The Designers Guide to Altivex Icons

In late 2019 we embarked on a mission to redesign ourselves-- our look, our feel, to genuinely encompass what we truly believe we are. An African Digital Lab, which creates solutions for businesses across Africa and the globe.

In this post we shed light on our thought process that went into the elements you see now, starting with the reason and following through with the meaning of each element which leads to what you see today.

As a lab we focus on 4 main principles: Strategy, Design, Technology and Content, and this is what we aimed to show.

The Challenge/ brief

To execute the work correctly, we needed a clear brief. Ours can be summed up as follow:

  1. Create an icon set based on African elements
  2. Our immediate need was to conceptualise representations of 4 subjects. – Design, Strategy, Content, Technology
  3. These representations can be anything from art, furniture, tools and more and not limited to those.
  4. Showcase your ability as a designer, especially in rationalizing why we are to work with the symbols you design.
  5. After understanding the 4 elements, work on a system to create those icons, ensure they look related.
  6. The long term goal was to establish an Altivex icon set that would apply to all work going forward.

After we received the brief, the real fun (read: work) began. Here we shed light on the process that was undertaken to arrive at what you see today.

1. The Creative Process

As designers, we usually start at the most basic level, by asking the question ‘What will this design achieve?’ To answer this, I often think about what life was like for people like ourselves, in ancient Africa. 

What would a designer do in the village? How did they solve the problem?

When we look back into local history, examples of people who did what we do would be Khoisan rock painters or the Ndebele women who create multiple colourful patterns. In our contemporary times, such patterns have been made popular by legends such as Mama Esther Mahangu and BMW

With some research, some creative thinking, idea synthesis and luck we stumbled upon what could be comparable to Altivex, a collection of minds that use creativity as a tool.

2. Exploring Ashanti Symbols

In Ghana, we would be Ashanti. Altivex would be called a Guild of designers. Cloth would be our arboards. We would use combs to draw grids and Illustrator would be stamps carved out of calabash pieces..

We would design Adinkra symbols, which all have meaning and we would need to communicate a clear message using these symbols. Adinkra symbols were originally printed on cloth to be worn by royalty and spiritual leaders during funerals and other special occasions, needless to say, they were quite important. They represent concepts and aphorisms.

3. Research 

We started with what we already had at our disposal, by identifying some recurring themes in our work. Words that we identify with as a digital lab such as:

  • Compelling solutions and strategic thinking
  • Visible and powerful entities
  • Push the bounds, digital possibilities, create ideas, data & strategy, influence minds, purposeful creativity.
  • History, African continent
  • Strategy – Robust data, thoughtful insights, roadmaps, vision, outcomes, customers. Then we bring it to life.
  • Design – Decisions, research, user led principles, fluid user experiences, beautiful design.
  • Technology – Build tools, accelerate digital growth, increase returns, business performance, efficiency.
  • Content – Tell a story, develop a narrative, brand awareness, drive engagement, conversion, launch your product to market.

All these words told the story of our goal, all they needed was images that complemented them. 

So we continued the research guided by these 4 pillars and their principles.

When you work in a design lab, Google is your friend. So we conducted more research online to see what fit the profile of what we were looking for.

Link to mood-board
We began to see patterns in shapes that were already in use in Altivex branding and began to attach meaning to them.

4. Bringing it together through design

We needed to set some rules before we got to working, such as: 8px Incremental system and a grid for this project.

The Chief of Symbols 

Our source of truth and measurement
A line width of 20px on a 256px x256px art-board

By Tetraeder - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

The Altivex Icons

Strategy: Adinkrahene

“The chief of symbols”

It signifies the importance of playing a leadership role in the community. Great leaders are charismatic and this symbol exemplifies the honorable qualities of a good leader.

This symbol was said to have been the source of many more symbols. It was the beginning and other symbols rippled from here, hence it was the aim, the target, the Strategy.

Design: Nea Onnim No Sua A, Ohu

“He who does not know can know from learning”

This symbol signifies the importance of playing, curiosity, the quest for a more knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge. It was perfect for Design. 

This symbol signifies a quest for lifelong learning and knowledge, always digging deeper and wider, asking more questions. Design answers questions

Technology: Hwe Mu Dua

“The measuring stick”

Symbol of Examination and Quality Control, much like that adaptation of technology. Innovation keeps moving our benchmarks, technology is the measuring stick, by which we see how far we have come and can go. 

The Ghana Standards Authority currently uses this symbol as its logo.

This symbol stresses the need to strive for the best quality, whether in a production of goods or in human endeavours.

Content: Duafe

“The Wooden Comb”

The duafe was a prized possession of the Akan woman of Ghana, used to comb and plait her hair. It therefore lent itself to beautiful, clean content. The combs teeth symbolise the channels and the circle with the omitted half moon as the brand. All the pillars speaking and amplifying one brand.

The duafe symbolizes beauty, qualities of feminine goodness, love, and care, as well as looking your best. Like our content. 

When we design elements and attach meaning to them, they stick in people’s memory for generations, as long as that meaning is communicated clearly.
Our brand has a story and when a story is communicated well, stakeholders can participate and take ownership of the story. It is important to spend ample time understanding the story to communicate it. In the same vein, ample research must be conducted to show your story.

In short, research is the key to great problem solving.

article by: Nhlangano

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