Young, Gifted & Killing It: David Tshabalala
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Free State-born David Tshabalala (@SlayingGoliath) is cofounder and creative director of branding and design agency, Suketchi. Apart from being a graphic designer and illustrator, he also turns out to be an avid writer, having written social media content for a large TV Network. He tells us about his entrepreneurial and creative journey.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
David Tshabalala: I’m originally from Harrismith, a small town in the Free State. I started primary school in 1996, two years after the dawn of democracy, so my parents told me that the sky is the limit and, true to form, I dreamt big. I wanted to be a pilot and those dreams changed rapidly when I realised that you need to be good with maths for that to happen.
VN: How did your parents react to you telling them you wanted to be a creative?
DT: The initial response wasn’t so positive. I remember that at the time, IT (information technology) was the popular course to study among my peers but the need for mathematics was a negative for me. My parents realised that the options were limited but graphic design was a reasonable and safer bet than, say, fashion or fine art.
VN: Tell us what you do and what does a typical day look like for you?
DT: I’m the cofounder of a branding and design agency, Suketchi, along with Sarah-Jane Boden, who is also the founder of SoulProviders Collective. My typical day is a constant challenge of dividing my time between admin, meetings and doing actual creative for renowned brands and smaller clients. I’m typically very busy because we’re a small team of four currently at my company, but it’s fulfilling nonetheless.
VN: Your educational background: where and what did you study?
DT: For my tertiary education, I studied at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein. I studied graphic design.
VN: What inspires you?
DT: I’m inspired by other creatives who make me feel like my ideas and concepts are not in vain, because I see their craziness, too. I’m inspired by people I follow on social media and I enjoy soaking up all that energy and feeding it back into my work. The nuances and tones of where South Africa is today and where it’s going in a global context — I enjoy showing that in my work.
VN: Why do you think the advertising industry is struggling to transform and what do you think should be done to fast track transformation in the advertising industry?
DT: I think the decision-makers don’t look like the majority of the population in our country. While owners of large agencies are well within their rights to hire who they want, the problem starts with the work looking like how white people assume black people act and speak like. Key creative decision-makers should ideally be black because they understand the nuances and tones of that market.
VN: What advice would you give someone completing their high-school education this year and looking to follow a career in the creative industry?
DT: The internet and social media is such an ideal resource! There hasn’t been an easier time in our recent history where you could directly communicate with the powers that be, for advice and insight. I would encourage that person to use these outlets to spark conversations with people and companies that they would like to work for.
VN: What do you feel is missing in the advertising industry today and what should the future look like in SA and the rest of the continent?
DT: What is missing is more work done by the smaller, independent agencies who are faster and more agile in producing work that is more authentic and relatable. Brands need to trust the smaller [people] to do work that reflects where SA is today. The same goes for the rest of the continent. The traditional agency-model is slowly losing traction and this is the best time for the little [people] to have larger chunks of the pie.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
DT: In my own personal space and when I’m away from the computer and the internet. I feed off what people are wearing, how they talk etc. The best inspiration for me comes from deep immersive research.
VN: If you had a superpower, what would you want it to be?
DT: Definitely inspiring people to be the best version of themselves. My superpower would be to inspire.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
DT: I’m an avid writer and I love short-form, witty copy. I’ve written for a large TV network for their social media spaces.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
DT: I’m getting my clothing and merchandise brand off the ground. I’m also collaborating with a huge drinking yoghurt brand where my artwork will adorn their packs to celebrate Youth Month for a limited-edition run.
VN: Brag a bit: what is your career highlight to date; awards, brands you’ve worked on…? Don’t be shy, tell us.
DT: I [was] recently chosen among industry giants like Nathan Reddy to judge the 98th Annual Art Directors Club Awards. I was chosen as one of Mail & Guardians 200 Young South Africans for 2015. I was chosen as a Design Indaba Emerging Creative in 2012. I [was] nominated as a Best Young Gun at the 2015 Bookmark Awards for SoulProviders. Brands I’ve worked on include MRP, Global Citizen, Absolut Vodka, Suzuki and Niknaks, to name a few.
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and Loeries, APEX, Pendoring, Bookmarks and AdFocus. He is the group MD of AVATAR, one of the largest black-owned and managed integrated agency offering in South Africa. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.