Rwanda’s Mara Group in its bid to turn Rwanda into a regional tech hub, saw itself releasing two smartphones, which automatically became the first smartphone manufacturer in Africa.
Rwanda President, Paul Kagame inaugurated on Monday what is being described as Africa’s “first high tech smartphone factory” in the country’s capital of Kigali. While smartphones are assembled in other African nations –Egypt, Algeria, and South Africa all have assembly plants, according to Reuters, those companies all import the components. But at Mara, they manufacture the phones from the motherboards to the packaging, which is all done in the new factory.
The phones, called Mara X and Mara Z, are the first “Made in Africa” models. The Mara X with 16GB storage space will retail for 120,250 Rwandan francs ($130), while the more advanced Mara Z model with 32GB storage is on sale for around 175,750 Rwandan francs ($190), the company said. Both run on Google’s Android operating system. While the company admits they are a little more expensive than other options, like the popular techno brand phones made by a Chinese-owned company, they hope customers are willing to pay a bit more for quality and Made in Africa pride.
The facility is “a great step” for Rwanda, which has worked to transform itself into an economic innovation leader. They hosted the World Economic forum on Africa in May 2018, and work is reportedly well underway on the Kigali Innovation Centre which will house innovation labs and provide training and funding for technology companies.
O+A just finished a competition for an office-design project in South America. Our concept was “Come to the Table”—the table being a symbolic and physical place to gather, to collaborate, and to trade ideas. Pinterest was a huge help in collecting images of tables and of people gathering, but when we started another folder of designs that had the feel of what we were going after, I realized we had launched our design process by looking at other people’s work,according to the mara group.
All design firms do this. It is the industry’s accepted way of working. But is it the best way?
For the South American project, the mara group intend to create a stadium-style staircase. We’ve done a few of these and have considerable expertise in the matter. On Pinterest, we found other stadium-style staircases similar to ours. Were their designers inspired by our work? Will we be inspired by their variations? My fear is that we are creating a closed loop. There is much to look at, be inspired by, and get cues from, but eventually with everyone looking at everyone else’s designs, surely they will vary less and less. Little new and original will be explored.
In some ways, design is better today because of the proliferation of images on the Internet. As designers, we have become adept at creating big moments, the ones that end up going viral on Instagram; some projects get several of these “wow” moments.
We’ve scrolled through so many vivid images that we instinctively create them in our designs—but sometimes it’s to the detriment of depth, meaning, even function. An Instagram moment is a one-shot deal. One photo has to grab your attention—and it goes by fast.
But the spaces we’re designing are not “moments.” They are places their occupants will experience throughout the day. As designers we must ask ourselves: Are we creating beautiful, functional spaces—or are we merely creating social-media-friendly moments?
I remember a project we worked on in 2013 that had several of these drop-dead moments. Lush velvet, gold mirrors, a seductive departure for workplace design. But the bulk of the workplace, where the workers actually spent their days, was very gray and plain. It is a strategy designers employ to maximize the budget by concentrating efforts in key areas: at the entry, at an important location, or a visible node. It’s a sound strategy and has worked well for us over the years. It also helps get client buy-in. The client gets excited about one of these moments and green-lights the entire project.
I don’t think focusing on these moments necessarily comes at the expense of the individual worker. But budgets can get eaten up that could otherwise get spent improving the individual’s work condition. I was impressed by a tech client in San Francisco who recently insisted on adding a costly system of individual environmental control and acoustic privacy. The system added nothing to the aesthetics, was completely invisible, and the story was an internal one only. Similarly, firms that choose environmentally friendly projects and create green buildings have decided that the design moments maybe aren’t the top focus.
Of course, designers aren’t the only ones looking at social feeds and blogs. Clients and their employees are looking too. What HGTV, Architectural Digest, and the various design magazines first started, Instagram, Pinterest, Dezeen, Office Snapshots, and the like have taken to another level. Design sophistication is evidenced by the popularity of designer stores and products.
It is exciting to think of design touching so many corners of the earth. But for a designer designing for a now visually savvy client, it can pose problems. Our clients sometimes have preexisting expectations. Sometimes they have already designed the space in their own heads. They might like what they see somewhere else, which disrupts a design process that is intended to solve problems and convey that client’s unique culture.
I remember the project that first brought Studio O+A serious attention, almost 20 years after opening our doors. It was Facebook’s first corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, and we completed it in 2010.