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Fungi Dube: The scientist turned creative entrepreneur elevating Afrikan narratives through modern design — #005
I graduated with a BSc. in Human Anatomy & Physiology and Biochemistry... I am very passionate about elevating Afrikan narratives through modern design and cultivating African sentiments
Hi, thank you for joining us for another issue of our interview with African Creatives. In this issue, I spoke with Fungi Dube, a scientist turned creative entrepreneur elevating Afrikan narratives through modern design. She shares how she pivoted from being a scientist to a creative entrepreneur.
If you are curious to know what drives the work she does, the major challenges she faces and how she navigates them, her favourite projects, how she spends her day, how she navigates creative block and client rejections, the people that inspire her and the people and brands she would love to work with, you should continue reading. You will definitely love and enjoy reading this!
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Tell us about yourself.
My name is Fungi Dube. I am a brand, visual, webflow and web designer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. I am very passionate about elevating Afrikan narratives through modern design and cultivating African sentiments. I feel like the African narrative has been misconstrued at different points so I just want to be able to contribute towards telling more stories from the continent through my work.
How did your journey into design begin? What led you to design?
I graduated with a BSc. in Human Anatomy & Physiology and Biochemistry from the University of Cape Town. As a kid, I had this creative inclination. At some point, I decided to teach myself a new skill to curb the woe of job hunting post-graduation. I accidentally discovered photoshop on YouTube and fell in love with the entire process so I taught myself with the resources I found online. I finally landed a job in my field of study and continued learning and doing design on the side. As time went on, I started having small clientele on the side doing some small jobs while still working in my job.
What really pushed me into design full-time was that I realised that it was something I could make something out of if I really worked hard and put in a lot of faith because it was an unknown territory for me. I eventually left my non-design-related job in 2020 after the pandemic which I think was a year a lot of people really came to some realisations and started to re-evaluate, re-strategize, and contemplate life. There are other circumstances around me leaving my previous job but the bottom line is that I left it and focused on design. It was extremely scary going full-time into creative entrepreneurship but I am grateful for the journey and the things I have learnt along the way.
How will you describe what you do to a 5-year-old?
I make use of shapes, colours and pictures to make your favourite toy packaging or products look pretty.
What is your day-to-day routine? What does a typical day look like for you?
Firstly, I am an extremely organized person — I just want to put this out there. I haven't always been but being an entrepreneur forced me to be organized otherwise I would see flames.
I wake up quite early and go to the gym early in the morning because I like to get that out of the way. When I am done at the gym, I get back home to shower and probably have a cup of tea. I prefer to be seated at my desk by 8 am. I like to get administrative tasks out of the way first, so I check my emails and socials to respond to things I need to respond to. I check up on my clients and also send proposals if I need to. After that, depending on what I plan on working on or the nature of the project I am working on, I schedule my work into two hours sprints and get a bit of rest in between the sprints. I always make time for lunch and also find time to relax during the day because I feel like I should be able to recharge so I scheduled nap time. For meetings, I have designated meeting days, that is, Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I know that I have time to dedicate to other things. I typically go to bed by 10 or 10:30 pm but before then I wind down the day either by watching something on Netflix, hanging out with family, having dinner or doing nothing.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
What I enjoy most is the fact that I am in an amazing position to break down briefs or words and bring them to life with visuals because every project is an opportunity to bring a new idea to life. I enjoy the different ways to process these ideas and come up with different and very cool outcomes.
Another thing I enjoy is that I get to learn more about different industries and how they work because the briefs are always different and I add to my general knowledge bank.
What is the best career investment you have made as a creative?
I would say the time and effort I invested because when you are coming from a self-taught perspective, you have to work a little bit harder. After all, it means that you have to be able to find the right resources and interact with them. The most invaluable investment is the drive, time and dedication I put into knowing things and learning. I would also say that finding myself in a community where I could interact with amazing designers and creatives also played an important role.
What are the challenges you face in your day-to-day activities?
I have different categories of challenges. One of the challenges I faced very early on was the general underappreciation of being female in a very male-dominated industry which I struggled a bit with. This is a challenge because being female means you wouldn’t have access to opportunities that will be available to your male counterparts or the fact that potential clients will doubt your capabilities because you're female. I know this because of the encounters I had trying to get corporate clients in the early years of doing this. I would have email conversations with them and then get unpleasant reactions and comments when I show up in person. I remember one time I met with a client and he asked me when Fungi was coming and I was like, this is Fungi right here and he was like, oooh, because he was expecting a male. So we continued with the meeting and the during the conversation he said, “I wasn't expecting you to ask such intelligent questions” and I was like hold up. It was just crazy. After all, I don't understand how anyone will think I am not capable of doing the job because I am female.
Another challenge I had when I started was having to figure things out myself unlike now where there are a lot of communities on Twitter and other platforms where you can reach out to somebody about a problem or ask to get resources and answer a question you may have. I had to figure all of these things out myself when I started. I made so many big mistakes which when I think about would have been avoidable if I had someone put me through.
One thing I see as a challenge but also a “blessing” is this global notion that if you're an African designer you are not going to be that good but I am like, no, I am going to prove you wrong that Africa is very good so I consider it to be a blessing and an opportunity to do great work in that sense.
How do you navigate these challenges?
