Ep.43 The Art of Thriving | Lulu Kitololo

Creativity changes the world!


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Lulu Kitololo [EP. 43]

[00:00:00] Adrian: So we realized after recording this episode that some of my audio wasn't quite clear. The microphone had unplugged at times. Don't worry, we've replaced the microphones. Actually, we've upgraded, so you should hear me clearer. But for this episode, you may hear some of my questions. Hopefully it sounds as natural as possible.


[00:00:24] Lulu Kitololo: Pricing is a big one. Pricing that makes sense for a business to grow and like, tied with that is, is, and this is something like just from conversations with a lot of creatives. This idea of knowing our value, you know. I think our industry is still largely undervalued and so even when it comes to us showing up for ourselves, like often we are undervaluing ourselves or like having to fight to, to kind of prove our value.


[00:00:56] Adrian: Lulu, thank you for joining us. I know you're not in the same time zone, so it's great to have you here. I'd love to start off by, just finding out how you got into design. What's your journey been like?

[00:01:10] Lulu Kitololo: Sure. Um, no, Adrian, thank you so much for having me. It's really great to be here. My journey into design, so I was trying to think about where it began and I remember as a kid, always making or really designing things. Right. My siblings are much older than I, so I, you know, I, I grew up as an only child in a way, and they weren't that many kids my age around.

[00:01:34] So, I used to find ways to keep myself busy, right? I remember making vehicles for my toys out of like old food packaging or I remember learning to sew, like basic sewing. And then, you know, making clothes for my dolls or learning how to cook, like when I learned how to cook Ugali and then I was like, oh, but like, you know, what other ingredients could we use and just experimenting.

[00:02:00] And then, you know, fast forward to school and, you know, being really into art and design and then at some point deciding to go to art school for university. You know, it was kind of between art and math, which, you know, often isn't the case but looking back, I can see what it is that I really, really love is problem solving. Design, as we know, is an amazing tool for that.

[00:02:26] Adrian: Nice. And how has your work evolved over time as you've developed as a designer?

[00:02:33] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. I studied communications design, so, you know, at first I was working in advertising and then that just really wasn't for me. I realized quite quickly and I wanted my design to have an impact beyond just encouraging people to buy something ultimately. And so yeah, in discovering, you know, working with clients, working on identity design and graphic design and then really wanting to have my own expression.

[00:03:04] So, I then started designing products such as stationary and wall art. And then, you know, started looking at spaces, so doing murals. The most recent is graphic recording. Like I've really gotten into that over the last few years and just seeing how to capture conversations powerfully and make them accessible to more people. Those are kind of like the highlights of like how my expression has evolved or, you know, things that have been added to my expression over the past years.

[00:03:39] Adrian: How has that, graphic recording, how has that evolved and what is that now? And how do you package that?

[00:03:46] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. It started when an existing graphic design client was having a conference and they were like, oh, we're having a conference in Kenya. Can you do this? And I'd never done it before. And I didn't know much about it at the time, but I was like, okay, let me look into this. Let me see.

[00:04:03] And in doing so, I was like, okay, yeah, I can do this. And just like learned as much as I could and then did this event and I was like, okay, this is something that I really want to do more of. And so, before Covid it was largely going to conferences. And then with the pandemic, when everything went online, it was now learning to do it in a virtual way.

[00:04:26] And so that's evolved, you know, that's continued and evolved into also helping, for instance, organizations who often have these like complex theory of change diagrams and documents and, and like just helping them to like design the information better. And then of course, using the visual dimension to really bring it to life and, and again, make it accessible to more people.

[00:04:52] Adrian: Mm-hmm. What are some of the projects, either within that sphere or in your other specialties that you've worked on?

[00:04:59] Lulu Kitololo: So, with murals, there's a really fun one for those of you in Nairobi. If you haven't been to Nairobi Street Kitchen yet, I highly recommend. We did six murals in different aspects of their space. So, that was a lot of fun and just, you know, we'd never done something on that scale before.

[00:05:18] This year and last year I worked with the United Nations on their champions of the earth. So it's this, their like highest award for exceptional people who are creating transformative change for the environment around the world. So, every year they honor five or six people.

