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‍My design story

9 minutes read
My design story
September 18, 2021

‍My design story

How it all led me here to investigating branding
9 minutes read
Ally McBeal had a little to do with it...

Ally McBeal tv series

I discovered Ally McBeal when I was a young teenager. I was fascinated by the characters and stories. They made it feel like the law was ''Human'' not perfect. I enjoyed their passion for helping people and defending their rights and values. Today, I am grateful I did not pursue that path.

A path is not a definite idea

I never had a determined idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was always drawing, being in my world, and writing stories in my notebooks. I grew up in a manga culture, full of comics, anime's and enticing storytelling. Furthermore, I drew my favorite characters and recreated scenes and dialogues I watched. Their freedom and mastery were my playgrounds. Even if I was surrounded by art, pop culture and writing, I didn't have a specific idea of which career I wanted to pursue.

I had always excelled in art and languages, but I never thought of art as a career. When it was time in high school to choose a path, we were encouraged to take a psychology career test. The results were quite shocking, as I think of it, for they were prospective, knowing my journey so far in design. It stated I should be in the design industry as an art director, illustrator and even psychologist.

Wow! I thought. I did imagine myself creating collections, having an art gallery showcasing amazing other artists, and even writing illustrated books. Yes, I did, but manifesting it as a career didn't ring a bell.

My parents had always enticed me to be curious, joyful and ''go for what I wanted''. They didn't have any specific plans for my career. I was lucky for they granted me the choice of my path. I knew they wished for me to do law or medicine, but entrepreneurship was never in the picture. They know about it and didn't push me into that daring path.

Family Background

My father is a multidisciplinary man: an entrepreneur (he had several businesses), an engineer working with institutions, and a poet (he wrote several books shedding light on African rebirth and values). I grew up knowing private business was achievable and within reach, but I also enjoyed writing and having a scientific background.

I had seen as a child the ups and downs of what it means to have a business, the challenges, and the empowerment of it.
It did make a mark on me, and from a distance, I can say choosing a different field was a way to protect myself from the challenges of owning a business.

When the pivotal moment came to choose, I followed my parents' wish to have a secured career: I had decided to study law as a reasonable choice, igniting the Ally McBeal vibe.

II was a top art student, and my final exam presentation resulted in the highest mark possible and a breakthrough conversation with the jury member who noted my art project. He was so excited and impressed that he confirmed I should pursue art and design. I must admit I knew it; it was an ''AHA'' moment, but reason had made a choice.

Law school was an approved choice for my family and me. I entered law university with the Ally McBeal pursuit to help people and live a fun and sweet life as a lawyer at a renowned firm.

"Never think what you see or idealize will be what you will experience and appreciate."

I had to quit law

Two weeks in, I remember myself being depressed as the weeks went by. I still infused myself into the learning with the articles and books to master. I had a breakdown and found myself pleading my mom to intervene and help me. I was not happy. I wanted to pursue art and design.

What a shock for her! She told me, ''What art? What design? What are you talking about?'' like African mothers would ask.
At that moment, seeing me unhappy, my mom is the heroine I respect every day beyond compare. After long hours of witnessing, listening, and comforting me, she told me, "We can figure this out".

She convinced my dad! As a result, I could change my career path.

I am grateful that, at that moment, my parents decided my quest for purpose was more important than anything else. My mom believed my happiness was more important. She believed in me and has always encouraged me to become the best version of myself. They both decided by experience as free spirits and daring individuals.

I realized that they never forced me to study law, and I could have fought for my path with less anxiety earlier. I chose to stay away from any entrepreneurial road because of the private business heritage I had witnessed.

After a year of running after the Ally McBeal ideal, I quit law and embarked on my art and design journey.

The journey begins

Efficiently and wholeheartedly, I worked on a portfolio to enter an art school. I passed interviews in renowned public schools like Estienne or L'Atelier de Sèvres. I was not accepted.
I passed a third exam in another public school, and another rejection occurred. I started to doubt my choice, wasn't I made for art? Was my gut and the prospective eye of teachers all wrong?

I was sad for my parents, who trusted me and accepted my new path. Three doors closed. What was I going to do?

From a preparatory art school to working in the cultural sector

I remembered a friend who entered a preparatory school in art, and she advised me to do the same; they would prepare me to enter an Art school correctly. I interviewed at several schools with my portfolio in hand, and I had a warm invitation to one of them: a top art school in Paris, the Académie Charpentier (preparatory school in art).

I started my art education with excellent teachers and speakers sharing their love of their craft. Our days were rhythmed by art history, drawing, painting, experimenting, and being challenged. I had my second ''AHA '' moment: Did you say graphic design?

After one of my first projects, I remember one of my teachers telling me I had a thing for colors, type, storytelling and visual voice.

