Young, Gifted & Killing It: Joe Human
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Describing himself as a lifestyle curator and brand identity developer, Joe “Human” Nawaya (@joe_human_; IG:@joe_human) is a creative entrepreneur and the co-founder and director of ideation agency, Creative Mind Space. He also plays the piano and is a 2019 Forbes Africa #30Under30.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Joe Human: I grew up in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, and moved to South Africa when I was six, after my dad — who was a pharmacist — decided to leave his job and chase a different passion. Growing up, I listened a lot to what my family and friends wanted me to be: a pilot, an engineer and sometimes even a doctor. After being bought a computer in the early 2000s, I started expressing myself through art by using Paint which was an old Windows software. I would create my own designs and artworks and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer.
VN: Tell us what you do and what does a typical day look like for you?
JH: I develop beautiful brand identities, strategies and online platforms. A typical day in my life is responding to emails in my mornings, putting down a list of tasks I have to do for the day; sometimes my day [is] filled with one or two meetings but my favourite part of each day is being able to sit in front of my screen and just design.
VN: Tell us more about your ideation agency, Creative Mind Space — the business, vision and future?
JH: Creative Mind Space was birthed after my business partner, Elliot Sithole, and I quit our design jobs at a retail firm. We noticed that a lot of our brands lacked ownership of their narrative; tourists came into our continent and experienced all the things we have to offer but most times [left] with a narrative that isn’t accurate. At our agency, because we are here and experience our continent on a daily [basis], we [find] ways to communicate the richness and authenticity of our continent through creating brands and platforms that have purpose, great narratives and beautiful identities.
Our vision is to become one of Africa’s biggest agencies; our future is building an agency where a variety of creative minds exist because, to us, a creative isn’t only a designer or illustrator but… an architect, a chef or a copywriter, We’re building an agency that has multiskilled individuals who are building brands and work through collaborative efforts.
VN: What do you think entrepreneurs are doing right in South Africa and Africa?
JH: I think entrepreneurs in SA and our continent have unlocked the power of the digital platforms that exist. We’re using it to create impact [and] position our businesses and personal brands in ways that create good footprints, awareness, value and can be monetised. We’re using the minimal resources we have to gain access into our ever-competitive market; we’re collaborating and exchanging information and access to resources amongst one another.
VN: What South African brands do you admire and why?
JH: This is a tricky one because I love so many but I’m going to say it has to be Chappies. I admire this brand so much because it was part of my childhood; when I moved to SA, I’d make sure to always have a R2 coin so I could buy a few flavours after school.
I learned so many things from the “Did You Know” section inside the wrapper. I think Chappies was our Google before we became so reliant on digital for information. They sold us information broken down in such a simple and exciting manner. I love the authenticity in the colours of their branding, man… It was so iconic so much that we still refer to any other bubblegum as Chappies today hahaha.
VN: How can the creative industry attract and keep more young black talent in the industry?
JH: Before I got into this industry, I remember how my parents weren’t sure about my decision. Since I loved to draw and paint, they thought being a designer is getting a section at the local mall and drawing people’s portraits. I think the creative industry needs to be more educative about the different careers and opportunities that are in our industry, not only to our youth but also our parents. We also need to celebrate more black creatives in our space, more female creatives. This mandate is our duty because we make up the industry; we need to be vocal about the work we do and not only rely on big corporate or private initiatives to give us the platforms.
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 communications industry and in SA in general?
JH: I think the issue of transformation relies on reskilling the people in the advertising space. Digital platforms are now a big player in the advertising industry and content has become a great way to monetise, if not the only way… We need to understand the digital platforms that are available to us and how to effectively use them. Traditional media has taken a dip and finding new ways to communicate and reach new audiences is my way of transformation. Being able to adapt to our digital era is what will keep us on top.
VN: What do you feel is missing in the creative industry today and what should the future look like in SA and the rest of the continent?
JH: Creatives and the creative industry needs to get involved in more environmental and social work — we are communicators, influencers and thought-leaders. We have the power to shift perspectives, create tribes and build the societies we want. The future should be about collaborative work: I want to be able to work with creatives across the continent and globe on projects and clients that we can take global.
VN: If you had to go advice your 20-year-old self, what would your advice be to young Joe?
JH: The 20-year-old Joe had a lot of self-esteem issues; he wasn’t really a social person or the “coolest” person to be around. Due to this he convinced himself that he wasn’t going to be anyone or anything. Yes, he had dreams and hopes but he would always doubt his ability. Being here right now, I’d tell the younger me that all the work you want to do on the outside truly begins inside — you need to believe in yourself and your ability to create anything that you put your mind to.
VN: What advice would you give someone completing their high-school education this year and looking to follow a career in the creative industry or starting their own business?
JH: You’re right where you need to be; you have a gift and a strong purpose that’s why you’ve chosen the creative industry. Be patient, learn as much as you can, be nice to people and never get too comfortable. Always try and discover new skills, information and techniques to better the work you’ll be doing. You’re going to be great, good luck!
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
JH: In the shower while taking attempts at my singing career.
VN: If you had a super power, what would you want it to be?
JH: To read minds. I’d know what my clients are thinking and what their budget for projects are hahah.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
JH: I play the piano.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
JH: Through my agency, we’re currently developing brand IDs for Thando Hopa and Donald Nxumalo Interiors. These projects are exciting because of the direction we have taken on each one; we’ve tried a new process of discovery and execution. In my personal capacity, I’m building a platform that will change how seminars and conferences are done. It’s called Cocktails & Collabs (short for collaborations) — all the right people in one room, sharing value, information and access to aspiring entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs and creatives.
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 and co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.