Dutch Design Boost for Ghanese designers

In the Dutch-Ghanaian exchange program ‘Design Boost’ last week, 25 Ghanaian designers started an online training program from the Netherlands. In the spring of 2021, a dozen of them will come to the Netherlands, where they will work at various agencies together with Dutch designers.

By Shane Bergvik

The Design Boost is an extension of the Ghana Design Network (GDN) project that initiated five years ago. The core of GDN is the exchange of Dutch and Ghanaian knowledge and experience in the field of brand design and design strategy. Initiator Peter Kersten came up with the idea in 2015 after he gave a masterclass 'Design as Strategic Management Tool' for 55 entrepreneurs in Ghana. There it became clear to him that the concept of 'design for business' was still virtually unknown in Ghana.

"In Africa, 'design' is still mainly associated with advertising or art," he said in an earlier interview with Creative Holland. After four successful years of GDN, Kersten, in consultation with the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO), decided to develop a new exchange program: the Design Boost. Social design studio Butterfly Works was brought on to give shape to this training.

Successful kick-off

Butterfly Works does all kinds of projects related to co-creation and design thinking. In particular, Butterfly Works works on education and communication projects, often on behalf of and in partnership with development organizations around the world. This time, the studio collaborated with GDN and Kersten on the training program for Ghanaian designers, focused on the Ghanaian design context.

The training consists of four sessions; each session has a theme and is led by a different design expert. Last week, the theme' Value of design and pitching' was discussed. The training courses start with a webinar, followed by a one-and-a-half-hour work session, in which the designers work on real assignments from Ghanaian clients. Each session ends with an inspiring talk and Q&A. Some of the invited speakers and trainers include Dela Kumahor (UI / UX designer, Gh), Celine Lamée (graphic designer, Lava Bejing-NL) and Claudia Mayer (Creative Business Coach, NL).

Next spring, 12 Ghanaian designers and design teachers will have the opportunity, partly at the expense of the RVO, to spend a month at a Dutch design agency and several Dutch academies.

Thee participants in the Design Boost

Modest designers

Before the training, Butterfly Works researched the current design context in Ghana, and concretely the wishes and challenges of the designers themselves. The studio developed the program based on insights from that research. According to Jojanneke Hendriks, program navigator at Butterfly Works, Ghanaian designers have a modest attitude. "The designers often see themselves as just a graphic designer, when in reality they are and can do much more, from website design to interior design," she says. Also, the communication between client and designer leaves a lot to be desired. Ghanaian clients are, therefore, also present during the first training. The trainer gave the clients and the designers a communication assignment: the clients to formulate the wish for a product or service as clearly as possible in a briefing, and the designers to create a confident video pitch.

That kick-off training went well, says service designer Irene Conversano of Butterfly Works, who co-organized the first training. "Despite the session lasting 40 minutes longer than anticipated, all participants stayed to the end. Afterwards, I even got a phone call from two of them to tell me about how excited they were to be able to participate in the program."


The enthusiasm comes as no surprise to Kersten. In recent years, the relevance of design in corporate and government success has grown enormously in West Africa. According to Kersten, this is partly because designers spread knowledge and enthusiasm among themselves. Ghanaian designers study in America or England, for example, and share their insights back home. The Ghana Design Network has supported this development, and the new Design Boost project is helping it move forward even further.

Kersten: "Parents are also gradually starting to feel that not all of their children have to be doctors, engineers, bankers or lawyers to be successful, but that creative design can also be a meaningful and high-quality career choice."

Now it is up to the rest of the design world to take Africa seriously as a market, says Hendriks. "We know Africa mainly through development cooperation," she says, "but don't forget that Africa is a huge continent with a fast-growing middle class that invests in innovation in all kinds of contexts, including education."

That is why, according to Hendriks, this enormous continent with a lot of growth potential in the field of solution-oriented design must be brought to the attention of clients in the Netherlands. At the moment, the design market is not yet a level playing field: in the West and China, the hourly rate of a designer is around 100 euros, in Ghana it is about 15 euros.

Flexible collaboration

According to Kersten, more and more business contacts will eventually emerge from the cooperation between the Netherlands and Ghana. "There is interest in any case, from the designers and us. It would be interesting to start a project in Nigeria as well because everyone is eager there too." In addition to the further professionalization of the design market in West Africa, Dutch and Ghanaian professional practice must learn from each other in the field of communication. The Ghanaian method is more fluid, more organic and more social than the Dutch, says Hendriks. "If a speaker dropped out from the training program, I could easily arrange a new speaker within two phone calls," she says. "The Ghanaian designer's social network is much more critical than the Dutch. In West Africa, communication is more flexible, and we can gain a lot of insights from that in the Netherlands. "

The Design Boost training covers five online sessions between September 30 and October 28, 2020. Spring 2021, 10-12 Ghanaian designers and teachers will come to the Netherlands to gain experience in Dutch practice.

More information at ghanadesign.net