After my preparatory school, I decided to follow graphic design at a new school. Two years after I graduated, I successfully received my diploma in visual communication. I took a year off and worked full-time for a leading app in the golf industry; it was my first dive into the startup scene. After working for them, I resumed my studies and entered a master's in global design at the Ecole de Condé. I had the opportunity to study with architects, fashion designers, and graphic designers—a potent mix of design fields for collaboration.

During my master's, I integrated the cultural sector through internships at the MAD (museum of decorative arts) and collaborated with an independent design studio. After my master's, I landed a full-time position in a museum specializing in architecture. I embarked on a five-year journey creating posters, scenography, books, and educational content on architecture. That was my real first dive into what branding implies.

Long story short, my joy of creating has always pushed me to outburst myself and transform. I felt I was not able to grow as I wanted to. Something had to change me or my job.

© Keva Epale

My joy in creating

I created an application concept entitled "creative booster" and was a finalist in a contest. That project embodied what I enjoy most about creation: spontaneity, collaboration and experimenting. It empowered me to quit my job and take a leap into freelancing.

I started being surrounded by several entrepreneurs and collaborated with some of them. Pitching the app concept and even partnering on a concrete prototype phase. I went back to school with this application as a guide by entering a program on digital strategies, discovering motion design, marketing and more.

Creative booster © Keva Epale

The app project had paused due to miscommunication and finding the right collaborators. I realized it was a possible startup, and the idea was also in jeopardy, diluting itself from its spark.
I decided not to pursue the course until the end. I had learned a lot, but I felt without the app, why keep on?
The application remains my "one day you will be real" project, and I started my freelance business, applying to agencies and working again in the cultural sector as a freelancer.

Back then my business was not a business; it was too confusing to grow. I struggled to find clients, solely relying on my network. As my work and intentions evolved, I could not fit the style expected by the cultural sector anymore. Above that, my branding was nonexistent, and my vision was not clear enough.

I did feel like starting again, and it was my blessing in disguise.

Here I come, Scandinavia

I decided to leave for a few months and take some fresh air in Scandinavia to relight my fire for creation and business.
While embarking on the plane, I remember how I pledged that this trip would show me a better way of doing my work and business, or I was ready to change my profession.

Yes! I had had enough; I was at the edge. Those are rare moments of truth.

Copenhagen changed and reminded me of many things. It was a nurturing mix of my creative fire, confidence, joy and childlike vision. I surrounded myself with entrepreneurs who inspired and motivated me, and the environment was a stepping stone for new ideas and visions. From that experience, I created a podcast and learned so much about entrepreneurship. Not only that, it also revealed branding in the making.
You can listen here

Reviving entrepreneurship...

Back in Paris, at the start of Covid, I decided to join two programs. The first was an icebreaker for me, creating webinars, and the second was for freelancers and entrepreneurs (with Live Mentor). These pivotal programs gave me the foundation to think about my business from a 360-degree perspective with mentors and peers.

All that happened during COVID—those long months of work, rebranding and rethinking my values, and recentering on my WHY—are the stepping stones to the business I am building today. I always feel like I am just starting, but it has been nearly a decade and several new skills, stretches and transformations.

My journey was full of ups and downs. From a lack of confidence in what I did to empowering people and inspiring events that urged me to develop and grow, I am more aligned than before, connecting the dots as I evolve.

I understood early on that seeking knowledge was key; trying and experimenting with my personal growth would benefit my business. The key ingredient of what I have built so far is my genuine love for creating for myself and others. My journey so far has never been in a straight line; I have taken turns, stopped, and jumped again. I came up with the TAEITO concept to help me navigate and grow.

TAEITO: think, action, evaluate, iterate, observe

I have grown into the expert I am today, and I am excited about what I will birth in the future and how I will raise those creative superpowers. I am a work in progress, and I have always been; that is also a key component of what Brand(ING) implies: motion. I have never understood branding before, but I do better now. I created visual identities without comprehending the 360 degrees of what branding means.

I know I am creative; I had to understand how to guide my superpowers to improve and add input to my branding vision. After more than a decade in this field, I am finally ready to put on paper my expertise on what branding as a process can teach a creative entrepreneur. My journey has trained and prepared me to refine my future steps and business eye.

This article is my ''How Design Found Me'' and has helped me navigate my path: creating, experimenting, being curious and celebrating small wins.

Thank you for reading.

My design story: from an Ally McBeal ideal to finally embarking on my purpose. I started studying law, then realized it was not for me. My journey into design has been strong and growing for more than a decade now.
Founder of Keva Epale Studio

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My design story: from an Ally McBeal ideal to finally embarking on my purpose. I started studying law, then realized it was not for me. My journey into design has been strong and growing for more than a decade now.
Founder of Keva Epale Studio