In Conversation with: Bheki Ncube

Bheki Ncube
Bheki Ncube

Meet Bheki Ncube – founder of Avra Design, he attributes his creativity to his parents, “I’ve always had creative pursuits since I was a child. My parents were very creative, with my dad being a talented artist with paints and pencil, and my mom expressing her creativity in several ways – fashion, culinary art, interior decor, etc. That found its way into my siblings and I, and we all have creative bones to this day.” Beyond that, the young Zimbabwean is “a music nerd, a gamer, football fan and a purveyor of red wines- mostly merlot, but let’s just go with the former to make me sound knowledgeable!”

The graphic designer’s journey started in 2015, around the same time he was starting his first job after leaving university. He recalls, “getting a laptop from work that had way more grunt than the one I used in uni. I got into Photoshop, making music (there are recordings of me rapping on the internet, so…) and blogging.” Before Avra he ran a blog for creatives called The Lens Blur. Bheki would edit the content, make cover images, etc to make their work pop and that gave him the confidence to take design seriously.

Avra Design started in 2017, “I felt I was good enough at using Photoshop to charge people for my work. Full of ideas and 100s of hours of YouTube tutorials- I dove straight into it and wildly enough, people were convinced!” Avra means “aura” in Greek, “I’d always enjoyed the word, and it worked for the brand. It was never intended to be more than a passion project that only a few people knew about. So, it would always have an “aura” of mystery about it. That has obviously changed now, but hey.”

One of Bheki’s first projects was a logo for a brand called Victoryus- started by, and for women, to uplift, promote and network. Avra’s founder recalls how he made the logo, “I made that logo in Photoshop using some of the wildest tactics. I made sure I remade the logo in the proper software before I sent the final idea off to the client. I felt so professional and paid incredible attention to ensuring the client knew exactly where we were in the process every step of the way. She appreciated that, and I learned valuable lessons, about client interactions, openness and having a clear process that anyone I’m working with can follow.”

Bheki Ncube
Bheki Ncube

The young creative attributes his siblings as inspirations for his design work, “I’d have to name my older brother and sister first. They aren’t graphic designers, but a lot of aesthetic decisions that go into my work are inspired by them. Graphic design-wise, I’d say Chris Do, the founder of The Futur – especially where the business side of design comes in. Matthew Encina, also of The Futur and a content creator, has great stuff. Babusi Nyoni- a designer/entrepreneur a self-taught creative also does cool stuff. I have recently gotten into compositing and poster design, and in this space, I really love Jeff Cole’ s work. Boss Logic, Daren Newman, Liam Vries (@vintagemozart on IG) are just a few others I can think of whose work I really enjoy following.”

One of the designer’s memorable projects was when he designed flyers for a fitness trainer, “he informed me that his business had jumped up considerably since then. He became a recurring client and that’s where the value in doing this work lies for me. Most of my other memorable projects have been for family. Logos for businesses, family trusts – watching ideas come to life and having your closest relatives trust you with their visions means the world to me. My family are my rocks, without a doubt. I have a large family and we’re very close. Sometimes you can take that sort of thing for granted, but I thank God for my family every day.”

Bheki states what he feels makes his work unique:

“Process, structure, and the ability to set my ego aside to get the best result. I think being in the legal space formally has given me a lot of useful tools when it comes to design work. Graphic design is inherently artistic work, but it isn’t meant to be art like a painting is. It’s not a platform to show off your wild creative skills. It’s akin to engineering in that you use your skills and ingenuity to solve a problem or to achieve a goal- It’s a means to an end.

Many designers will get offended when the logo they like best, or that they spent the most time on doesn’t perform well or isn’t the right fit for a client. That’s natural. When I work with someone, by the time I open Adobe Illustrator to do samples, the client and I already have a clear and common vision of what we’re trying to do. Also they know what my thought process is behind every sample they get. It’s never just a creative outlet when I’m doing someone’s branding. It’s well thought out, researched, tested and more than likely to achieve its goal when it’s deployed.

I’d always assumed that my process was lacking, weird or even overly strenuous in the beginning. However, most clients remark on that being something unique about my process. I don’t think I’m supremely talented with design. I just work with design clients the same way I do legal clients and that’s unique.”

If you an aspiring designer and you don’t know where to start, Bheki kindly wrote about his process when working on a new design concept. Maybe you are starting a creative venture, podcast, YouTube channel, or a blog, you will find most of the list useful. The designer explains, “Once I receive a brief, the first thing is to speak to the client. What is your brand about- What are you about- What are your goals and why do you think a logo will achieve that for you? That’s the beginning. After that, we get into the weeds. If I had to list the process for brevity, it’d be:

  • Initial communication – brand goals, current positioning, values, etc.
  • Admin (it’s part of the process) – budget, agreements, detailing the design process to client.
  • Sketching, ideating, RESEARCH, discovery, and inspiration.
  • Presenting discovery and research results to client.
  • Sketching (usually if I’m doing something more illustrative in nature, I’ll grab a pen and draw ideas out – designers call this a “scamp” sometimes).
  • Opening and fighting with Illustrator until samples look good.
  • Mocking up samples, adding those into a presentation for the client.
  • Selected samples are finalised, cleaned up and packaged into the proper formats, documentation (where necessary) is typed up, and all zipped to send off.

When inspiration is lacking the young entrepreneur states, “I don’t believe in forcing myself to be creative, especially with client work. When I’m working on a project and I feel stuck, I go to Behance to look at the work other designers are doing. Sometimes it just clicks, and I have an “AHA!” moment, but other times, I’ll draw a blank. When that happens, I either take a walk while listening to some heavy metal, throw on a videogame and relax or work on personal projects. Sleep is also great when I’m feeling out of it, creatively. The main thing is to never force anything out of myself. I do terrible work when I rush.”

The young Zimbabwean would love to, “do more projects with video and motion graphics. Especially within the music space. From cover art to visuals to rollout. Music cover art is still my favourite niche within design and I often will- randomly listen to music because of cover art. Matching visual communication with something as purely creative as music would be mega. I’d have to either make the music myself or do that work for someone who trusts that I “get” their creative goals. I know how personal music and a musician’s image can be, so it’s a lot of responsibility. My moon-shot goal- is to do the branding/marketing materials for a videogame. Or be the design/narrative lead for one.”

The creative can’t live without, “Music,100%. I can’t function without music. Video Games come a close second. I try to set time aside every week to just listen to new music. There’s so much to listen to, and it recharges me to experience other people’s creativity through sonics. I suppose wanting to work with music one day makes sense now that I think about it, haha!

I naturally gravitate towards a rather large amount of music from week to week. Off the top of my head, currently my fighters are:

  • Slowthai ft. Skepta – CANCELLED
  • Of Mice & Men – Obsolete
  • Ragz Originale – Ace Hotel
  • Mpyatona, Jeru – Intliziyo Yami
  • Fleet Foxes – Featherweight

I update my “current faves” playlist – Avra Mood board on Spotify – constantly and I’m trying to figure a way to mix that fun pastime into my personal design stuff more this year.”

The best advice Bheki has ever received, “Just do it, even if people think it’s a waste of time. They’ll catch up eventually, because the ideas that refuse to go away no matter how long you ignore them- are the ones that will either make you what you need to be or teach you what you need to learn- no idea who said it. It’s probably a mix of different advice I’ve been received from lots of people.”

To contact Bheki, email him: [email protected]. Alternatively, his DMs are always open on Instagram: @avra.design, Twitter @__avra.

Bheki wants people to remember him as, “That guy that made some incredibly cool stuff.”

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