Interview with Hicham Lahlou « The design has a major role to play in the development of Africa, to better anticipate the future »

The Franco – Moroccan designer Hicham Lahlou confirms his performance among the top international designers. He has just been elected as a member of the newly-elected Board of Directors for the 60th anniversary of the World Design Organization (WDO). The Only African member intends to « bring » Africa and African design to the international level, a fight already led with the creation of the Africa Design Awards, « a vision for Africa »…

Interviewed by Dounia Ben Mohamed


Before talking about your recent appointment, can you say a few words about your background and what led to becoming one of the well-known designers in Africa and beyond…?

I would define myself as an industrial and global designer with a strong vision and approach in strategic design, design thinking and management, visual artist, an imaginative for creation. I feel I belong to several cultures, I am Moroccan by birth, African because I am very attached to the continent where I’m born and I am also French of heart and proud of my double culture. I am also a trotting globe and I open my eyes wherever I am, in permanent discovery. In the early 2000s, I created distinctive works that became references at the international level in the area of design and that contributed to the emergence of a design made in Morocco. Today, I am known as an international designer, considered as a forerunner in Morocco, Africa and the Arab world. I gained a good reputation with my reinterpretations of architectural symbols and the development of figurative styles inspired by Moroccan ornamental art but also African culture and Bauhaus. I create collections for international prestige brands in furniture, tableware, watchmaking, luxury equipment and product design. I also sign street furniture design projects for the largest cities in Morocco, in residential, commercial and hotel interior design. My last feat is to have founded in 2014 Africa Design Award ( Africa Design Award is a vision for Africa, beyond highlighting the creative strength of the continent’s talents, it is an ambitious challenge that aims to place design at the heart of progress and coherence for future projects. I am often cited as an emblematic figure of the new generation design. I bring the image of a contemporary Morocco to the world through design, and I have been, for two decades, part of the new names in the sphere of global design and creation.

You have recently been appointed to the WDO. Can you make an overview of the institution and the role you will play?

The World Design Organization (WDO) ™, formerly called the International Council of Industrial Design Companies (Icsid), is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1957 to promote the industrial design profession. WDO advocates for innovation focused on industrial design that contributes to a better world, engaging more than 150 member organizations in collaborative efforts and delivering international programs – World Design Capital®, World Design Talks ™, World Design Impact Prize, World Design Day ™ and Interdesign .WDO has the special advisory status of the United Nations. WDO defends innovation through design to create a better world by engaging its member organizations to collaborate and develop international programs using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to guide their work. WDO’s programming includes World Design Capital®, World Design Talks, World Industrial Design Day, World Impact Prize and Interdesign. WDO is a special consultant to the United Nations. From 12 founding professional design associations in 1957, WDO has expanded to include more than 140 member organizations from 40 nations, engaging them in collaborative efforts and giving them the opportunity to be heard at the international level. Following the vote that took place by all the world organizations and WDO members, I was elected as a member of the new Board of Directors of the elected directors – 2017-2019 – as part of its 30th General Assembly at the United Nations Conferences (ITCILO) in Turin, Italy. I would bring Africa and the Mena Region to this historic institution, a great recognition by my peers for my career and my commitment to design in Africa and at the international level.

You are the only African represented. What does this mean for you, for Africa? While acknowledging that you have already created a platform that gives visibility to the designers of the continent…

Africa is a creative continent and we can say a real Movida in this sense. What is happening in Africa augurs a lot of developments in several sectors: construction, sustainable development, construction of structuring projects, way of approaching the issue of roads and transports, energies, supporting brands in the making, support of manufactures, craft structures and industries … Design has a major role to play in the development of Africa, to better anticipate the future, not to repeat some errors and to build projects on a coherent basis, respectful of the territory, its inhabitants, the history that binds them to their continent.

We are convinced that these projects should not be approached and conducted in any way, they should consider, with respect, all the particularities, histories, past heritages and living heritage which are a real asset and which are often deserved to honor for generations. Thinking about tomorrow, the territory, imagine for future generations what is the best combination between the functional, the useful, the aesthetic and the need to transmit, this is the vision we have of Design and that we want to spread with Africa Design Award Days I initiated in 2017. The first forum for design and innovation economies in Africa by AFRICA Design Days and the 1st World Design Talks in Africa, which is an unprecedented showcase for the innovation community and design in Africa, as well as a privileged platform for discussions to develop partnerships between companies, designers, private and public sector, policy makers, students and citizens. In conjunction with the World Design Organization (WDO), the Africa Design Days + Award platform is an initiative to raise the profile of design in Africa. It is also a way to allow African talents to make themselves known and participate in the momentum of the continent, thanks to their creativity, common sense and civic commitment.

The profession is still little valued in Africa, though the sector is boiling and a source of added value…

Today I like to think that Africa can design its own development model, through unexplored resources and succeed in areas where others have failed. Africa is an inexhaustible source of creativity, inventiveness and ingenuity, because it is in its DNA, it is also imagining a future that it could create of « its own hands ». The stumbling block between creativity and strategy, design is undoubtedly one of the new means to build for its development. We must also involve the public and private sectors in the creation of economic ecosystems throughout Africa so that the design professions are integrated into the emerging vision of economic development in all the countries of the continent.

To conclude, your future projects…

I am currently preparing collaborations with several publishers at the international level. In addition, we are establishing, with my team, partnerships in Africa to conduct design missions on several projects, including 2 hotels, urban projects, concept stores and restaurants as well as the development of a large new pan-African industrial project with a large group here in Morocco that we will unveil in due course.

I would also be invited to speak on March 15 as part of the 2018 packaging day as well as the award ceremony of the National Competition for Best Packaging and the Tunisian Junior Competition Awards with an exhibition of the best products.

Interviewed by Dounia Ben Mohamed

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