Carrying the can for African design

Young graphic designer Ofentse Letebele tells us what inspired his winning design for the inaugural BOS Ice Tea Design-A-Can competition.

When does a can become a keepsake item? When its packaging is inspired by 18th-century Ndebele murals and designed by one of South Africa’s freshest graphic design talents. Ofentse Letebele – Cape Town-based multimedia designer, graffiti artist and occasional DJ – won the BOS Ice Tea Design-A-Can Competition with his striking design.

Now BOS Ice Tea is bringing an exhibition of shortlisted designs from its Design-A-Can competition to 6 Spin Street, Cape Town as part of First Thursdays.

The proudly local ice tea brand put the call out to local designers in August 2014 and received a huge number of interesting submissions, but it was the design by Letebele, a Emerging Creative at this year’s Design Indaba Expo, that most spoke to BOS.

“Letebele’s design stands out to us for its modern spin on what is essentially a very African design,” says BOS founder Grant Rushmere, “and looks great as part of the BOS family.”

Letebele – who goes under the name King Debs – has a minimal, eclectic aesthetic that he describes as “purely local”. Letebele based his can design on Ndebele wall paintings, using a distinctive colour palette and geometric arrangements that echo African patterns. He found his inspiration close to home.

“One of the great things about being South African is that you don't have to look far for inspiration. The design symbolises dignity, growth and pride. It symbolises the journey that lies ahead of me as a young designer,” he says.

“To some extent the patterns suggest an upward journey; a sense of individual ascension from the physical to the metaphysical state of being. Hence there’s a flight of stairs, arrows pointing upwards and a star, which illustrates the higher state and beyond. The colours are also a celebration of different individuals and cultures in South Africa.”

Letebele hopes that his can will be seen as a piece of interior design, or a fashion item, and that people will want to hold on to it instead of throwing it away.

The Design-A-Can shortlist exhibition was originally on display at MOAD in Johannesburg. Entry to the exhibition at 6 Spin Street, Cape Town is free and it runs for one week, opening 18:00-23:00 on Thursday 7 May.