Continuing its support of young designers, Hublot this year celebrated the seventh – and biggest – edition of the annual Hublot Design Prize earlier this month. 

Once a year Hublot, the watch manufacturer from Switzerland, hosts the Hublot Design Prize. Originally, the award was inaugurated by Jean-Claude Biver and Pierre Keller in 2015 to mark the tenth anniversary of the iconic Big Bang watch and since then has become a major event on the design industry calendar.

The brand is known for exploring the boundaries of design since day one. This year’s finalists from all around the world were therefore chosen by an independent jury consisting of different fields of contemporary design. The winner, Nifemi Marcus-Bello, has been selected on 31st October, followed by Maya Bird-Murphy and Connor Cook who both received the Pierre Keller Award. Nifemi Marcus-Bello is a Nigeria-based industrial designer who’s known for his community-led , ethnographic-conscious design approach that pursues new forms and typologies. In 2017, he founded his eponymous design studio nmbelloStudio focusing on furniture, product and installation design.

The Design Prize allows the artists to showcase their work to a wider audience and by shining light on the talents of these already accomplished designers, Hublot hopes to help take their careers to the next level. 

A conversation with the Nigeria-based industrial designer about the influence on his designs and his career as an artist.

When and how did you discover your passion for it and what was your first design which you have implemented?
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria to a Yoruba mother and father. My mother is a lawyer and cultural anthropologist, my father is an Italian trained architect based in Lagos. Together they created a home environment that held up a mirror to who I was culturally and opened my eyes to appreciate cultures from other parts of the world. From a young age I was taught to value everyday products and good design, and when I think back, this was probably where my journey to design started.  

As I grew older, art seemed like the ideal choice and I immersed myself into all things African and European history. My mother was all for it and wanted me to go into this direction but I felt there was more. So against her wishes, I decided to enroll into a Product Design Programme at the University of Leeds behind her back. I am pretty sure to this day she doesn’t fully understand why, but I think it worked out well for everyone.

What made you move back to your home country Nigeria after graduating in the UK?
Nigeria is a great country and nowhere feels like home, especially when a city like mine, Lagos molded your childhood and early adult experience. From a professional stand point I felt drawn and curious to see what design is and meant here. 
I often wondered and asked myself if I made the right decision for my professional career as a designer. Does contemporary design doesn’t exist here? It can’t exist here, there is nothing for me here! In my mind the only thing left for me to do was survive with whatever design and maker skill I had. Which is exactly what I am doing now. 

Your father introduced you to elements of architecture early on through his own profession – do you think these influences are reflected in what you do?
I don’t think so cause I never dived into it or had a conversation about design with my father, it was something I admired from afar but it felt so far away cause he wasn’t able to practice the type of architecture or design he wanted to. 

Are there days when you don’t feel like designing at all? If so, how do you deal with creative down phases and what do you always find inspiration in? 
I find a great deal of inspiration in writing, days where I don’t feel like sketching, I write my ideas down. I write the journey of an idea from scratch to finish or about a certain material or place I’ve recently visited. 

You were named as the winner of the latest Hublot Design Prize. How did you prepare for it?
I prepared for it by knowing fully well that all I had to do was be myself and show up, nothing beats that. 

What was your personal highlight of the event and what’s next for you now that you’ve won?
The highlight of the event was getting to meet some of the judges, I had met Samuel earlier on in the year and I am huge admirer or him and his work. Meeting Hans and Alice was also special cause Alice is someone I look up to as a designer. I love her way of analyzing and critically looking at design. Hans is also an amazing curator and someone whose work I keep on eye. Marva felt like a long lost Grandma. The other highlight was meeting the contestants whose work and causes I now have great admiration for. 

And finally, how would you describe your designs in three words? 
Contextual, functional and humble.


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