improves our day-to-day experience and interaction with our environment by making our lives easier. In our general daily life, we interact with hardware, spaces and digital products, so I would say industrial design, digital product design, architecture and interior design all play important roles in our lives either directly or indirectly. I think the outcomes from these fields are crucial. If, for example, I find it hard to use a blender, navigate a site or use an app, it will inevitably make my life more difficult, but good design will cut these problems off before I even interact with them.
Though Lagos can be a beautiful city, I understand there are also certain pressing problems that still affect us daily. I think good design is very important because you honestly don’t want to make something that’s going to add to the existing level of stress and chaos.
For me, good design means intuitiveness and clear expression of function. Good design is timeless. Good design is great storytelling.
"I honestly believe that if you are consistently putting out good work... you will draw the right attention and eventually gain visibility.'
You are all about good taste and aesthetics. Do you see other Nigerian designers with the high level of taste who want to raise the bar for good design?
What do designers in Nigeria need most right now in order to do that?
Yes, there are a couple of Nigerian designers doing great work. I’ve worked with some of them, and I have seen some beautiful work from other designers I haven’t personally interacted with.
I think staying inspired, being open-minded and always pushing the boundaries as to what’s achievable is something that’s really important in raising the bar for good design.
What impact does your social media presence have on getting new clients and self-promotion in general? What works best for you?
For me, it’s Twitter. I’ve made a couple of relevant connections and gotten gigs just talking about a site I designed and my work in general on Twitter.
I believe doing good work isn’t enough. You also have to showcase your work on platforms where you’re active or reachable. And I honestly believe that if you are consistently putting out good work, even if you don’t share all of it, you will draw the right attention and eventually gain visibility.
Also the fact that my work has been featured on web design platforms like Typewolf and thegalley.io this year has amplified my visibility. A few clients have reached out just seeing my work featured on these platforms.
In your opinion, what are the top 5-10 design studios from Nigeria that everyone who might be not familiar with the Nigerian design community should know?
How can all designers and design communities do a better job of communicating with each other? How can we become more engaged with the Lagos design community? Are there any blogs or specific magazines we can follow?
Besides a few design gatherings that are held from time to time (like Usable), I think having more casual hangouts with other designers and creatives would help.
At the moment, I don’t know of any major platforms you can check about design in Lagos. However, an idea I’ve been toying with is a podcast interviewing creatives in Lagos, and designing a site to showcase great work from creatives based in Lagos. I think these will help a lot.
Keep an eye on Nigeria and specifically Lagos – it's obvious a lot more is coming from this design community and it's happening fast. The links above are a good place to start, as well as Kolapo's website and Instagram. We look forward to seeing what another three years bring for Nigerian design.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!