[00:05:39] And so just working with them to like illustrate those champions. That's been amazing. And you know, the last year in 2021, it was animated. So, also like working with an animator to bring my illustrations to life that was a lot fun and something different for me. So, that was another really fun project and to be able to work with them again for 2022, it's a huge honor.

[00:06:05] Adrian: Brilliant. Yeah. Your work really lends itself to feeling very handmade and all the stationery and so on. Have you ever done a book design or a cover design?

[00:06:16] Lulu Kitololo: Yes, I have. I'm trying to quickly remember the title. I've done a book cover design for a book that highlights African women in tech. That was fun. I've done book cover design for so quite like a few independent authors that I've just gotten to know over time. And then they've reached out and asked me to help them design book covers.

[00:06:38] Adrian: What was the process, or have you got a process as a, a book cover designer that you follow to bring in your, your own style while you still stick to the brief? Or do they have a brief for you? I'm curious.

[00:06:51] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. Often I think we've co-created the brief. Ideally I wanna read the book and, or, or, you know, just get as much a sense of what it's about and, and you know, the kind of ambitions of the author behind creating it and how they want people to feel and like their target audience, you know, all the typical things.

[00:07:12] But yeah, just really getting a sense of what the book is about is like the beginning and then me starting to think about, okay, like what's the essence? How can I visualize that? And kind of marrying that with their vision and their preferences to come up with something that works.

[00:07:29] Adrian: Brilliant. And you're taking that knowledge that you've gained now with in industry and you are sharing that out with people as well. What influenced you to start sharing that knowledge?

[00:07:41] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. So, at some point along my journey, I discovered that I really love to learn, and I love to share what I'm learning. And then I realized, okay, I actually love to design how knowledge is packaged and delivered. And so, I started creating courses and in delivering them I also discovered I really love to teach and engage with people and like support them through their learning.

[00:08:08] In early 2022, I launched a program called Shine, which is so far kind of a culmination of other learning experiences that I'd created. And it's designed to support creatives in building sustainable, profitable, and enjoyable businesses. So, all the things that I've learned, oftentimes the hard way and just making it available for others so that they don't have to go through some of the challenges that I have.

[00:08:35] Adrian: Wow. Well done. How did you go about structuring, you said you came across challenges. How did you go about creating, the course, the experience for people?

[00:08:44] Lulu Kitololo: So, partly just talking to people who've done previous programs at Van or just talking to creatives that I know in the ecosystem, and just trying to get a sense of, you know, what are they struggling with? What do they need? Things that they've learned have had the, the most powerful impact. And so collecting all of those, and then also just as a practicing creative myself, just thinking of my own experience, thinking of the clients I've worked with and what inputs I've had that have made a difference for them.

[00:09:17] So, really collecting all of that and really, you know, all the post-its on the wall and, and arranging things and just coming to a structure from there. That helped me kinda distill it to nine topic areas that we cover in Shine.

[00:09:33] Adrian: Okay, what were some of those challenges that you faced personally? That you knew that they needed to be on the list straight away.

[00:09:41] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. Pricing is a big one. Pricing that makes sense for a business to grow and like, tied with that is, is, and this is something like just from conversations with a lot of creatives. This idea of knowing our value, you know. I think our industry is still largely undervalued and so even when it comes to us showing up for ourselves, like often we are undervaluing ourselves or like having to fight to, to kind of prove our value.

[00:10:12] And so like there's a huge discussion on that in the course and just tools for you to really stand for your value. Price in a way that makes sense for you and, and be able to stick to that and effectively communicate, and effectively negotiate on that basis. So, that's like a huge one and like a really popular module on the course.

[00:10:36] Adrian: Mm-hmm. What would be the one example, if something you can give, for example, then for pricing that is something that people learn. What's really important for people to remember about pricing when you're valuing yourself?

[00:10:50] Lulu Kitololo: I think sometimes we don't like when we're coming up with a, well, first that, you know, price doesn't equal costs. So like, sometimes, we don't consider everything that needs to go into our pricing. So for instance, you know, if there are materials that I need to use, you know, I think that one we often cover, but then we don't think about, okay, the electricity that I pay for, or the fact that my equipment at some point is gonna need to be replaced or sometimes we even forget to price for our time.

