Titi Ogufere… Born to Design
By Yemisi Suleiman
For Titi Ogufere, design has been a lifelong passion from a young age. Drawn to the intrigues of design architecture, she set out early in life to pursue her desired dream. Today, she is a Design Architect, Founder of Design Week Lagos, DWL, CEO of Essential Media Group, and President of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers, IFI.
A leading advocate for contemporary African designs, Titi is inspired to use design to change society and spur on economic development. She is both a powerful voice for African designers on the international stage and a dynamic convener for talent locally.
In 2019, Titi founded Design Week Lagos, DWL, a leading design week on the African continent, conceived to present and celebrate the best in contemporary African design across categories. She recently produced Made by Design, a documentary series for Netflix worldwide on African design.
As the 21st President of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers, IFI, she is both the youngest and first person of African descent to hold this position.
Titi who just hosted the 3rd edition of the Design Week Lagos, that, brought local and international brands from architecture, interior, product design, technology and culture under one roof, speaks on her career journey, work, family values and life generally.
Design Week Lagos has been on for three years now, what informed it?
Even though Design Week Lagos officially kicked off in 2019, we’ve been doing events since 2012. In 2012, we started the IDEA Awards that are the awards for architects, interior designers, and product interior designs. Weve done that for a few years now. And then, we started doing the Tourism Investors Forum, and then we noticed other people were setting up different events and all the events were all scattered. But we felt all the events should be together, so in 2017; we worked in collaboration with the Interior Designers Association of Nigeria to host the African Culture and Design Festival. That festival brought 110 nations to Nigeria. It was a huge event. We did it with the International Federation.
We had speakers like David Archie, we had lots of product designers, we had Bisi Silver curate the arts bit, Ronke Ashaye curated the traditional African bits, and she actually curated the National Museum’s collection. I was director of the festival, but I also curated the design bit of the exhibition.
After that, we decided that instead of having events scattered around, let us do a city-wide celebration of design. That was how Design Week Lagos was berthed in 2019.
Three years on, how has it been so far?
It has been really great. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the saying that great is the man when his time has come so it is the right time for design in the world. There is such a vibe for designers, there’s a need. We are the ones that are in charge of the way people live from architecture to interiors, and the work we do is so important because everything borders on design; from your dress to the table. And for us, we feel like the world doesn’t take note of that. America was built by design. If you check America, some of the founding fathers of America like Rocky Fella, Henry Ford, all these people designed things, whether they are designing a car, or houses, they designed things. And for us, we feel it’s a great industry that people are not looking at. So, we took it upon ourselves to begin to promote this industry, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
What is the most challenging part of what you do, especially putting an event of this magnitude together?
It’s really challenging, but we just keep breaking through the whole barriers that we face. The challenges that we face include finance, knowledge sharing, collaboration is another one, because when you don’t have people collaborate, then there is a major challenge. There is also the issue of education and then of course, visibility is very important. You can have a great product, but if no one knows that you are there, then, it’s a problem.
How did it all start for you?
I am an interior architect and I always feel like, design is universal. If you can design one, you can design all. I started by designing interiors, then I moved into media in 2007 and started publishing a magazine called, Essential Interiors Magazine. From there, I moved into events in 2012. My life is all about designing, being creative with my mind, and being able to bring what I see in your mind to reality.
Is this something you’ve always worked to do?
I was born to do this. If you put a fish in water, it will swim with joy.
You do not see yourself doing anything else?
Nothing. I can’t do anything else, like I can’t live anywhere else.
Anywhere apart from?
Why is that?
Because it’s home. I was born to be here. Everything in my being conditions me, even when I lived abroad, I always wanted to come back home. Now that I’m home, I’m not going anymore.
Even with the situation in Nigeria that most youth are looking for ways to leave the country?
Nigeria is the land of milk and honey. Why are foreigners coming into the country? This is the land of milk and honey. People are thriving. It’s a mindset thing. A lot of people say things are so tough, things are so tough, but a lot of people are coming into Nigeria and doing well. If there is nothing here, why are they coping and bringing their families along?
The focus for this years event was on Ini Archibong. What is special about him?
Ini is like a world renowned product designer that designs for luxury brands, furniture brands, where he’s like the very high one. He’s Nigerian, lives in Switzerland, and has never been to Nigeria before. So, for us, its about him coming to support Nigeria.
How do you stay motivated In your work?
I’m a design promoter. I did a documentary on Netflix now called Made by Design and people said, why didn’t you put your own brands? And I said, I dont need to promote myself, because different people have their own roles. I am a promoter and an advocate, thats what I was born to do, and I’m enjoying it. I would do it quicker than most people would because that’s what I was born to do. What do I love about it? I Love change and the fact that we are able to make things happen. I love the fact that we can showcase amazing designs to the world.
Made by Design that we did on Netflix, we got messages from Africans in the Diaspora expressing their delight at the number of amazing talents in Africa. What they see about Africa is all about suffering and poverty. We are glad we were able to change the narrative with all that we did.
How do you ensure quality control in the industry?
That is only true legislation. If we don’t have a policy, you find out that you can just take anybody to do your space.
Even with legislation, you know, people still cut corners. One of the things we’re trying to do is actually to enlighten and show people that, there is a difference between professionals and quacks.
What is the difference between interior design and decoration?
There is a big difference; for decoration you can say, I want to put pillows here or there, but for interior design, you’re planning a space. You are thinking about the psychology of the space; whos going to stay there? How do I engage them? What is the purpose? Colours affect mood, if I use these colours, it can affect the way that people think. How do I plan? Space planning is very important. So there are so many things that interior design does. You have to be trained to be able to do it.
How does being a design expert impact your dressing, your style?
I don’t know if I have a fashion style. I love simplicity in everything I do. My clothes have to be comfortable for me to be able to wear them. So, I always try as much as possible to get people that will give me the right kind of outfit.
Tell me about growing up; what in your growing up years forms your decisions in life?
I grew up in a big family. My dad just turned 90. We are a very close knit family. I grew up in Lagos in a big family; I have siblings brothers and sisters. My father had three wives, but in my family, you wont know whose mother is who, because of the way my father brought us up. One of the things my dad taught us was integrity. And my dad had this saying give me a place to stand and I’ll take the world. My dad used to tell us that you can do anything that you want to do in life. And that has always stuck with me. So when I talk to people and they are not positive about issues, I just move away from you, because I don’t understand that, that is not the mindset I have and I believe that you change your world through your mind. If you can change your mind, you can change your world. And that I learned from my dad and my upbringing and it has helped me a lot in life.
Describe your daily routine as a Design Architect?
My typical day starts with prayers. Prayer is necessary if not, you cannot conquer the world. I own different businesses. I do not postpone work. I do all my work for the day. Once it gets dark, my eyes start shutting down. I go to bed at nine and 3pm Im up, and thats how its been.
When you are not busy, how do you take time off to relax?
I have a daughter who’s in the university. I spend time with her, she is so funny. I love to eat. I have good friends and we love to eat together.
What do you love to eat?
Any kind of food as long as it is delicious.
But you dont look like a foodie, so how do you stay fit?
I walk, yeah; I walk once in three months (laughs) but I want to start playing golf. My brother plays golf and he lives next to me; so, we want to start playing golf together.