Elevating Design Voices: Brian Dodo RGD
Brian is a designer, entrepreneur and founding partner of BmDodo Strategic Design, a strategic design company with global reach based in Kingston, Ontario and CEO/Founder of MAPP Africa Inc. MAPP Africa is a platform focused on showcasing the Music, Art, People and Places (M.A.P.P.) of Africa. It focuses on promoting a positive Africa, creating connections and celebrating cultures. One of MAPP Africa’s key objectives is to help Africa build its capacity and resilience. They develop projects and identify clean technologies that help African countries achieve their Sustainable Development Goals.
Brian believes strongly in getting involved and giving back to the community. He has sat on the Loyalist College Graphic Design Advisory Board and RGD Board of Directors. He currently sits on the board of Canada-Africa Chamber of Business and Sustainable Kingston.
Brian enjoys spending time with his wife Jen Cameron, also a designer, daughter Munyaka and boxer puppy Loliwe. In his spare time, Brian normally plays soccer and squash.
What are the ways in which you experience racism in the design industry?
When I moved to Canada, I found the design industry to be quite supportive. I made some good contacts early on and joining the RGD helped. Most of those contacts have been quite instrumental to where I am today. Designers (both black and white), Sabaa Quao, Wayne McCutcheon, Peter Gabany and Martyn Schmoll were very supportive and we are still friends.
However, even in situations that are supportive, you always find some people who don’t give you the opportunity to contribute or take a moment to listen and understand what you have to say. Of course, depending on which angle you look at it, sometimes you can see it’s race-based. I’ve faced these kinds of situations in the past, where you attend an interview and you notice people are suddenly not as receptive as they were on the phone. In most cases it’s subtle. I remember one time I was on an interview committee, I ran into one of the candidates in the elevator and she immediately moved as far as she could from me and clutched her purse tight. She didn’t realize who I was and when she saw me on the interview panel she was so embarrassed and tried to apologize.
When you have spent some time in the industry, you realize that not everybody’s going to like you. In fact, not everybody’s going to like what you design. Most of the time it’s not about colour or race, but sometimes it is. For instance when someone loves what you do until they meet you and then suddenly it seems you’re dealing with a different person.
Now that I run my own design company, we try to work with clients that really appreciate what we do and the work we produce. We avoid the clients that don’t see value in our work.
This industry has been historically difficult for anyone who isn't white to get their foot in the door. Who and/or what helped you navigate it?
I agree the industry has done a poor job of showcasing black designers and the work that we produce. The history books have intentionally ignored the contributions of people of colour. Unfortunately, this has created the wrong impression that all the best design work is produced by white designers. I think this is something we can start to correct as Canadian designers and design historians. We should change and begin showcasing all designers regardless of colour. I’m happy that the RGD has been doing this, but there is still more to be done.
This is particularly clear when one attends DesignThinkers, the majority of the designers showcased are mostly white and American. I know the RGD has tried to include people of colour, but not enough in my view, in fact not enough Canadian designers. I think a high profile event that celebrates design needs to put Canadian designers at the forefront, we have so much local talent. You start to see the impact of such actions when our clients start to believe that the best design comes out of the USA or Europe.
Our popular Canadian design history is rooted in the work of European modernism, but there’s so much more out there. Who and/or what influences you?
Even our Canadian design history books only showcase the work of American and European white men. So as a black Canadian designer, the battle for attention gets even bleaker.
I think this is something that the RGD can change. This starts with showcasing more Canadian designers of all races at DesignThinkers, maybe some of those designers will then be asked to speak at other international design conferences and be in future history books. DesignThinkers is the perfect platform to accelerate this change by showcasing more work by non-white designers. It’s very important that we start to show young people who attend these events that there are great designers in Canada and they come in all colours.
My work is typically influenced by everyday life, particularly the life of those connected or impacted by the work I’m designing. I have been inspired by other designers like Chaz Maviyane Davies, Saki Mafundikwa, David Zinyama, Sabaa Quao, Laduma Ngxokolo and Segun Olude just to name a few.
What advice would you give to a recent grad?
My advice to young designers is to design regardless of any obstacles on your path. If no one wants to offer you a job, create your own job, create your own employment, grow and employ others. Design is one of the professions that you can actually do very well working for yourself. Maybe along the way people will value your contributions. In short, just keep moving forward. There will always be hurdles. Jump over them.
Where do we go from here?
We should start by showcasing Canadian talent regardless of colour, race or ethnicity. Then give others a fair chance to showcase their work too. Cast your net as wide as possible. There’s so much work coming out of Canada from all the people of Canada and I think it all deserves space. There’s no better organization to do this than the RGD. It’s the right platform to change the narrative. Let’s show the world how diverse our work and our country is!