Sunday, July 22, 2018


By Eme Ukpong

There has always been some what of a distinction between art and design. Despite the shared ability of both in  providing aesthetic pleasure and communicating profound meanings, design (good design at least) almost always serves a purpose beyond this. As put perfectly by Brendan Dawes, "The difference between art and design is that design is all about answers and art is about questions". Design communicates information in ways that normative language cannot. In a world where first impressions are everything, good design can show you all you need to know about a brand before you have to ask.

This week, we got in touch with the two promising designers behind Dá Design Studio, a brand identity design firm based in Lagos. I was doing a bit of web surfing on design and came across an article on the pair. After looking into them a bit further, I stumbled unto a podcast series they had done detailing their experiences as designers living and working in Nigeria. Safe to say it was captivating enough for me to email them straight away! If you're into design, or just interested in hearing about navigating the creative industry from a business perspective then this is definitely a podcast for you! You can listen to their latest podcast here.

The pair were kind enough to answer some questions on how they started the studio, the importance of 'visual identity', and being taken seriously as a creative business in Lagos:

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

We are Dami and Seyi, founders of Dá Design Studio. We are both Architects by training but individually and collectively passionate about brand identity design. As a team we are very laid-back people. We are design nerds. *laughs We are either designing or discussing design. Yeah, and we have a T.V culture, break time is for Netflix, watching The voice or MTV’s Are you the one? and of course, This is us.

How did you find yourselves in the Design industry in Lagos? 

During our time together at UNILAG. We were both very confident about our design thinking. We knew we were good at solving problems- the problem was the outlet. We were certain Architecture wasn’t the route we’d like. We both individually chose Graphic Design, then eventually we collectively found our niche in brand identity design. 

The Kofe Club - Brand Identity, Illustration, Motion

How did Dá Design studio come to fruition?

To be very frank. Outside of loving the idea of being our bosses, we just couldn't find a suitable agency or studio that was doing it in the way we strongly believed it should be done. Of course, our way isn’t the only right way, but it was very important for us not to loose sight of the why; you know? why we chose design to begin with. We always wanted to create a new narrative for design in the country, we wanted to actively push boundaries and enlighten our community about what design is and can be. We still do. So, setting up our own studio was for us the most feasible attempt at achieving our goals without distraction. So we did just that and we hope the studio becomes a safe haven for designers who share similar perspectives and dreams.

Warpaint- Branding, Packaging design, Illustration, Motion

What does your design process look like? Is it guided by any beliefs? Do you think your Nigerian background has any influence on your approach?

We really believe in resolution. From the moment we get a brief, to the first line drawn, we are working to reveal the solution from an almost essentialist perspective. We don’t have any specific styles we rely on, visually, we keep a very open mind. The only constant is our obsession with honest, resolved and effective communication. All this means is our work revolves around being highly contextual and conceptual. Considering that context is a very big part of how we design and we have a majorly Nigerian clientele, you can definitely see that Nigerian sauce in a lot of our work. Often times not out-rightly, but it’s right there, subconsciously breeding familiarity. As Nigerian designers, we get a lot of visual inspiration from our day to day lives in Nigeria. For instance, we are working on a typeface called Danfo Std. We can’t wait for it to be out, it’s really exciting. 

Danfo Std- Font Design

Are there any challenges to working as a designer in Lagos? What about any benefits?

The challenges are enormous because there isn’t a design movement. Modern design culture is relatively young. There’s a lot of convincing involved in the business. Aesthetic value is not a priority for many Nigerians and it is easy to see design through the narrow lens of aesthetics alone. People often omit its problem-solving aspect and label it a luxury venture as opposed to a fundamental aspect of building a brand. Aside from the regular infrastructural challenges of running a small business in Lagos, this is our biggest challenge. Design is not an intimate idea for many Nigerians, hence not often prioritized or well valued.

That said, this challenge is in itself also a blessing. We get to define what it means to us. There’s no enforcing of expectations or styles or even practice. We get to define the rules and make mistakes without guilt. Design in Lagos is untapped and underutilized, this means that those of us willing to depend on it and contribute to it at its infancy are very likely to be pioneers.

There's also a lot of inspiration here. There’s always something so deeply Lagosian to inspire you. Lagos gives us a unique perspective. We are inspired by its problems and it’s energy. We have a playing field to create design that impacts and communicate with a diverse and vibrant people often forgotten by the global design scene. 

In your podcasts, you talk a lot about ‘visual identity’. Can you talk a bit about what that means and its importance? Can you also talk about some Nigerian brands who have hit the mark in that respect?

