The Kuyu Project had the opportunity to talk with storyteller and ideamonger Lulu Kitololo about her start in design. Lulu is Founder of Afri-love and Creative Director of Asilia. Find Lulu on Twitter at @lulukitololo

Deb: The Kuyu Project has as a goal teaching digital literacy skills to teens in Africa and we like to talk to individuals who are using some those tools who really are role models for the teens. We appreciate you talking with us.
Lulu: I appreciate you asking me – it’s a subject that I’m really passionate about and would love to share what I can.
Deb: So one of the first things I’ve been curious about is how did you get your interest in design?
Lulu: I’ve been interested in art since I can remember. I would spend a lot of my time as a child making things, drawing things etc. As I grew up, I realised that one could make a living doing this. One didn’t have to be a lawyer, doctor and so on. So, against what some of the adults in my life would have preferred, I chose to study art and design at university level.
Deb: I see, it is sometimes hard for families to understand that career path, I know my son is studying art now. But what I’ve learned over the years, is that we all come back to what we love.
Lulu: Exactly, and that’s something I keep learning every day. Even though I pursued art and design, I always felt like I should probably stick to the art and design subjects that were more commercially viable. It’s taken me a few years to realise that actually, when you truly embrace and follow what’s in your heart, it will sustain you. It’s a matter of faith and patience I guess.

Deb: So, when you started out, you mentioned you drew things, do you use still use pen & paper at the start of your designs? Or is everything digital in your work?
Lulu: Definitely. I need pen and paper to organise my thoughts. I didn’t start using computers regularly until I was in university so perhaps that has something to do with it. I also think that hand-crafted work has a quality that digital work can’t always capture. A human element and a uniqueness since, everybody’s hand creates a different touch.
Deb: I agree with that, that’s good to hear. So what types of digital tools did you first learn about and do you still use them today?
Lulu: The first digital tool I learned for artistic creations was Paint. That was ages ago and there wasn’t much that I could successfully do with it. I later learned how to use Adobe applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and I still use these pretty much daily. I try to create a lot of hand-crafted work because of the reasons above but, I usually put it into one of the aforementioned programs in order to hone and edit and prepare for presentation.
Deb: I see, I too like those programs. What about digital pens and such?
Lulu: The digital pen is something that I’ve been meaning to experiment with but have not gotten to yet. I think I will explore using it as an alternative to my pen on paper techniques however I foresee a bit of a learning curve in terms of dexterity and getting the outcome to look the way I envisage.
Deb: Yes, I have one, but I find that unless I use it often, I seem to have trouble with getting the look that I want.
Lulu: That’s really interesting – yes, all my expectations have been determined by feedback that other people who use them have given me.

Lulu: I remember when I was younger and I began to learn about computers – I was quite intimidated by technology. I love technology today but, I do still feel a slight anxiety when trying something new. I think one thing I love about social media is it’s an opportunity to explore technology for yourself (rather than for a school or work assignment. So there’s less pressure)
Deb: True, for me social media is all about making connections – connections that help me personally and in my career. And I don’t really think much about the tech part of it, but that’s probably because I use tech so much in my work.

Deb: What advice would you give a teen wanting to enter the design field? Is social media that critical?
Lulu: Advice for a teen wanting to enter the design field – where to start?! There are quite a few things that I think are important to consider. One is that design is not just about making beautiful things. Design is a service to help improve things. And unlike with art, with design you have to keep the end-user in mind always. So it’s a challenge that way – but a very exciting one. It’s important to make sure you always make time to nurture your creativity through inspiration (and the web has made all kinds of inspiration readily available) and also through pursuing your own personal projects. I read something this week that I find to be very true: that pursuing personal projects is an opportunity to show people the kind of work that you want to be doing and therefore will lead to you getting the kind of commissions that will facilitate you doing just that. Also, I’m a big advocate for responsible design. That is, design that contributes positively to society and the environment. I think that good design and sustainable design should be synonymous. As designers, we should question the messages that we are promoting and take responsibility for them.
Deb: I like that approach, I think pursuing personal project is very energizing too, it helps you keep sight of a vision of who you are as a designer.
Lulu: Precisely! I remember a time when I was overworked and didn’t have any time to reflect and think about, let alone work on my personal projects. As a result, I became extremely demoralized and for a moment even reconsidered being a designer! I worked a way out of that situation and now, my personal project time is sacred. As a result, I feel more creative, productive and optimistic than I ever have!

Deb: So, it’s important for one’s creativity. What about connections with others? Is networking important?
Lulu: It’s essential. I left full-time employment and became self-employed, about a year and a half ago now. Most of my clients have found me through people I know, people I’ve worked with, friends of friends and through my social networking activity. I have not yet had to actively solicit work.
Lulu: It’s true what they say that it’s all about who you know. So it’s important to get your work out there and connect with like-minded people. I think in networking, it’s also important to think in terms of collaboration and mutual gain, rather than in terms of competition
Deb: That’s encouraging news, so you haven’t had to advertise your services in the traditional sense?
Lulu: No, not yet. And hopefully I’ll be able to continue this way. For one, social networking is free so it’s great to be able to ‘advertise’ that way. Also, with social networking, you’re spreading the word to a group that is more likely to be responsive being that they either know you (e.g. on Facebook), are somehow connected to you (e.g. on LinkedIn) or are interested in your work and/or what you have to say (e.g. on Twitter).

