As a graphic design major who favors working with typography, it intrigues me and at the same time pains me to look at all the signs in Africa. Advertisements in Africa are a great example of all things students in the United States are taught not to do. Having inquired about the way signs are designed in Africa, I can tell you that there are no laws or rules people follow. There are no standards that are deemed more acceptable than others and each advertisement is subjected to the creator’s own judgment. My personal struggle is trying to process all or most of the information on any given sign while driving. Frequently signs are loaded with typography. Few have images and most are hand painted, which can add to the complications of reading them.
Penny, a freelance artist in Kampala, told me finding work in Africa as an artist is fairly easy, which contradicted KizAza, a refugee artist who raps. Whether the type of art they do makes a difference in their ability to find work, I do not know. Penny added a sketch in my notebook as we floated down the Nile River and talked about art; it was one of the best parts of the trip for me. We discussed the typography of signs in Africa, which she is accustomed to and found my views on them interesting.
Even in the ways we create our signs, it says a lot about our culture. The USA is much faster paced, people are more direct and there is less acceptance of others. Where in Africa, it took us two hours to drive two miles during rush hour traffic, people spoke in multiple sentences rather than answering in a few words and everyone greeted us and made us feel at home. The first thing on the agenda in Africa when you go to a new place, the host(s) make sure everyone has a chair. On multiple occasions, it took longer for the host(s) to locate a chair for everyone in the group than the time we spent sitting in them. From my experience in America, if you hang out long enough, someone might offer you a chair eventually.
I felt slightly flattered yet terrified when Stanley greeted us at the UNHCR office and caused several nervous laughs when he commented that I should be detained because I was a graphic design major and they needed me there. I honestly, do not know where I would even begin with designing in Africa, with a background in design with rules and guidelines firmly embedded into my thought process. I would have an open table to create how I chose but that can also open up a whole different set of issues. I have to say, I have given some serious thought to the idea of being an artist in Africa before Stanley made his comment…I just don’t believe that it would be the best choice for me.