Editor’s Note: Martin Miruka is the founder, CEO and lead strategist of ATOM, the first indigenous brand strategy design firm in Kenya. Based in Nairobi, Miruka is also chairman of the Diversity Africa Foundation and KenyaOne, a nonprofit organization founded by ATOM to champion issues of diversity and the creation of a value-based national brand for Kenya. He is the author of The Passion of the Brand, a handbook distributed free to business leaders by ATOM to increase awareness and action around the fundamental role of brand strategy in building African businesses into global African brands. This interview continues our Foreign Correspondent series on the state of design in nations around the world.
How long has the design profession existed in Kenya?
Design has been around since 1967. It started with the creation of Kenyatta University, which was hived off the University of Nairobi (UON) to become a constituent college for training teachers. At that point, Design and Fine Art were created as Bachelor of Arts courses. Fine Art went to Kenyatta and Design remained at UON.
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Editor’s Note: Over the past 50 years, Diseño Shakespear has had a transformative impact on design in Argentina. Founded by Ronald Shakespear, the Buenos Aires-based consultancy has left its visual imprint on several of Argentina’s most important public facilities, including wayfinding systems for the Buenos Aires subway, hospitals, the Temaiken Zoo and sports centers. This has earned Shakespear a global reputation, recognized in design journals, exhibitions in Europe and the U.S., and induction as a Fellow in the Society of Environmental Graphic Design in 2008. Between 1985 and 1992, he served as head professor at the University of Buenos Aires Division of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, and now with his sons, Lorenzo and Juan, and daughter, Barbara, serve clients through Diseño Shakespear. Here, Shakespear acts as our “foreign correspondent,” talking about the state of design in Argentina.
What makes the history of Argentina’s design industry unique and challenging?
The history of graphic design in Argentina cannot be understood without taking into account the context, the country’s history and, more recently, its social and economic policies. Argentina is a sovereign and federal state, fully cosmopolitan, and based on two founding ethnic groups — Spain and Italy- as well as minor migration movements from countries such as Poland, Germany, Peru, England, Paraguay, Bolivia, Wales, etc. A series of de facto rulers, economic breakdowns, historically rampant inflation, have made working in Argentina difficult for everyone and particularly difficult for designers, whose work depends mostly on factors associated with a nation’s prosperity and stability.
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Editor’s Note: The global marketplace is real. Some brands are as familiar to consumers in Rio de Janeiro and London as they are to shoppers in New York City and Mumbai. That does not mean that the world now speaks a common design language nor approaches design in a universal way. What resonates in one culture may be rejected as odd, irrelevant or ignorantly offensive in another. In some cases, consumers may find the product appropriate, but the sales pitch tone-deaf and riddled with cultural clichés. Designers working across cultures confront the challenge of understanding differences in business and social customs, technologies, and typical design assignments as well as aesthetic preferences.
In the interest of broadening our knowledge, we are launching a “foreign correspondents” feature, beginning with our dear friends, Anita Luu and Sing Lin, two American designers who opened their Affiche International Asia office in Shanghai two years ago. An innocent question about the availability of Chinese typefaces led to a fascinating discussion, which is presented here.
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