How This All Started
Behance is a wildly popular portfolio and social network for designers and creatives. I've been posting work on there for a number of years, ever since I saw an MTV/Behance collaboration on TV in Japan. It was always a bit tangential for me, until I had a typography project of mine get featured. Then it got real. The site also started to have more Nigerian designers posting work. Through this network I met Daniel Emeka, a designer and Art Director in Lagos.
Attending a Portfolio Review here in New York had crossed my mind a few times, but it can be a bit daunting to see Meetups with hundreds of people attending. I knew Daniel was hosting a Portfolio Review in Lagos, and it just so happened I was going to be there for Maker Faire Africa at the same time. I reached out to him.
The Discovery of a Community
What was the digital scene like in Nigeria? What kind of work was being created? I wanted to find out. The design scene in New York, while very vibrant, seems at times to be very myopic, and I wanted to see what links could be forged with a community that was not yet on the global design radar.
The portfolio review itself went smoothly, despite starting a bit late. We looked at the work of Karo Akpokiere, myself, and the other designers who brought work. People showed advertising, illustration, and photomanipulation work, but no interactive design or web work.
I think this has to do with the health of print advertising vs. the newness of the web as a medium. Internet connectivity is still very troublesome there, which closes off much of the casual browsing we take for granted in the West.
The Future of Digital Design in Nigeria
It's useless to focus purely on connectivity issues in Nigeria. This will work itself out, largely because there is massive demand for broadband Internet and new software. Instead, I tended to focus on design concerns. A lot of what I saw was based on a Western visual language. Nigeria is nominally part of the West, sharing the English language and a national culture that owes much to England and the US, but there seemed to be remarkably little work that addressed Nigerian culture as a visual foundation.
I would like to see more of a truly African design emerge, one that has roots in Nigerian cities and language. That could mean tutorials done by and for Nigerian designers, teaching us how to create that "look", or explanations of how to localize iconography for the Nigerian market. I'd like to see more homegrown publications asking hard questions about style vs. substance, and challenging the community to grow.
More links can and should be forged with communities in South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya. As Africa sees a resurgence in economic confidence, the voices of the design community need to speak clearly, across the continent.
Finally, startups like Behance can play a role. They can provide an organizing platform and a model for Nigerian startups to follow. There were smiles all around when the Behance video played, partly because of the high production quality, but also because of the positive message for designers. By showing what CAN be done, and done well, Behance and others give Nigerian designers and artists a model to implement in their own communities.
My first portfolio Review was an interesting one. Not only was it in Nigeria, my home, it was more than a visual showcase- it was about a nation struggling mightily to coalesce and thrive. I was impressed by what I saw, and hope I get the chance to attend next year as well.