I am really grateful because I come from a family where there is a lot of support. My dad is the only male in my family because I have three(3) sisters and my mother. He raised us to believe in what we are capable of doing. He let us know how the world was set up and made us know we are just as capable and shouldn't let anyone tell us otherwise. Coming from that kind of family helped me. I let you know I am capable of doing what I want to do because it is not a matter of being a man or woman, the outcome and delivery are what matters and if I can offer that to you, that is the only conversation I am trying to have with you. This really changed my perspective and mindset, it made me self-aware and “stronger” because everyone is going to have an opinion and at the end of the day the work speaks for itself.
For the other one, I just invested myself in the things I could get my hands on to learn how to navigate the rope. I had a lot of reading materials because I didn't have anybody I could reach out to physically. I didn't really see graphic design as a field. I read a lot and watched a lot of content online. The Futur contributed a lot to my learning of the basics of design. I started seeing how people were doing things when I decided to put myself out there. I started observing on Instagram. I wasn’t copying but I was observing, learning and filtering everything to what I needed one day at a time.
What is your creative process for getting work done?
We all have our methods but for me, my work is heavily research-based. I would say 90% of the work that I do is research. This research could take different forms. It could be me trying to interact with a physical object or going outside to interact with people or reading a book or an article or whatever the case may require. I like to channel unconventional sources because I believe that a lot of the documentation we need and require as African creatives are not readily available and we have to do more work to get it.
The research phase is obviously after the discovery call, strategy, and brief. After research, I go on to conceptualise my ideas. I have references I have gathered which could be pictures, music, texture or visuals generally to ideate and iterate whatever it is I am working on which could be a logo or packaging. I then proceed to refine and revise until we get the final result.
What are the essential gadgets, tools and software you use for work daily?
I spend the bulk of my time in Adobe Illustrator because it is my preferred software. I use Photoshop for presentations and mock-ups. I also use Webflow for designing websites.
I work on my laptop and graphic tab. I am a trackpad designer.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown impact you and the work you do as a creative?
The pandemic gave everyone a lot of time to themselves even though there were a lot of crazy things going on outside. The whole pandemic and lockdown really pushed me to think about where I was at my job at the time. It made me think about my career trajectory and it clicked that I needed to make a big, bold and scary move. I loved the environment I was working in at the time but I needed to make the pivot. I decided to pursue this thing I have fallen in love with and work towards my targets and objectives and push myself. The pandemic played a role in pushing me into the state of mind to pursue my creative career and step up my career.
How do you handle creative blocks and client rejections when working as a creative?
For creative blocks, my preferred method is to leave everything. I shut down and close my laptop to not look at the screens. I will take a nap if need be. I can also take a walk or go to the gym or just do something that's not design related. Most times, I just realize that is just me being tired.
For the business side and client rejections, knowing that it is a reality in the world that sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose some. I think it is okay because I have come to the point where I have accepted that everyone is not going to be for me and I am not going to be for everyone and that's perfectly fine. Though it was harder in the beginning because every job counts and I have to feed myself but with more experience and more consistent clients, it becomes less about how I lost a client but about how I can work with clients that actually align with who I am and what I do because I have all of the other systems in place to cater for myself and afford to work on a passion project in a month when things are a bit quiet.
What is the task you don't enjoy doing but you have to do?
It will be administrative tasks. For someone who works alone, it's a lot and it's not exciting.
Another thing I don't find exciting is the packaging of files and the whole process of compiling the brand guidelines.
What are the most exciting projects you have worked on?
Threads is an exploration I did on African textiles. I did research into what they do and found out it was a way to communicate. The project took months to do and I got to talk about it at a conference in New York. The project is still ongoing and growing.
Tii is a personal exploration where I reimagined the packaging for a Southern African tea called the Rooibos Tea. I wanted to tackle it from a historical point of view.
Pangea Afriƙan Font is a collaboration with Christoph Koeberlin. It was something I had never done before so it was challenging and exciting.
How do you stay creative and motivated to keep creating?
Finding my why keeps me going. This pushes and motivates me. My why, which is something I have been clear about on my socials, is Elevating Afrikan Narratives. I am very particular about how Africa is perceived and this keeps me going. Our culture, energy and vibrancy are so rich. Our expression is so unique and I want to be able to contribute to pushing a positive narrative. So every day I wake up, I am like, “What story can we tell today and how do we do it?”
Who are the creatives that inspire you?
I have a long list but the people with major influence are Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Tatenda Chidora, Tamary Kudita, Thandiwe Muriu, Tapiwanashe Sebastian Garikayi, Mam'Gobozi Design Factory, and Sindiso Nyoni.
Who are the people you would love to work with or collaborate with?
What brand/company would you love to work with?
Adobe! I would absolutely love to design some splash screen artwork for Illustrator one day! It would be super cool to open up Illustrator to a work by a female, black and Zimbabwean designer!
What would you be doing if you were not a designer?
With what l know now, l think that if l weren’t a Brand Designer — l would still want to pursue something that would allow me to create. I am intrigued by various artistic and structural crafts like green architecture, furniture making, pottery, woodworking etc. So it really would be any of these because l still see how l would be able to add my own African flair to them!
What advice do you have for someone who is at the early stage of their creative journey?
I know it will sound cliché but “Go for it”. There are beautiful things that happen when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. If you're passionate about it but not sure how it will turn out or confident about it, just go for it. You just have to go for it and see what comes from it. I got a Twitter DM recently from someone who said he has been working in corporate for 27 years and is almost 50 years old and wants to quit to start his design journey. I was blown away by that. If you decide it is something you want to take a stab at, then go out at it with as much drive and passion. Beautiful things happen when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.
Whose story would you love to read about?
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