As a digital innovation festival which hopes to encourage young digital makers to be leaders in technological spheres, the visual identity for the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival was born out of the energy that students were emitting while Wits lecturers Tegan Bristow and Christo Doherty were building their vision for the festival. Teaming up with Vincent Truter and illustrator Michale Tymbios, lightning bolts, clenched fists and illustrations mimicking wires in a circuit board are the visual signifiers that have been carried over as the festival has expanded each year. This pays homage to the spirit of youth and the cultures on technology that continuously develop within different city contexts. I interviewed Vincent and Tegan to explore how they have translated this into a visual identity that is easily recognizable and disperses this electric energy.
When you first started Fak’ugesi, what was your thinking in how you wanted to visually represent ideas around digital innovation? How did you carry this through in the 2016 and 2017 posters?
VT: At the time when Fak’ugesi started we sensed a strong political and revolutionary climate on the Wits campus. There was a lot of very political and revolutionary iconography on student and other posters and stickers. This sense of a revolutionary mind-set would later culminate in the Fees Must Fall campaign.
We drew on the beginnings of this energy and started looking at poster designs and icons from the past revolutionary movements. Drawing on a Russian constructivist print style we developed the hand as the central metaphor, and secondly we brought in the lightning bolt – to metaphorically represent what Fak’ugesi does and means – to set things alight, to strike with a bolt of energy. We did not want to take the route of bringing the tech element foreground in a kind of sci-fi way, rather we rooted it in a very human form, with a revolutionary metaphor and crisp clear iconography. As you know the fist has also been a strong symbol in SA for Amandla and associated with many revolutionary sentiments. We added a circuit board texture that celebrated the digital. The founding imagery was developed in collaboration with illustrator Michale Tymbios. So the main ingredients were born. The human hand, the lightning bolt, the circuitry that acts like veins. Its energetic, bold, and always a sharp stab to the senses.
The first illustration was inspired by the cut-out and mis-print aesthetic of Saul Bass. The second years use of multiple feminine hands was inspired by hands at the Fees Must Fall rallies holding up phones to document the event. This year the hands were inspired by a softer set of hands giving, sharing.
The colour palette is also always a mixture of a tonal set of hues with a really wack uncomfortable colour thrown in. It’s actually not a very easy palette on the eye – and we love it for that reason. It needs to agitate a bit.
The slogans you have used on the posters over the years have been “Rise Digital Africa”, “Afro Tech Riot” and “Brave Tech Hearts Beat as One”. Would you like to share a bit about the thinking behind these slogans and how they tie into the visual language you have used to symbolize these?
VT: We wanted to keep the conceptual and thematic language uncomplicated and direct. No fluffy highfalutin phrases that try and say so much and end up saying so little. In the first year we actually developed a type of copy-driven praise poem to add the sense of movement and pace through the language. This was then distilled in a short punchy slogan “Rise Digital Africa”. Like a great rally slogan in a march, the Fak’ugesi slogan should incite a sense of energy and a feeling of action.
TB: Each slogan is almost like a challenge that we pose with the Festival each year. We iterate this every year, drawing on how people are working with the space of technology and culture. In 2015 there was a lot of focus in the media on what was being called the “Digital Revolution” in Africa, we were skeptical about this and wanted to ask questions about where that power really existed, so the “Rise Digital Africa” and the old use of the black power first came into being.
After that the hand and the fist stayed in our iconography. In 2016 I used “Afro Tech Riot” to reflect the really important student upraising around #feesmustfall, which pretty much ran from Twitter and was largely led by strong female figures. Therefore rather than have one fist, we introduced three hands: a fist – to continue the tradition of uprising; a hand pointing up to the gods – representing spirituality; and a hand holding the phone with the slogan “Afro Tech Riot” on it – to reference how the revolution was being led in twitter and via images and videos. These hands where all very feminine, with soft hands, jewellery and flowing garments.
In 2017 I wanted to represent a more global engagement with technology. 2017 was the year that Trump won his US election through targeted social media, it’s is also the year that followed a major global recession. I felt that all the kids that had started amazing things with tech and innovation in 2017, where still out there alone and with not really enough engagement and support. So “Brave Tech Hearts Beat As One” was to ask questions about unity and the role of supporting and collaborating with each other through difficult times. Our hands therefore became supporting and protecting, holding this beating technological heart – a very brave heart.
The slogans and icons you have used evoke thoughts around revolution, taking a stand, courage and being heard. Was this intentional? How does this relate to the direction you see African digital innovation going?
VT: Africa has the ability to use technology to leapfrog through developmental challenges, to use its revolutionary energy to break down ineffective systems and really envision and create new ways of being. This spirit is at the heart of our festival and innovation in Africa.
TB: Yes absolutely, we all know that Africa is culturally disenfranchised in the globalised information economy. The slogans act to challenge this and also allow us to claim our own knowledges – cultural, subaltern and insurrectionary.