[00:11:24] So, you know, just really looking at the full picture of, of the things that need to go into our pricing. And also thinking about like how we wanna live. Is my pricing, going to cover all my needs, you know? And then with all of that, have I even built in room for growth that I can reinvest back into developing my product, developing my business. So, just like really having a full and realistic picture of what you need. And that's what I find whenever I do that exercise with people. I find that people are always like, oh my goodness, you mean I actually need more than I thought I did?

[00:12:06] And just having that clarity allows people to, to show up in a different way, to be like, no, this is my price and that's that. Or to appreciate that maybe they need to adjust their pricing so that they can actually not have to deliver a hundred projects in a month, which might be impossible, but actually, okay, I can only deliver 10 and this is the price they need to be.

[00:12:31] Adrian: You mentioned the nine pillars of Shine.

[00:12:35] So, what are those, those necessary pillars then?

[00:12:39] Lulu Kitololo: Okay, sure. They fall under three areas. So, it's yourself, your money, and your community. So, with yourself we look at getting organized, working with purpose and prioritizing wellness, and what does that look like? Then we have in your money, we have knowing your value. So, I talked about knowing your value, pricing for profit and then making more money. Cause often, you know, creators, we wanna make more money and just really looking at, okay, how can we do that?

[00:13:12] And then the third is, is around your community. And I think this is something, you know, Nairobi Design Week is, is great. You know, it's like really understanding the value of community and how do we build a community that makes sense for us and what we do. How do we reach more customers? So, there we actually design like a sales and marketing funnel, and then shining online. So, just like how do we show up for our community and how do we do that consistently, powerfully.

[00:13:42] Adrian: Great. Wonderful. People who have taken part, what have their feelings been from the experience?

[00:13:50] Lulu Kitololo: We've had like over 40 students from around the world which is really great. So, this last cohort we had, it was women, all women, from Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda. It was really nice to have that Pan-African spirit in the room.

[00:14:05] So, one of them, she's a writer. And what Shine really helped her is to get back to why she had a creative business in the first place. So, that she could be able to write every day. She basically like revamped her whole business structure. She redesigned like what are the things that she's gonna offer and like how she can structure those so that she has lots of time to write.

[00:14:31] And the other thing that she loves is teaching. So, like she just really looked at her business afresh. We organized it and came out like really confident about next year, you know, about 2023 and, and what she's gonna offer, when she's gonna do it, how she's gonna, you know, reach out to her community.

[00:14:51] So, just really having like a full plan for the next year of her business. So, that's an example of some of the kinds of results that people get from Shine.

[00:15:02] Adrian: Congratulations. That sounds like a really big overhaul for her. So that's really exciting. You are also a creative, you, you run your client projects, you're also running this course. First of all, how do you manage those two things, but also how do you manage a course in itself? What does it take to build out a course experience like you're doing?

[00:15:23] Lulu Kitololo: Got you. So, how do I manage it all? That is challenging at times. But I have a great team that I work with. So, they are a huge factor in how it all comes to life. Just learning to delegate more. Learning to simplify, which has been hard for me cuz I'm so interested in many things and I wanna do all the things.

[00:15:45] And just learning that that's not realistic and just simplifying and, and letting go of things. Really learning that the fewer things I do, the better I can do them. The more impactful they can be.

[00:16:00] In terms of managing Shine. I have a colleague who her role is just dedicated to, to supporting the delivery of Shine and, you know, the promotion of Shine. So, we work closely together on that. I know you asked me about like how do I run that.

[00:16:18] The first time we did it, we were making it up right? It was the first time. And then, so really documenting the process so that the next time we're not kind of starting from scratch, that we have like checklists of okay, this is how we're gonna do this aspect and that aspect. But then also just constantly asking participants for feedback to see what we can do better.

[00:16:41] So, like the second time we tweaked quite a few things and now tested them again. So, really that design process of you create something, you test it, you get feedback. Then you tweak it, then you do it again. So, yeah. So, it's just like designing an experience, I guess is, is what Shine is.

[00:17:00] Adrian: What did you tweak?

