Nigerian-American designer Ini Archibong, based in Switzerland, has produced collections with Hermès, Knoll, Sé, Bernhardt Design and Logitech and has exhibited at the Met, Dallas Museum of Art and Friedman Benda. I sit down with him to discuss his beginnings and his journey into design.
After graduating from ArtCenter College of Design in California, why did you go to work at Eight Inc. in Singapore?
Honestly, I was following one of my mentors, Tim Kobe, who is the founder of Eight Inc. I had done internships at Eight Inc. in San Francisco and New York because I had developed a relationship with Tim while I was a student. . When I graduated, he came to my graduation, and afterwards he told me that he wanted me to come to Singapore to work with him on some projects. It was an adventure I couldn’t say no to, I guess. I had never been to Asia before. It was my first time living away from home abroad. I had lived in different cities, but had never left Southern California for a long time. I was in Singapore for about two and a half years. It was amazing.
What kind of projects did you work on in Singapore?
I mean most of it is sort of top secret, but it was mostly innovation around industrial design and technology. I worked directly with Tim Kobe himself and there wasn’t really a clearly defined department. I was like kind of a solitary all-purpose department, so Tim would come in and we’d talk about cool things that were happening on the cutting edge of technology, and then we’d come up with solutions and I’d design proposals, from an application or an architectural space to in the design of industrial products. Then also because I had studied environmental design and architecture and had worked as an intern in the other offices, I was familiar with Eight Inc.’s approach to experiencing design, brand and culture. architecture, so whenever I needed it, I also helped other departments, like the architecture department.
Do you see technology as something that gets obsolete pretty quickly, so you prefer to focus on making things that will last for generations?
It’s interesting because a lot of that mindset and that way of thinking developed because I live in Singapore. It’s true that my goal was to have a lasting impact with the things I was doing, so it was a little frustrating that by the time something was done, we were already thinking about the next thing. But also living in Singapore and discovering the approach to luxury there made me start thinking about luxury and looking at it in a different way. I don’t think before that I had much exposure to the experience of valuing luxury like I saw when I was living in Singapore.
Why do you choose to live in Neuchâtel today?
There are several reasons. When I studied in Lausanne, I was already in Switzerland, so I just got used to the way of life here. And I think it’s a really special place. When I started doing projects in the watch industry, it made sense because I came from Basel and I always came to Neuchâtel, Geneva and Biel. I decided to move to the lakeside to have a slower pace of life and be surrounded by nature instead of noisy cars. It’s just a better way for me to live, and also to stay in Switzerland because I have a young daughter who was born here in Switzerland, and it also keeps me grounded.
Do you work alone in your studio or with other people?
I have always worked alone, but now I have a group of talented young people who are part of a collective. I don’t necessarily call it my studio. Not only do they support the projects I’m working on, but I support the projects they want to work on, and we’re trying to find a way to do something new and different. I have a studio in my apartment where I do most of my creations, then a few blocks away across the street I have a studio where the LMNO creative team works. When we need to meet, we meet, but otherwise I always work pretty solitary.
When you need expertise in a certain trade, do you go to where they have the expertise?
Yeah, always. I think what’s probably been really important for my career is finding people and recognizing where the expertise is and building on that. I think the biggest job we have as a designer, artist or creative is to have the vision. The tools I cultivated even when I was making my own parts, all lead to a better understanding of how to translate my idea to the experts who are going to make and engineer it. Now, the most important thing is that I’ve had enough experiences and tried enough things that I know how to translate my idea to people who are experts at everything they do. Otherwise, it would be impossible for me to create these things.
You founded your own design studio in 2010 while still a student. What was your first design project?
It was the Serif table for Bernhardt Design. It is still on sale. You can buy it. This was my entry into the profession. Before that, I was planning to graduate from ArtCenter and do a Masters in Architecture and enter the field of the architect of life. And then I designed this table, and it sent me in a different direction. I designed it in 2009 and 2010, then in 2011 it hit the market. I think this is still one of their best selling tables.
Have you been trained in architecture?
I hadn’t gone to architecture school before ArtCenter, but my first architectural mentor was a man named Tony George. After dropping out of business school, I started to fall in love with architecture. I started collecting architecture books. My favorites were Shigeru Ban, Tadao Ando and IM Pei. I immersed myself in these books and I drew a lot. Then I walked into his architecture office and within weeks I was hired even though I had no experience. He trained me in architecture for the next three years, drawing, being on construction sites, everything, and so I built my portfolio. Then when I went to ArtCenter, the program was actually environmental design, which is the architecture of the interior, more or less. It’s from the experience point of view rather than just drawing the architecture of the exterior of the building. So I had a professional education in architecture before going to design school, and then I studied mainly architectural things while I was at ArtCenter. I was planning to do the master’s after that, but then I found love in designing these little architectures that we call furniture.
Would you still want to construct a building?
Yeah, that’s always the plan. Last year, I completed my largest temporary constructed space, the African Diaspora Pavilion. It’s sort of the starting point to start moving in that direction. I have designed interior spaces and soft architecture that have yet to appear in the world. Maybe one day it will, but I haven’t entered the building construction space yet.
Before going to ArtCenter, what business school did you attend?
I went to the University of Southern California on a presidential scholarship, and I was part of a group of students who had the opportunity, starting at age 18, to devote everything to business in order to have an MBA at the time of departure five years later. It was like a fast lane. Most of the time you go into your undergrad and study a variety of things, and you choose your major after two or three years, but those of us who wanted to be business academics made the decision at ‘hall. that we would have these scholarships and that we would have a schedule that was directly aimed at becoming business people. I would have ended up with a degree from the Marshall School of Business if I had stayed, but I dropped out early.
What made you change your mind?
I would say that’s just life. It was one of those things where I think pretty early on I started questioning the trajectory of my life, what I was doing and what I was supposed to be doing here on earth, and becoming a wealthy banker didn’t seem like not match anymore. It made sense to my mind 17 years after graduating from high school, but after being there for a year I realized my passions were elsewhere and I had a better way to be at home. service to the world, and basically that I had to follow that.
Tell me about wanting to be a musician at some point.
I always make music. There was a period of time after I gave up, I didn’t immediately go into architecture. I just knew I needed to express myself creatively and started looking at the things I had done all my life. Those things were music and doing things. It turned into taking music pretty seriously and connecting with a lot of musicians from the LA beats scene during that time. For a while, music was an important part of my career thinking. It was during my time working for the architect that I was also doing music, so I ended up having to decide where I was going to put my professional energies and what was going to be something that I kept to myself. same. That’s when I decided to focus on the design and let the music be more in the background.