A wandering elephant has been the brand mascot for UK-based Williamson Tea since the company began tea farming in Assam, India, in 1869. India, then still part of the British Empire, used trained elephants as farm animals, much like the West used horses and mules. Until the advent of farming machinery, Williamson too relied on elephants. When the family-owned business moved its tea farming operation from India to Kenya, it kept its elephant logo, but changed its profile from an Asian elephant to an African elephant, which has bigger ears and a concave humped back.
To this day, the wandering elephant remains an important emblem in Williamson’s brand identity program, reminding consumers of the tea grower’s exotic history. Springetts Brand Design in London built on this tradition by featuring ornately decorated elephants on luxury-edition “tin” caddies. Each tin is color-coded to reflect the type of tea inside. More than just an eye-catching marketing ploy, the elephant tin containers are highly collectible, and are themselves charming works of art.
You don’t have to live in San Francisco to be awestruck by the cityscape built by artist Scott Weaver entirely out of toothpicks. It took him 35 years and more than 100,000 toothpicks, and he says he intends to keep on refining and adding on to his creation. Replicas of every San Francisco landmark, monument and scenic attraction, including Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Palace of Fine Arts, the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury district, and even the baseball park with its iconic wire baseball mitt, are rendered in intricate detail. As if that isn’t mind-blowing enough, Weaver one-upped Rube Goldberg by using ping pong balls to turn his sculpture into a kinetic experience. On his website, Weaver explains that he used different brands of toothpicks depending on what he was building. “I also have many friends and family members that collect toothpicks in their travels for me. For example, some of the trees in Golden Gate Park are made from toothpicks from Kenya, Morocco, Spain, West Germany and Italy.” Somehow after seeing this, hearing about Lego sculptures seems like unsophisticated child’s play. Weaver is a staff artist with The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s renowned Exploratorium, the museum of science, art and human perception.
Editor’s Note:Martin Miruka is the founder, CEO and lead strategist of ATOM, the first indigenous brand strategy design firm in Kenya. Based in Nairobi, Miruka is also chairman of the Diversity Africa Foundation and KenyaOne, a nonprofit organization founded by ATOM to champion issues of diversity and the creation of a value-based national brand for Kenya. He is the author of The Passion of the Brand, a handbook distributed free to business leaders by ATOM to increase awareness and action around the fundamental role of brand strategy in building African businesses into global African brands. This interview continues our Foreign Correspondent series on the state of design in nations around the world.
How long has the design profession existed in Kenya?
Design has been around since 1967. It started with the creation of Kenyatta University, which was hived off the University of Nairobi (UON) to become a constituent college for training teachers. At that point, Design and Fine Art were created as Bachelor of Arts courses. Fine Art went to Kenyatta and Design remained at UON.