Collaboration between Journey Through The Senses and Nairobi Design at the Nairobi Design Week Festival, 2022

As part of the Nairobi Design Week Festival in April 9-10, with an associated fair going April-March 2022, Journey Through The Senses (JTTS) and Nairobi Design Week (NDW) worked in collaboration to organize a workshop and survey, which was an excellent opportunity to bring together two organizations with different backgrounds, missions and expertise. The joint effort of our teams allowed both organizations to learn from each other and expand our knowledge and social impact. While this collective aim of our cross-cultural partnership was to open doors to new ideas and encourage innovation in the field of design for people in Africa, JTTS saw this festive communal event both as an educational and scientific endeavour.

An NDW cover for social networks announcing the venue and dates of the festival. NDW press kit.

Nairobi Design Week is a community design studio and annual design festival that celebrates creativity and innovation of designers in Kenya and across Africa. The festival is an exciting event that showcases the latest African trends in design, from fashion and furniture to graphic design and architecture. NDW has grown into a community that comes together to cooperate, co-create, showcase and share. Nairobi Design Week works with local and global communities, businesses, non-profits, teams and individuals for developing opportunities to explore the power of design and collaboration. The festival takes place over several days with events held at various locations throughout Nairobi. Visitors can attend workshops, talks, installations and exhibitions. One of the highlights of the festival is the trade-fair where visitors can purchase unique handmade products created by local craftspeople. In addition to celebrating design, Nairobi Design Week also focuses on promoting sustainability and social responsibility in the industry. The festival encourages designers and manufacturers to consider the environmental impact of their work and to create designs that are socially conscious and inclusive.

Thumbnails of the selected photos of visitors of NDW filling in the survey forms. Photos by Adrian Jankowiak.

The collaborative workshop and survey were focused on the topic of synaesthesia, which is the ability to perceive one sense through another when a person’s senses are interconnected, resulting in a blending of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. The survey was created by JTTS, while NDW’s volunteers helped carry it out and organize the workshop during their annual month-long art and trade exhibition.  JTTS brought their expertise in conducting surveys and analyzing data, and NDW contributed their knowledge in design and facilitating the workshop. The survey aimed to collect data on people’s experiences with synaesthesia, with the workshop been designed to encourage participants of the festival to know more about the phenomenon, identify local people who may have synaesthesia and explore how artists and designers can incorporate synaesthetic experiences into their work.

JTTS and NDW worked together to ensure that the survey and workshop were well-organized, appealing and successful. The survey was designed to gather information about local people’s understanding and experiences of synaesthesia and find out how synaesthesia can manifest itself through unique cultural influences in the local setting. Meanwhile, the workshop was aimed at exploring ways in which synaesthetic experiences could be explore in art and craft-making. Both events provided an opportunity for participants to delve into synaesthetic experiences, experiment with the concept and develop their own ideas through showcasing synaesthesia as a tool for creating more immersive and engaging experiences for their audience and users.  

Adrian Jankowiak is demonstrating a sample of his synaesthetic experience of the English letters and words. Photo by Adrian Jankowiak.

The workshop was attended by over 40 participants. Its message was divided into two strands: facts about synaesthesia and its hands-on meaning. During the facts-and-stories talk, participants learned about different types of synaesthesia, famous synaesthetes among artists, musicians, and how they apply their synaesthesia in their creativity and artworks. The participants also explored case studies of successful projects that were inspired by synaesthesia. In the practical strand, participants were surrounded in the workshop venue with wall-mounted boards and posters with tasks and challenges that encouraged them to tap into synaesthesia to spark their imagination and activate their senses.

The results were impressive with participants coming up with innovative and imaginative ideas. A brief callout during the workshop showed that there was a general lack of understanding about synaesthesia among the public. However, even those who were familiar with the concept were interested in learning more and exploring the prowess of its application in design. The workshop provided thus a platform for participants to do just that and was equally enlightening. It made the local craftspeople, artists and designers attending the event fling into exploring how they could use sensory experiences and create more immersive and experientially engaging products and environments. The informal feedback we received from the workshop attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and many of them expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to learn more about synaesthesia and its potential applications in art and design.

Announcement of the synaesthesia events at NDW for the festival’s website.

The survey was conducted over several days during the festival with a total of almost 100 participants taking part. The questions were designed to gather information about their experiences of synaesthesia, crossmodal correspondences and figurative intersensory links as well as how they perceive them all in relation to their cultural legacy and background. The results of the survey were fascinating, with many participants reporting experiencing synaesthesia in various forms.

