Storyboard: Ini Archibong

A language without language

As a kid growing up in Pasadena, I would frequently ride my bike to ArtCenter. I thought of it as the place where people designed cool cars. Many years later, I decided to leave the USC Marshall School of Business and start my first term at ArtCenter. I reasoned that my creative dreams could no longer remain dormant. I wasn’t going to have a career as a banker; I had bigger plans than that.

I dipped my feet in the ArtCenter pool by taking ArtCenter at Night classes. At the same time, I was working at an architecture firm while clocking part-time hours at the College bookstore. I used all the money I made through my bookstore hours to buy textbooks for the Environmental Design Program.

I was attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit that I saw at ArtCenter.

My job as a designer is to synthesize my identity through products that speak a universal language. I’ll give you an example: during my time at ArtCenter, one of my more divisive projects was a table inspired by lowrider car culture. Growing up when I did in Southern California, lowrider culture was the height of elegance.

This undertaking was partially inspired by a neighbor I had growing up, who swapped out his lowrider for a new one every couple of months. My friends and I would offer to wash his car on weekends just so we could be in the vicinity of what we perceived as luxury. My table had all the lowrider fixings: candy paint, a polished veneer, etc. My teachers didn’t get it. It became about the reference, as opposed to the finished product.

One of my next projects was a re-interpretation of a traditional Nigerian stargazing chair. In Nigerian culture, these chairs are to be used for communicating with ancestors or for giving birth, which many Nigerians see as a form of ancestral rebirth. I turned this very specific object into a 21st century concept that anyone could understand, and I did it without losing the essence of what made the object itself unique. I took my own cultural language and translated it into something universal. This one went over a lot better with my instructors.

In addition to design work, music is one of my primary passions. When I was at ArtCenter, I would bust out my MPC sampler during an all-night session. While working on a project, I might make seven or eight songs in place of sketching. I often use music to navigate my way out of a creative block. The objects I create are meant to encapsulate the mood I feel through music.

When it comes to the stressful, clock-is-ticking hours, I’ll put on something a little frantic – like, say, Mobb Deep or the Wu-Tang Clan. If I’m in a more reflective mood, I’ll listen to Slum Village or Madlib. It goes back to when I was an athlete: you listen to music before a game, or while you’re in the gym working out. It gets you in the zone. Don’t overthink it – just execute.

In the same way that I would thread a sample from one song into a new work, my philosophy involves sewing my cultural influences into the larger fabric of dynamic products that speak a universal language. I truly believe that everything that exists – and will ever exist – came into existence at the same time, and remains in existence forever. In order for us to communicate existential truths, we create something you can touch or hold. It becomes a pure transmission of truth and energy – something people want to have in their pocket, in their home, or on their wrist.

In a way, it’s a language without language. Language is slippery – it can be easily misunderstood. We must ask ourselves, as creators: what are we trying to communicate here? For me, if I can express one clear and potent universal truth through a piece, then I will have done my job.

Ini Archibong
CEO, Design by Ini
BS 12 Environmental Design
2019 ArtCenter Alumni Award Recipient, Young Innovator

…my philosophy involves sewing my cultural influences into the larger fabric of dynamic products that speak a universal language

Ini Archibong
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