Interview by Neo Dhlamini

Mokokoma Mokhonoana interviwed by a graphic design student, Neo DhlaminiI was recently approached by Neo Dhlamini, a graphic design student at Inscape Design College to be interviewed as part of his college assignment. Students were required to choose a professional South African graphic designer of their choice and ask them a few questions. And the interview went as follows:


1. What process do you follow when you have a new project like creating a new corporate identity?

• I first meet (or communicate) with the client to give them an opportunity to present their company, background, products or services, competitors, the current and preferred image that their clients has about their company etc.

• I then research the client’s industry and see how their competitors present their brands. This helps in knowing the client more and it avoids me designing an identity that looks similar to my client’s competitors, which will be unprofessional as the aim is to differentiate client’s brand A from Brand B, C, D, E an so forth.

• I then decide on the style of an identity I will go with, after that I start brainstorming: sketching and playing around with ideas, at the end of this phase I choose the idea or solution that answers the client’s brief the best.

• The next step is simply to transform the logo I chose in to a digital format: i.e redraw the logo in a vector based design application, I prefer Adobe illustrator.

• After converting into a digital format, I then apply the logo to a business card and letterhead to give the client an idea of how the logo will look when applied to stationery.

• I then take my proposed design solution, and present it to the client. This includes taking the client through my creative rationale behind the design I would be proposing.


2. How do you know whether your work is good, how do you set standards for yourself and how do you know that you have met the client’s requirements and expectations?

The first thing I always remind myself is that it’s not about me, I compare myself to a doctor, you only do what is required and best to ensure that you meet the patient’s brief, to heal them. As a doctor you might have years of experience in doing brain surgery successfully but if your patient’s challenge only requires painkillers to solve, then offer exactly that. Don’t operate simply because you can.

I don’t really set standards, I simply answer brief then my job is done. I only present ideas that answers the brief and I always make the clients expectations or requirements part of my brainstorming so I don’t go over or below my limitations [design brief].


3. What do you consider to be great design – examples of good design?

Any design that is more of a communicating tool and less of a decoration. Looks are also important as they help in attracting attention, but the message of the design is the most important. But one can only know the real brilliance of a design after they’ve went through the brief that led to the design, because you get to learn the constraints and limitations that the designer faced.

Favourite designs: Apple logo, Woolworths‘ packaging for their products. And my recent would be logos for Black On Black and Zonkizizwe Investments.


4. Identity leaves footprints in all spheres of life. Do you think that your identity becomes part of the projects you work on, in what aspects of the projects is it evident?

To some extend yes, but I think it’s more of “projects that I work on become part of my identity, more than me being part of their identity”. Offering clients excellent designs is the best form of effective advertising a designer can ever dream of, as it leads to more referrals at no cost to the designer. All the designer has to do, is do what they are hired to do – offer excellent design solutions.


5. “and I’m not a racist, I’m just a visual poet at work ” what do you mean by that and do you think it is essential for a graphic designer to be aware of what is happening in their surroundings?

I knew that most people would perceive that design as me showing support to what happened at the Forum of Black Journalists meeting, which was definitely not my intention.

I think it’s a must for designers to be aware of their surroundings as it will help their work to be relevant, plus as a designer you get to learn about the different parts of the world, their culture and history which definitely affects your designs: For example white is a colour of angels, peace and brides to western people but a colour for funerals to Eastern people.


6. How would you describe the characteristics of a good designer?

A communicator not a decorator. It’s about nothing but the client’s design challenge not the different photoshop effects you know!


7. How do you conceptualize?

I play around different ideas by sketching them on my visual diary, [there’s no such thing as a stupid idea, there’s just ideas that answers the brief and ideas that doesn’t so whatever comes to mind I pen it down on paper]. I then choose ideas that fit the brief best.


8. Do you take design as career path or as something that is part of you?

It’s definitely something that’s part of me; luckily I’m able to make a living out of it.


9. Who are your favourite designers and how much have they influenced you?

It has to be Paul Rand and Ji Lee, 2 of the designers I think are/were excellent as a visual communicators. With their work aesthetics always follows communication NOT the other way around. Ji Lee has a project named “word as an image” which influenced me in establishing Words Theater.


10. What do think of the South African design industry in comparison with places like U.S.A.?

I think design or visual communication is a universal language. Take a look at the 2 icons (man and woman) used on toilets for example; it communicates the same message wether you in Nigeria, America, India or Hong Kong. Though, restriction because of geography, culture and religion sometimes apply depending on the location of targeted audience.