Visual identity is basically the visual characteristics determining who or what a person or brand is. It encompasses the visual devices and visual language that help people recognise a brand. It includes a logo but it’s not limited to it. A logo is just one of the many visual devices that can be a part of a brand’s visual identity. Visual identity is an external appearance of the internal resolutions around a brand. Say, a happy playful brand that uses the colour yellow, they aren’t happy and playful because they use yellow, rather, they use yellow because they are. In turn, when you see the yellow, you get the sense that they are a happy and playful brand.Visual identity is a visual reflection of what a brand is, in a way that its audience can behold and relate to.

Visual identity should be both visually and conceptually strong. For us, good visual identity tells a story, the logo being just one part of it. With a good visual identity, your audience should think it’s you before they know its you. You don’t need to see the Glo logo on a billboard in Lagos before you think the ad is likely from Glo. Their adaption of the vibrant green, for instance, is very strong. We don’t exactly love their identity, but their use of colour is a good example of the point. Colour-centric visual identity; that is in the way MTN and Glo, for instance, both have bold colours that they own, can be quite predictable and old school, but it can also still be very effective and contextual. With where the world is headed, visual identity is much more than that… you know? Every visual encounter matters and people are doing mad things, really exploring the boundaries of brand expression and Nigeria needs to catch-up. A lot of the popular Nigerian brands don’t have cohesive visual identities, most times one part is strong and the other parts not so much. For instance, We like the typeface for Eco Bank, it’s really beautiful, but we think their dependency on color is boring. We also like Union Bank’s identity. That blue is special, we like how it contrasts the black and white patterns as well, but we also find the patterns themselves to be a tad bit pretentious. Alara seems to be headed somewhere nice, their identity is quite consistent, the architectural facadé feels like their patterns and their typeface fits just right, it also feels like just enough for what they do, so yeah, they are in the right direction and on tarred road.

Alara's visual identity (images sourced from

Can you tell us a bit about how you handle running a professional business as a creative and being taken seriously in Nigeria?

The key is to know your spice. Understand that what you offer is important. We take ourselves seriously so it's hard  for others not to be seduced into taking us seriously too. We know that what we offer is valuable and we own it. There’s absolutely no reason to be humble about presenting the work you do as valuable. The default reaction in Nigeria isn’t “oh, let’s go and spend a ton of money on design” lol. That’s why you need to be loud about your value. When we say loud, we don’t mean forcing your views about your work down people’s throats. Naa, it’s more like speaking from a position of expertise. Recognize their problems before they even know it, tell them the value they can get from adopting a different perspective, value your time, speak with the right terminology, empathize with your clients.. etc. The more aware you are of your value, the easier it is to stick to a cost and convince others. The quickest route to that awareness is information and know how, invest in your skill, invest so much in learning about design. Invest so much that you are confident and you start to see making certain financial compromises as foolishness because of how much you've invested. Imagine going treasure hunting in the belly of a rare whale in the Amazon, then finding a rare ruby that turns ice to silver, will you not laugh in the face of anyone asking you to sell it for a few bucks? This analogy is quite silly and unrealistic but, it’ll do *laughs 

How do you balance pleasing the customer and at the same time staying true to creating good design?

Pleasing the customer for us is more about listening to them, empathizing with them and letting them know we have their back. We don’t even fake it, we genuinely get fond of our clients, learn from them and trust them back. This trust makes it harder for you to rely on the design to please them. Our clients know we truly care about their business and they understand that sometimes pleasing them design wise may not be what’s best for their business. If you genuinely connect with your clients, identify their problems and design to solve their problems, there’d be minimal clashes around design. They may have comments, which is perfectly fine, but they’ll trust your opinions. We also maintain a humble stance, where we are not afraid of our clients’ comments and feedback, we genuinely want to listen to them and solve their problems. Good design and pleasing the client are not on opposite sides of the coin. That said, please note that there are bad clients, eg; people who don’t respect their own business enough let alone caring about solutions regarding that business… there are so many other examples of bad clients. With bad clients, their repentance isn’t your duty. Close up the project the best way possible, either by a polite termination, refund or caving in, whichever works for you and the terms and policies agreed at the beginning of the project. 

You mentioned in a previous podcast, the lack of- and the need for- an established design community in Lagos– do you still feel that way? And what else would you like to see from the Nigerian design scene in the future?

We need better design schools. We also need an aspirational gratification system that really focuses on the quality of design work. Like our equivalent to the DandAD pencils. We don’t necessarily believe awards are the true reward or score for work, however having something of that sort will make it easier for us to collectively raise the bar. There are currently many setups doing something similar in Nigeria, however, none has really nailed it from an almost academic perspective of what exactly good design is. 

Community is really needed, individual growth is good but communal growth is even better. When we can collectively create standards and expectations around working as designers in Lagos or Nigeria even, we can progress much quicker and much more optimally. There’s so much we can learn from each other.

For more on  Dá design studio:

Twitter- @da_dsgn
Instagram- @dadesignstudio

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