Towards a New Everyday

Towards a New Everyday

May 2023
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As a researcher, these problems drive my curiosity: the gap in the collective awareness of specific creative cultural history in Nigeria, challenges for Nigerian designers in developing culturally connected and sustainable designs, and the limited cultural scope of modernist ideas of design.

Nigeria today is a country born from a colonized period, in a heavily globalized present, more consumptive than productive. Nigeria’s biggest problem has been its inability to achieve and maintain a successful economic diversification primarily due to its political culture in which leaders prioritize personal gain and patronage and decline to take decisions for the health of the public good in the long-term (Usman, 2022). One of the three pathways to achieving economic transformation and ultimate diversification in Nigeria outlined by Dr. Zainab Usman (2022) in "Economic Diversification in Nigeria: The Politics of Building a Post-Oil Future,” is through “manufacturing and resource-based industrialization.” The limitations of the manufacturing sector, customer appetites curated by “foreign-is-better” attitudes and consumed media, and the prioritisation of basic life needs all create an environment with little room for the majority of makers — both formal and informal — to fully explore what a Nigerian voice may look like in product design and production processes that impact and is accessible to everyday Nigerians, despite diverse historical perspectives in the creative ethos and making of useful objects. It can be argued that this could come from the inherent disconnect from traditional creative vocabulary, systems, and material culture on a tactile and mental level.

Nigeria has a rich creative heritage, however, this paradox exists: an object from a pre-colonial era, made with purpose and for specific use, may hold more value globally for its aesthetic and anthropological record but have little relevance or awareness locally. This disconnect is evident not just in the physical displacement and larger lack of access to cultural history and face-to-face exploration, (due to most artifacts sitting in museums worldwide) but also in the unmet potential of integral influence on everyday materiality. Nigeria's rich creative history has not been fully incorporated into contemporary design in a contextually sensitive way.

Why is this important? Design has often been influenced by a Eurocentric perspective, with many modern concepts rooted in European history and the model of industrialization. As a market-driven force, globalization encourages generalized output regardless of culture and context. Walter Mignolo - a professor of literature and cultural studies and prime contributor to decolonization discourse - defines two sides of the “homogeneous force of globalization” as “the narrative of modernity” and the “logic of coloniality” (Mignolo, 2011). 

The need for cultural continuity responds to the inevitable reality of globalization because it contributes a Nigerian perspective which is inherently a "decolonial option" (Mignolo, 2011). Nigeria's design and design production landscape may have the potential to approach globalization uniquely by exploring contextually relevant options that also actively decolonize, continue, and communicate culture holistically through design. The concept of reglobalization, coined by Dr. Ngozi Okonji-Iweala, also promotes economic diversification not just for the benefit of the local economy but for strengthening the global supply chain, especially in times of crises (Hermosa, 2022).

In 1958, charged with the excitement of impending independence, Nigerian painter Uche Okeke (2019) reflected on the role and purpose of ‘Nigerian’ creativity moving forward. He founded The Zaria Arts Society, made up of eight fellow student artists to make art under an ethos of synthesis. Natural synthesis — the free incorporation of traditional creative vocabulary with the Western form they were being taught — was the foundation for fine-art making by the eight student artists and was an underlying philosophy in their eventual careers. Demas Nwoko — renowned Nigerian artist, architect and Zaria Rebel (as the students in the society were called)  — through his architecture has synthesized local material and current techniques with traditional form (like impluviums in roofs, a staple in traditional homes) and process. Printmaker Bruce Onobrakpeya’s — also a Rebel — famously synthesized Urobho tradition, Christianity, and the modern world of Nigeria, resulting in a decolonization of faith-based imagery (Berger & Picton, 2020). 

