Reasons why there is a big disparity between Kenyan companies and designers.
Having a strong brand is all about consistent and recognizable company expressions; to offer not only products and services but also meaning. In many ways, a strong brand is the nucleus of a company’s success. Unfortunately, it’s no secret Kenyan companies don’t have strong brand recognition outside the country. This is painfully clear when you compare our brands to their direct competitors globally. This is quite strange considering the number of talented design agencies & freelancers in Kenya. Creativity and talent are “on the ground” but it’s not reflected at the top. Consequently, the all-around design & branding of most Kenyan companies lag behind the biggest brands worldwide. The talent is there, so why is there such a big disparity between Kenyan companies and the design community?
1. Out of touch leadership
Most Kenyan companies & brands are either owned or managed by a rather old generation. There are numerous reasons why this is the case and Economists will be foaming at the mouth to tell you why. But the reality is that companies predominantly led by an older generation don’t prioritize an innovative digital approach. We strongly acknowledge that not all experienced leadership is bad, in fact, it has saved many companies from going under. But in this case, we’ll be focussing on the chokehold that this kind of leadership has on the design industry. Most companies run by old-generation leaders don’t value branding. So there’s no incentive to spend any company resources on it. In addition, most of these leaders tend to rely on the old “proven” strategies that brought about their success before the digital revolution. Unfortunately for the design industry most of those strategies don’t include any design aspects. Inevitably, you find the few design tasks required in these companies end up in the hands of employees who know nothing about design. In sum, strong brands are leaving their visual strategies to individuals who don’t have the knowledge to properly handle the tasks required.
2. Lack of value for the design industry
First of all, this is not a unique issue in the design industry. Just pay attention to the reaction people have when you tell them you have a design degree. It’s one of pity. But this issue is highly heightened in the Kenyan industry.
Design is vital in every company and the ones that invest in their design & communications department take a commanding lead in their respective fields. Safaricom is one great example taking this step. However, a lot of Kenyan companies don’t do this. In fact, companies are actively heading full speed ahead in the opposite direction. Inevitably, this has a chilling effect on the industry. When you don’t value something you won’t pay for it, let alone a premium fee. Consequently, design has become a “by the way” thought for most companies. When they do contract designers for work the unwillingness to pay for the services is evident.
This is very bad for a designer who is looking to make ends meet from their skills. Sadly everyone involved in this industry has a story of how they never got paid for work.
3. Disparity between the Educational & Professional sector
Without communication, even the strongest relationships die, and where there’s no communication a relationship can never exist. This is what happened to the relationship between the education & professional sector in Kenya.
It is vital for every government to empower its citizens with the right education and the professional industry plays a vital role in this. When students graduate from school the obvious next step is employment. The skills attained in school are what’ll determine where they end up in the job market.
The professional sector has to inform the education sector on the skills they need from graduates. In turn, the education sector adjusts the education curriculum to fit the job market. This is one of the biggest reasons why so many young designers find themselves unemployed. Even if they end up getting work they’re not properly equipped for the job. For example, we have so many web developers but very few UI & UX designers. Simply because UI & UX design is not being taught in school. Designers graduating from school simply lack the specific skills required for the evolving design job market.
When one of the co-founders of Jumia, Sacha Poignonnec was once asked why they outsource a lot of their work in Europe, he lamented on the lack of enough developers in Africa. This is a clear example of the education system not being at par with the job market.
Check out the video here
You can also check out our previous blog touching briefly on this issue here.
A way forward
We’ve gone through just a few of the issues we’ve seen that cause such a big disparity between the two sectors. This is clearly a complicated issue and taking the necessary steps to address it will greatly improve the design in Kenya. The future holds a lot of potential for the Kenya brands brave enough to embrace it. Although, this future cannot be realized without the design industry, and is high time Kenyan brands awake to this reality.