Deb: True, is Twitter your main social networking tool?
Lulu: Twitter was my main tool for quite a while and it’s helped me to virtually meet so many inspiring, talented and visionary people. I love that it allows you access to people who you might otherwise never have the chance to dialogue with, let alone find out about. I have tended to use Facebook mainly to keep in touch with friends and family but lately, I’ve been using it to spread the word about my blog, Afri-love, and it’s amazing how Facebook has been much more successful in reaching an audience than Twitter.

Deb: That’s great information for a young person starting out. I know several of our interviewees have mentioned the concept of building yourself as a brand using these tools. Is that how you would describe it?
Lulu: Well, yes and no. I think it is important to think of yourself as a brand in terms of knowing who you are, knowing what you want to achieve and creating a plan for how you’re going to get there. So just as you would with a brand, it means thinking of your vision/mission/objective/purpose; thinking about your values – what you will not compromise; and presenting yourself in a consistent manner that’s in line with this. But at the same time, unlike a brand, you are human and human beings are dynamic and constantly evolving. So you need not be as rigid.
Deb: So would it be wise for teens to create a separate social media account for their design brand, as well as an individual account?
Lulu: I think it depends on a few things. If they have an individual account that they use to network with friends then yes, it’s good to keep that separate. However, if they don’t post personal content that would compromise their design brand, it can work to have one account. It could be in their name as a representative of their brand. Or it could just be in the name of the brand. I have separate accounts because I have different audiences in mind for each. However, a lot of it does tend to overlap!
Deb: True, I think teens in general need to think about personal content that would compromise who they want to become as well. Social media is very powerful and it is one area that adults can help serve as good role models for teens.
Lulu: Definitely. Perhaps it’s difficult at that age to look far ahead. Also, it’s difficult deciding who you want to be and what you want to do. But perhaps social media can really help in exposing you to the options that are available
Deb: That is so true, and I think that role models can help in that regard.
Lulu: I agree

Deb: So I have one more question for you, of all the projects you’ve worked on is there one that sticks out for you – one that you feel has had a social impact that is especially positive?
Lulu: That’s a difficult question! I would say that To Mama With Love is one that quickly comes to mind. I worked with non-profit organisation, Epic Change, and designed the website for http://www.tomamawithlove.org
It was the centre of a campaign to raise money for a lady in Tanzania who is building a school to educate orphans in her community. The campaign launched to coincide with Mother’s Day in the US and encouraged people to get creative and make ‘heartspaces’ for the women in their lives. So it had the double benefit of creating something special for all the moms, grandmas, sisters, wives etc. As well as raising money for Mama Lucy’s kids in Tanzania.
Deb: I’m looking at it now, it seems like a great project and seems to build on social networking tools.
Lulu: Precisely. The entire campaign was web-based and took advantage of the power of Twitter to spread the word. It was recognised by Mashable
Deb: That’s awesome, congratulations. I’m really impressed with the Twitter Kids of Tanzania
Lulu: Thank you. Yes! That’s similar with some of the things you’re doing with the Kuyu Project right?
Deb: Yes, these are some of the things we want to do with The Kuyu Project but we are in the very early stages. We are working hard at the moment on our Mobile Learning Platform (MLP) with a storyspace.
Lulu: I can’t wait to learn more about your MLP. I’m really interested in hearing more about it
Deb: Yes, we will keep you in the loop. Victor Miclovich is our head mobile programmer. He is based in Uganda but leads various teams all of the world through his Coders without Borders group.

Lulu: Actually, an interesting point about the project is that I got involved because I saw a tweet from Stacey Monk from Epic Change, looking for a designer. I sent her a direct message and that’s how I got involved! We used twitter to communicate amongst the project team. I’m currently working with Epic Change again on their thanksgiving campaign and on their rebranding.
Deb: interesting, Twitter for project management.
Lulu: Yup! Although my favourite web-based project management tool at the moment is Teambox – it’s been revolutionary for me and my business.
Deb: I haven’t used Teambox, but I will check it out. Well thanks so much for taking time to talk with me today. I really appreciate your sharing with our Kuyu audience.
Lulu: No worries – it’s been great talking with you. Actually, I wanted to ask you how myself, or Afri-love, or Asilia can best participate in the Kuyu Project as I’d/we’d really like to.
Deb: Well tell me more about Asilia.
Lulu: I would definitely like to create a post on Afri-love when the MLP is launched to share the great work your doing with that audience. Asilia is a company I part own – a creative agency delivering design and technology services “with love”. We’re based in the UK and in Kenya but work with clients worldwide.
Deb: That would be great – maybe once we launch the beta of the MLP.
Lulu: Sounds great – do let me know when it’s live. Oh thanks Deborah. Let me know if you think of anything else – any other questions etc.
Deb: Oh great, thanks.