The topic of "cultural transference in design" is gaining traction in academic design discourse and research; Wenjin Yao’s investigation of capturing “Chineseness” in product design is a prime example (Yao, 2013). Despite understanding the inherent value of cultural knowledge to its people, Gui Bonsiepe – a German design theorist who worked in South America understanding the role of design in the global south – has also been critical of the efficacy of transferring elements from cultural artifacts to contemporary designs stating false equivalencies as reason: “what can Chilean traditional patterns offer to the design of a computer mouse?" (Bonsiepe et al., 2021). Nwoko thought differently, saying “our industries will remain in the woods until it admits the activities of indigenous creative designers into its product development process” (Nwoko, 2022). This research examines the "how" of this admission.

As a Nigerian product designer and design researcher of Igbo heritage, I wonder, what could the future of design ethos, production, and even definition in Nigeria hold? The research plan is to explore the role of design in Nigerian cultural continuity — through ethnography, co-design, observational engagement with objects from Igbo historical culture (as a case study), material methods, and personal practice — through the methodology of ‘synthesis’ (as historically experimented with in Nigerian fine art) over transference; if hybridity as creative remedy was explored when Nigeria was transitioning to an independent state, it is a worthy methodology for researching her future transitions. This reflection uncovers an opportunity (for myself and Nigerian designers alike) to rethink and deconstruct the consciously or subconsciously dominant definitions and processes of design itself for the benefit of the Nigerian design-scape and the spaces and people it creates for. 

One core research question drives this inquiry:

How can new combinations of research methods decolonize contemporary practices and challenge modernist and myopic concepts of design through practice-based engagements with pre-colonial creative culture in Nigeria?

Two supporting questions help focus the main query further:

What are the existing perceptions and cultural nuances of and needed considerations for designing and producing in a complex, globalized, and once-colonized space with a decolonizing and cultural continuity objective?

How can a revaluation of historical/pre-colonial objects and systems, and how we engage with them, generate guidelines for Nigerian makers to consider approaching cultural synthesis for active cultural continuity in their end-to-end design practices and production processes as a method rather than interpolating generalized aesthetics?

I believe this study will generate new knowledge in product design methods and considerations for once-colonized spaces; by critically analyzing and articulating the contemporary value of pre-colonial, historical objects through a design lens, it hopes to pave the way for a more balanced approach to engaging and utilizing cultural heritage in design in post-colonial contexts. This study will benefit the development of the Nigerian design community by involving participants in experimenting with and defining the potential for historical referencing and knowledge continuity through making as a design method that benefits the wider global design community invested in the practice and teaching of design decolonization.

By being situated in an African context and examining decolonial considerations in the activity of "making" and not just education, this research also brings a unique focus to the growing field of decolonizing design and contributes to the goal of empowering agency and creating a more equitable future for all.


Berger, N. J., & Picton, J. (Eds.). (2020). Christian art and African modernity. Galda Verlag.

Bonsiepe, G., Penin, L., Anastassakis, Z., Boym, C., Duarte, F., Dubberly, H., Leon, E., Martins, M., & Medina, E. (2021). The disobedience of design. Bloomsbury Visual Arts.

Hermosa, J. (Host). (2022, April 28). Decoding the crisis: an overview (S3 - Ep1) (No. 1) [Audio podcast episode]. In Let’s talk trade by WTO. Spotify.

Mignolo, W. D. (2011). The darker side of Western modernity: Global futures, decolonial options. Duke University Press.

Nwoko, D. (2022). Concrete Thinking. New Culture Publications.

Okeke, U. (2019). Art in development—A Nigerian perspective ([E-book]). iwalewabooks.

The New Culture School for Arts and Design—Articles – bauhaus imaginista. (n.d.). Retrieved February 6, 2022, from

Usman, Z. (2022). Economic Diversification in Nigeria: The Politics of Building a Post-Oil Economy. Zed Books.

Yao, W., & Hall, A. (n.d.). The Transferral of Cultural Factors from Traditional Chinese Folk Art into Contemporary Product Designs. Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal—Annual Review, 5(3), 313. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from


Here you'll find concrete and semi-random ideas around central research themes and questions