Wednesday, March 7, 2012

His Royal Design Highness, Nana Kwadwo Duah

It was back in 2007. I was then having my academic industrial attachment at Ultra Films in Bubuashie. In the same building as Ultra Films was Oxygen, a brand & design firm run by Nana K. With my very curious self, I usually wondered why the seemingly shy designer almost always walked with his head bowed. He never talked much, not that I heard and he locks himself up when he is in a design mood! The design of his from that time, which I remember is a small sticker for the Ghana@50 celebrations.

Nana Kwadwo Akonnor Bekai Duah, one of the sons of the late Ghanaian actress, Alexandra Duah, is the only designer I know, as of now, who locks himself up when in design gear. He was home-schooled till age nine and enrolled at the Riis International School when the family moved to Ghana from Nigeria. In his first school, he felt very uncomfortable because all the other kids who had apparently been in school since their toddler ages seemed so narrow minded and so from then, he decided to play dumb.

Back in London for his GCSE Ordinary and Advanced Levels, he studied Art and Design at the White Hart Lane School in Wood Green. He was supposed to go to the Oxford University to read English Literature upon a recommendation from his headmaster. He came to spend time in Ghana before returning to pursue his university education but his mother died just when it was time for him to return. He was shattered and began looking at options. At the time, returning to the UK was off his mind for a while. In his thoughts, relating the death of his mother and the Oxford University education that never materialized, he soliloquizes that God probably thought he would be a terrible Literature Professor.

A graphic designer by profession and a brand advocate by expertise, Nana Kwadwo believe his creativity is what God specially endowed him with. He started working as a Visualizer with STB-McCann in Ghana. After a while, the management decided to send him over to Sierra Leone to help set up the creative department of their newly established office in that country. Upon his return, he expected that he would be given more responsibility and a possible promotion. However it was not so and was given the same portfolio he had before going to Sierra Leone. He did not feel fulfilled enough and asked for more but the same answer was given to him.

While still at STB-McCann Accra, he had set up a company called Synapse with his friend, Richard Quainyin. Their major client was Dr. Mensa Otabil of International Central Gospel Church whose attention was drawn to Nana after Nana won first and second place in the Church’s logo competition for their NGO, Central Aid. Dr. Otabil ‘tested’ him on a few jobs before settling on Nana as his designer of choice. The rest, they say, is history.

Back at STB-McCann Accra, things still weren’t looking up so Nana resigned. Richard had also left for London to study to become a lawyer – a profession his sponsoring uncle thought was much better than the not-so-serious calling of being a designer.

Within four months of leaving STB McCann Accra, Oxygen, which was almost known as Tourmaline Greyhound, was born in 2006. Nana felt Tourmaline Greyhound sounded serious, established and professional but settled on the whimsical name, Oxygen as it captured the essence of the service he felt he wanted to provide. To him, Oxygen isn’t just about the trite connotation of breathing – it’s about resurgence, refreshing and renewal – Oxygen is thinking!

Since starting, Nana has developed a distinctive approach to his work based on his years of work, his love for all things Ghanaian and a desire to harness the power of our cultural and iconic symbols; an approach he calls ‘Brandinkra’- a portmanteau of ‘Branding’ and ‘Adinkra’. This has been particularly effective for Oxygen in executing branding projects for organizations, enterprises and individuals such as The Millennium Excellence Awards 2010, Becca, La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Stratcomm Africa, ICGC, Ghana Banking Awards 2010, Stratcomm Africa, AITI and NDK Financial Services.

In 2009, Nana Kwadwo won the British Council’s International Young Creative Entrepreneur Award for Communication – beating nine other young professionals from around the world. He then picked up the GPA Award for Young Entrepreneur in 2010 and organized the country’s first Branding and Identity Conference in the same year.

Oxygen is now located in the same building as the DPI Print at Mataheko, near the Central University College.

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