Nifemi Marcus-Bello is a product and furniture designer based in Lagos, Nigeria. With every design, he aims to improve the user experience through critical research and problem solving. Marcus-Bello hopes to spark the curiosity of modern african design and consumer behaviour.
What is design to you and when did you first decide to become a designer?
From a young age, I’ve been fascinated with how everyday products work and how they were made. I remember always taking apart my toys to see what was in them or getting a walkman and being extremely fascinated with the technology. I would also sketch, as much as possible and try to enhance them with futuristic features. So you can say this curiosity lead me to product design, which is a combination of science, art and engineering. I was also very fortunate to have a mother who was just as curious as I was; my earliest memories of design were of her always explaining why an object or product was more superior than the other.
What materials do you mostly employ, and what is the underlying philosophy of your work?
As designers, I think our job isn’t to choose a specific material or medium; I think artists definitely have that privilege. As designers, our job is to always put the user first and consider the functionality of the material, which can always differ.
Please take us through your design process?
Usually when I’m given a brief and a problem to solve, I sit with the client to see what they want to get out of their product or service. I then carry out research and gather quantitative and qualitative data on the end user and try to break down previous experiences or the problem, stage by stage. After which I come up with initial ideas, and develop them to come up with a final design, making sure I carry the client and one or two end users through out the whole process.
Design is a relatively new discipline in Nigeria and may not be offered by the majority of tertiary institutions in the country. What do you think is responsible for this and do you think this anomaly can be corrected?
I think the problem is that Nigerians unfortunately do not understand the difference between art and design. They tend to put the two in the same box and don’t understand the impact good design can have on daily life. We tend to think more about how to make products cheaper than how to make them better and have a longer life span. Don’t get me wrong, I think art is as important as design. I just think the two need to be separated for people to understand the power, principles and ultimate goal of design, which is to create solutions and enhance people’s day-to-day experiences.
What can you say about the quality of craftsmanship in Nigeria with regard to building prototypes, and by extension, finished products on a large scale?
The ultimate goal of product design is production. Unfortunately not a lot of things are being produced in Nigeria, which is a problem. So from a sustainable and design point of view, you have to keep this in mind and try to work with what you have.
Is there any such thing as African design?
Yes, I think with architecture, we have something new, which has come with the likes of David Adjaye. He has shown that African design via architecture is definitely in demand. He has always approached his design with that in mind and in a very contemporary way, like the chair for Knoll, which I think has a very interesting African reference to it. With regards to product design, unfortunately I don’t think we have quite coined it yet, which is both a gift and a curse. A gift because we have a clean slate and can dictate what African design truly is, a curse because there are not many archives or references to choose from and anything new in Africa is usually hard to sell.
How can you encourage other young and emerging African designers on the scene, such as yourself?
I think its very difficult as a product designer in Nigeria now because there are very few companies and individuals who care about the end user, but I say make them care. Always place the needs of the end user first and do not complicate a situation. Lastly, I’ll say just think big and have no fear. However, take calculated risks and use design as a tool for change in your community.