The results were collected by the NDW volunteers, analyzed and presented by JTTS CRO Anton Sidoroff-Dorso at the VII International Congress “Synaesthesia: Science and Art” conference in October 2022 held by the Artecitta Foundation in Granada and Alcalà la Real, Spain. The preliminary results were also published in the proceedings book of the conference as a scientific report.

The talk can be accessed here.

This partnership would be impossible without Adrian Jankowiak whose vision, leadership and expertise have been instrumental in making our joint project a top-notch accomplishment. Nairobi Design Week is Adrian’s brainchild which is gaining momentum with every passing year. JTTS sincerely appreciate Adrian’s willingness to go above and beyond to ensure that our goals were met and our vision was realized. Adrian was an invaluable partner and bought his “A” game to the entire process, from contemplating the initial concept to the final execution. His contributions to our project have been immeasurable and we are grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such a talented and dedicated professional.

Adrian Jankowiak, Nairobi Design Week founder and visionary, with his partner, Naitiemu Nyanjom, Festival Leader, artist and psychology fan.

“Where We Live starts in our minds, bodies and immediate surroundings, and extends into our neighbourhoods, environment and online spaces.”

Adrian Jankowiak, founder, Nairobi Design Week

JTTS also express our sincere gratitude to our volunteers for their enthusiastic involvement and enormous assistance in preparing the location for our workshop and carrying out the survey. Our synaesthesia ambassadors’ hard work and dedication have been invaluable and we could not have completed our project without their support. The data collected from the survey is crucial for our research on awareness of synaesthesia among African people and instrumental in bringing new facts and ideas about this phenomenon to Kenya and beyond. Our volunteers’ unwavering punctuality, efficiency and courteous attitude to everyone they interacted with contributed to our outstanding partnership during the Nairobi Design Week Festival.

NDW volunteers are explaining synaesthesia and how to take part in the survey to festival visitors. Photos by Adrian Jankowiak.

Overall, JTTS and NDW’s committed teamwork was an impressive achievement with both organizations benefiting from the partnership. It has paved the way for further exploration of the fascinating topic of synaesthesia on the African continent and in the extended cross-cultural framework. The survey and workshop provided valuable insights into studying synaesthesia from a culture-sensitive prospective, enhanced the potential of sensory links and settings in design and opened up new avenues for their exploration along the lines of the Kenyan cultural legacy. For many organizers, volunteers and participants, it was exciting to think about the possibilities that may arise from incorporating synaesthesia into their practical applications, and this collaboration has certainly sparked a lot of interest in the field. It demonstrated the potential for new approaches to design that take into account the sensory experiences of users. We believe that this collaboration has opened up exciting possibilities for future research in this area.

In this video, Naitiemu Nyanjom is talking about synaesthesia and what our survey and our mission are about.

Video by Adrian Jankowiak.

The collaboration between JTTS and NDW also proved to be a highly prolific and long-lasting for the reason that we were able to draw upon our respective expertise in local art-making, creativity and psychology to design a survey that was both informative and engaging. The project also demonstrated the importance of cross-disciplinary teamwork and how it can later lead to more innovative and creative outcomes. The response from participants was overwhelmingly favourable with many expressing interest in learning more about synaesthesia and its potential applications in practical use and enhancing self-identity.

We were able to achieve our goal of promoting knowledge about synaesthesia and its personal value to individuals as well as its applicable aspects in creative careers in the field of art and design. For the participants of the NDW festival, the partnership raised the bar for public awareness of synaesthesia and smoothed the way for celebrating human diversity which was evident in the outcomes of our efforts. We look forward to continuing to work together on future projects.

Lots of people collaborated on the workshop and on-site survey on synaesthesia in Narobi, Kenya, in April 2022. The colLab at the NDW Festival would not have been possible without Adrian Jankowiak and the Nairobi Design Week team: Naitiemu, Felix, Joy and Adam, as well as volunteers Diana, Mary and Sherie working as true synaesthesia ambassadors. Special thanks to Dr Bernadette Kina Kombo for her invaluable ideas about the prospects and methods of the research and Dr Sheila Clare Tsb Butungi for diligently providing her impressions of the survey. Gratitude should be expressed to Prof David Howes and Dr Sean A. Day for sharing their experience and expertise on the topics of anthropology and synaesthesia. The Nairobi-based synaesthesia research was financially supported by Journey Through The Senses – JTTS, for which thanks should be extended to James Wannerton, Appelusa and, emphatically, Daniel Schuster.

What Are You Looking For?