Research is Fun | One of the books from my African art collection

How I used my designer skills to discover the fascinating world of African arts & culture

Text & Images Doron Baduach
Date November 13th, 2016
Est Read time 4 min

A lot of people think of design as a tool. Some designers tend to get offended by this notion. I can understand why. It might feel like the term underestimates the importance of design, that it erases the process, the time and sweat that we invest in our work. Personally, I think we take ourselves too seriously. The truth is design is a tool, and one that has great value and power. One that can help a brand conquer the world, or disappear. One that can change people’s lives, and the way they perceive reality.

I’m Doron, a UI/UX designer, here at the Wix Studio. I love taking long morning walks with my two dogs - Panda and Bamboo, making sure that my socks match my shirt pocket and staying up-to-date with NASA and Elon Musk on Twitter. I grew up in a suburb of Tel-Aviv as a polite and quiet boy. Growing up, I was fascinated by the world around me, and enjoyed discovering new things that interested me (and even a few that didn’t...).

A mask I bought from a stand outside of the MoMA in New York

Skills are Knowledge, Knowledge is Power
As designers, we understand the meaning of visual values and aesthetics; we know that there are different ways to present things and look at them. We also have our crafts, whether it’s illustration, photography, typography or any other skill we possess. We are lucky to have creation as a burning drive, and even more so, to be able to integrate our passion into our daily lives.

So here’s where I want to say - let’s use those tools outside of our work hours! It’s a part of who we are as makers. The more things we make and do in our free time, the more we will feel fulfilled and satisfied. Childhood is a period in life when our hobbies take up a big chunk of our time. As grown ups it’s a bit different - we are responsible to make time for our hobbies.

Various African culture and folklore books and some of my own mask sketches

Falling in Love with Africa
In the last couple of years, I developed an interest in the aesthetics of African tribes. The raw materials, the vivid colors, the impressive body decorations they create for their ceremonies - it all enchanted me.

I started approaching this new interest of mine as a personal project, and just like any other project - I started with research. I bought books on the subject, went to exhibitions (The Met has a huge African art collection), saw TV shows and even bought a children’s book with African folktales. I quickly discovered the reason for my fascination - their colorful, captivating, and intriguing culture.

Stars Constellations and Mysterious Creatures
My research led me to discover some facts that completely blew my mind. For example, the Dogon tribe, which is based in Mali, West Africa, say the “Nummos” - half-fish/half-human creatures - were the first living species to inhabit the universe. For thousands of years, the Dogon have been using sand drawings to depict the origin of this celestial species. Only in 1718, astronomers discovered the Sirius star system, which functions exactly in the same manner as the Dogon described.

The Sirius constellation is at its closest to Earth once every 60 years. The Dogon allegedly didn't have the tools to know this but somehow, once every 60 years, exactly when the Sirius constellation is at its closest location to earth, they celebrate this event by a ceremonial dance called "Sigi". This dance and the costumes used in it, widely influenced me. 

The marvelous colorful Sigi dance by the Dogon tribe

The Dogon tribe was just one of many discoveries that formed the playful journey I embarked on. I made a bunch of sketches, worked out the differences between the masks, learned about ceremonies and their individual symbolism, and basically started having fun and messing around with the new things I discovered. The inspiring materials and strong colors led me to paint with oil pastels and try out new techniques. I also found some long-lost plasticine and made a few colorful miniature masks. It was exciting to see how my designer tools were put to use in so many ways.

A Dogon mask drawing made with pastel colors

A Fruitful Investment
The fun part of having a hobby is that it’s not obliging. It’s an ongoing personal project, you’re only committed to yourself and your enjoyment. You don’t have a deadline or a brief of any specific purpose. The essence of it is that you’ll spend quality time with yourself, doing things you love and using skills you possess, or want to develop.

Since then I have moved on to another exciting hobby, but the newfound colors and references that I discovered stayed with me. I arranged all the things I made at home, and now I am constantly surrounded by my new passion.  

This world is big and full of stories and exciting content just waiting to be discovered. When you find something that sparks your passion, even if it’s a subject that seems unreachable - find the way to interact with it using the tools you have. Take it on as a personal project, and allow yourself to go out on a new unknown journey. It’ll give you a chance to expand your horizons and learn something new about the world, about yourself as a designer and as a human being.

Mask model made from plasticine

Morning tea goes well with African inspiration

Mask paintings I created, hanging in the living room | Pen and paper, 70x100 CM