By: Ms. Kyesubire Greigg
Posted: Jun 25th, 2019

It is often hard to define product design and often the word feels like an oxymoron because it can mean a physical good or item, a service or a concept. This then means that product design is the development or creation of a physical good, a service or concept that solves an existing problem. 

Tuesday 11th June 2019, saw the convergence of inter-disciplinary product designers at the Cheche Gallery at the Kenya Cultural Center in the first of many dialogues to share insights, experience and hopes about the industry and growth of the same.

The robust discussions identified that inadequate access to materials, technology and business acumen as the greatest barriers in product design education. This often leads to ill-prepared designers who will struggle to function and prosper in the work world. Thankfully, this is not a permanent situation and can be remedied by increased practice through job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships and industry visits that will allow them to understand and experience more than they would otherwise have.

It became clear that though many product designers are struggling to find and maintain work, Beatrice Mwasi countered saying that ‘there are as many opportunities as there are people and the needs of the community must guide the designer.’ For instance, there are 35 million shoes sold in Kenya annually. Of these, 11million are leather and 3.3 million are made locally and 7.7 million are imported. The opportunity here is in understanding what makes the 7.7 million buy imported shoes and meet that need. There are opportunities all over.

As the community needs guide, the designer needs to determine what their work represents and this determines if they focus on profit, social impact, sustainability or anything else. This then determines how far one goes that is enhanced by a few key actions:

  1. Build a portfolio: keep track of all you do as a designer by collecting everything from sketches and prototypes to the final product. Keep the sketches, take photos as you progress, and keep samples and product descriptions.
  2. Find all available opportunities: as said before, there are opportunities all over. These include community opportunities, internships, attachments, school projects and volunteer activities. These are useful even for established designers as it provides opportunities to improve skills.
  3. Network: build relationships within and outside the community. This is important because it provides opportunities to learn and become better as well as share knowledge with those who don’t know. Networking is accomplished through participating in and attending exhibitions, conversations, collaboration on projects and contributions to studies and research. This ensures you are top of mind with other designers and when they or someone else need help they will refer work to you.
  4. Learn the business: learn how to run your craft as a business. There are times when your design expertise is important and others when your business skills will seal the deal. It is important to be able to pitch, manage funds, people and processes as well as market the product. In addition, learn to work with the government to increase reach and impact.
  5. Give back: there are always people who need your help to grow and thrive. Take time to look around and see who needs help. Go back to the design schools and share what you know with the students, find an artisan who needs ideas and take time to share, find other designers dealing with challenges and help them find resolution. There are as many opportunities to give back and change the trajectory of other people’s lives.

At the end of the day, product design is critical to the growth of the economy and we must be careful to pay our part and contribute to the growth of our communities.

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Kyesubire is a visual scribe and storyteller using words and images to connect all aspects of life. She powers from faith to food to health to nature to fiction in ways that encourage viewers and readers to find joy and balance in life through its connectivity. She is telling HIStory of faith, hope, love and family.