A talented young designer at FCB Joburg, Nontokozo Tshabalala, is heading to Sweden’s Institute Study Scholarship (SSIS) to study for her Masters degree in that country. She joins eight other South Africans after beating out 20 000 applications from around the world.
It’s not the first time Tshabalala is stuying abroad; she attended a Minds Wide Open conference at the Michigan State University (USA) in 2017. While at university, Tshabalala was one of three students to be selected for a Student Exchange programme at the Dominican State University of California in 2015.
Tshabalala attended the University of Johannesburg and graduated in 2016 with a BA Honours in Communication Design (Graphic Design), joining FCB Africa’s Graduate Programme the following year. She also co-founded Mam’Gobozi Design Factory to create proudly African design work.
She was an active participant in the Fees Must Fall (#FMF) movement and the first student in (what sounded like a long time) to create a documentary (‘Blak Voices of FADA‘) that addressed the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture and its systems.
Q: Has your social activism affected the way you look at design and if so, how?
A: Yes, it has in a very big way. I always try to find the human element in whatever I design. Brands will come and go but people will remain and those people all have different lived experiences that need to be acknowledged.
Q: You’ve studied design at home and abroad. What are your takeouts – one from each?
A: Design is subjective however; good design makes people feel something. It’s art after all. While studying abroad I found that I was probably the most hardworking person in class because the skills I learnt back home required me to always be top of my game regardless of what I had. I couldn’t understand why people were so chilled about university. I now realise that for South African youth it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and when one gets it they need to make the most out of it.
Q: How should SA design institutions transform their systems to embrace the reality of black students?
A: Firstly decolonise the whole thing! Students come from all different backgrounds and have to compete on the same level field that is actually not that levelled (white privilege). Acknowledge lived experiences as insight and allow black students to draw from African Art history because that is who they are.
I also believe that concepts especially in the creative fields should always be the most important thing above execution or presentation (which is just as important), This allows students to think beyond their means and produce ground breaking work that will challenge design global norms. We have heard about African design but don’t really want to own it. If we groom interest in creativity we release opportunity to solve the problems of this world in the most humanistic form while setting trends for the west to follow.
Q: What is the main thing you’d like to achieve doing your masters in Sweden?
A: I’d love to learn more about child education and how design can influence a child’s self-esteem.
Q: What five things can you simply not live without?
A: A smile, hug, good music, prayer and juice