[00:17:01] Lulu Kitololo: What did we tweak? So, one of the things we tweaked was in the first cohort we had a Facebook group for like community interaction. And we just found it was really hard to get people engaged on there. I think a lot of us have like, moved on from using Facebook. So people, you know, shared that, oh, they kept forgetting to like go to Facebook and check in. So, in the second cohort, we did our community through WhatsApp and it was so much more vibrant. And like there was so much more of people sharing and connecting. So, that was like a really simple one that I think had great results.

[00:17:38] Another thing we tweaked was making, because it's delivered through live workshops online you know, the ideas that people are not just getting information, but they're actually working with it in the session. And so we realized that the time we had allowed for that in the first round was too short.

[00:17:59] So, people left still feeling they have so much to do and you know, everyone's already busy and, we want them to feel empowered. So, we significantly extended the length of each workshop just so people could have more time to work in this session.

[00:18:17] Adrian: Oh, okay. Thanks for sharing. It's always good to learn those things.

[00:18:20] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah.

[00:18:21] Adrian: when it comes to shine, have you got plans for it? You wanted to reach more people. So are there plans to do other types of engagement or whether it's events or publications, et cetera, or are you sticking to the course program?

[00:18:34] Lulu Kitololo: That's a great question because that's something that we've really been thinking about, like how, how can we make this more accessible to more people especially on our continent. Price sometimes is prohibitive for, for many people. So, we've been trying to think, okay, what can we do that still makes sense for us as a business?

[00:18:54] So like, still enables us to be able to deliver it. We don't have a conclusion yet, but some of the things that we're looking at is, yeah, shorter, kind of smaller chunks of learning that people can maybe pick and choose. Obviously recorded content versus the live delivery, workbooks, templates.

[00:19:16] Also having conversations with people just to see like what would work for our audience. So, watch this space is what I will say. But that's definitely in the plans. Like we are planning to run the program as it is again in early 2023.

[00:19:33] We do feel there is a space for it as it is, but now we're looking at, okay, what can we add that can reach others?

[00:19:41] Adrian: I can only imagine the workbooks. Anything that you produce will be really beautiful with all those colors and illustrations.

[00:19:47] Lulu Kitololo: Thank you.

[00:19:48] Adrian: All your websites look great and so on. You've talked of the impact it can have as designers, and so I'd love to know more from you on that.

[00:19:55] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. So, for the majority of running my creative studio, I've been working with human rights organizations or women's rights organizations social justice climate justice, you know, and seeing the impact that my contribution has and especially with that piece of like just making things more accessible to more people. I've just really come to appreciate how our work as creators, as designers, has like this incredible value and can make a difference. And so that's something that I'm really passionate about. Supporting creatives so that their work can have that impact.

[00:20:36] And like I always say, impact starts with us, right? So, this whole starving artist narrative, like I really want us to like let go of that. We have to be able to create careers and businesses that support us and let us support our families. That's where it starts. That's the impact, number one.

[00:20:56] And then now, okay, can we extend that to our wider communities? Can we extend that to the wider world? So, just really like believing that we have the power to do that and that we can gather the resources and skills and knowledge to, to support us in doing that.

[00:21:15] Adrian: And you've traveled a lot as well. Gone to South Africa from Nairobi, traveled around the continent, traveled around the world. What has all that travel taught you about life, but also about design, about people's perception of design and how design is being used?

[00:21:29] Lulu Kitololo: Got you. I think what I love about travel is the richness of experience, you know, like the sites, cultures, how people innovate in their daily lives. And I think on our continent, especially like, you know, with all the constraints that we have and how people are able to really innovate.

[00:21:52] And then how... the flavor of our expression, you know, whether that's in the things that we make and design, but also in our music, in our language. That is just always so interesting to me. Yeah, just like wanting to capture that somehow, or, you know, wanting other people to see this richness, this diversity. We have so much to offer and we have so much to offer ourselves. Like we don't need to constantly be looking outside for inspiration at all, or, you know, for how things should be.

[00:22:32] We can create our own expression of things. And, I think that's why I'm so passionate about, like, you know, when maybe 12 years ago I started this blog called Afri Love, and it was, it started as a way to collect like all this inspiration from our continent and the diaspora to just show each other that, oh my goodness, we have so much richness, you know, right within us.

[00:22:55] Let's celebrate it. Let's nurture it. And just thinking like, you know, when I was growing up, when, you know, when I was in school many, many years ago, like our design scene in Kenya wasn't anywhere near what it is now. I couldn't think of any designers or design brands like that just wasn't in existence.

[00:23:16] And when I look at it now, it's amazing. And like my hope is that a lot of young people now see that there is so much opportunity in design and that they can do it. They can be it. I think we designers, we shape what it is to live, you know, that's so fundamental.

[00:23:36] So, we need African design and African designers to shape how we live that makes sense for us. And not just importing ideas and things that might not always work for our context.

[00:23:49] Adrian: It's good. It's good. We've come to realize as we mass produce everything and aim to have a solution that fits 1 million or 1 billion people that sometimes we really need local solutions. Local can be an online space too, but it's either within a group, within society, or within a nation or an interest group.

[00:24:07] So yeah, we need to be designing for people. And actually something we've started talking about more is we focus very much on human centered design, but we also need to focus on life centered design. We cohabit this planet with so many other species, considering ourselves as part of the ecosystem.

[00:24:24] Lulu Kitololo: Yeah. I love that. I think I like, yeah. It's so important. Yes. We can be too human-centered and not remember that we humans exist in this ecosystem where like everything is connected and Yeah. I love that that discussion is happening more.

[00:24:42] Adrian: So have you got other things you'd like to share or maybe to wrap up about shine and share where people can find it and so on.

[00:24:49] Lulu Kitololo: Okay, sure. I think one of the things that for me, in my journey, that has been so valuable is community. Having a community of like-minded people who are up to something and just wanting to create an impact, wanting to grow. That has been so valuable for me.

[00:25:14] And also affirming that I'm not alone in the things that I'm trying to do or the things that I'm thinking. That's always been so great and I've always like sought out community or created communities for that reason. And of course, you know as the years have moved on, the kind of shape of those communities have evolved.

[00:25:36] But really ultimately just about supporting each other, giving each other accountability. That's like something that I encourage all creatives, like find a community that inspires you, that you know, believes in you that challenges you to, actually fulfill on the things that are important to you.

[00:25:56] That is, is so valuable. Shine has become one of those communities for me because, you know, the people who participate are really committed to their creativity, to their impact. So it just becomes this really lovely space where we can be real and vulnerable with each other.

[00:26:18] And we can just like cheer each other on and it makes all the difference. For all creatives listening or watching, if you don't have, you know, that community, I really encourage you to find or create it for yourself. And it just makes all the difference.

[00:26:34] Adrian: Really, thank you for being here.

[00:26:36] Lulu Kitololo: You're welcome. You're welcome.

Design is a powerful tool that enables us to solve problems, express ourselves, and make a positive impact. In a conversation with Lulu Kitololo, designer and creative entrepreneur, we explore her inspiring journey into the world of design, the evolution of her work, and her passion for sharing knowledge.

Throughout her career, Lulu has undertaken various exciting projects. One of the highlights includes creating vibrant murals for Nairobi Street Kitchen, an innovative space in Nairobi. She also collaborated with the United Nations on their Champions of the Earth awards, where she illustrated the exceptional individuals dedicated to environmental transformation. Additionally, Lulu has applied her design skills to book cover designs, including one for a book highlighting African women in tech. Each project allowed her to apply her unique style and problem-solving approach to create visually captivating and meaningful designs.

As the founder of Shine, Lulu is dedicated to empowering creatives to build thriving, sustainable, and joy filled businesses. Her passion for teaching and fostering appreciation for the creative sector is at the core of her transformative program.

Gain invaluable insights on how to not only survive but truly thrive in your design career or job. Prepare to be inspired and equipped with practical wisdom for success.

Don't miss this enlightening episode that goes beyond work, addressing the vital importance of mental wellness for optimal productivity.

This is the thirteenth episode under the Shifting Narratives program supported by the British Council  Southern Africa Arts (SSAArts)

Episode Credits

Produced by Nairobi Design

HostAdrian Jankowiak

Producer: David King'ori

Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)