Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenyan illustrator Brian Omolo is one of the artists selected by Opera to create the new sticker packs for Hype, Opera’s new chat service built into the Opera Mini browser.
Thousands of Kenyans are starting to use Hype every day to chat with their friends and family online and using the stickers designed by Brian. These stickers have been designed to give Kenyans the pleasure of sensuous and imaginative apprehension, and a way to better express themselves with others.
“I tried to communicate the authentic Kenyan culture that we express everyday, to showcase greetings, gestures and reactions that are true to us. Styles, colors and expressions that connect to the heart of any Kenyan and really create a bridge for funny, fun, cool and real interactions.”
Like the rest of the world, the African messenger landscape is noisy and fragmented, with users posting, sharing and snapping uniformly; a direct result of international messenger services monopolising local attention. This is where HYPE is different: rather than offering just another means of connecting, Hype aims to transform this connection into a vibrant community of its own, starting with the communities it represents, and reflecting how they authentically connect. This meant considering everything from how users in these regions speak, to what they speak about.
This was the logical departure point for this project: if we want local users to feel Nairobi and the exclusivity of the circles they move in through Hype, we should work with illustrators and designers who move in those circles themselves. Using Behance, we scoured dozens of local African artist portfolios until we landed on a shortlist that best served the Hype goals.
“I was excited when I got the email from FORT, the brief just seemed really cool. When I read it I knew it would give me the opportunity to really express myself and show some of the interesting things that inspire our pop culture here in Nairobi. It’s not everyday you get a brief that allows you to be creative and really free your imagination.”
The quarantine in Kenya during the COVID-19 outbreak was a time for Brian to find inspiration about the gestures and expressions he wanted to capture on the Hype sticker packs. He found this inspiration coming from the people closest to him, his surroundings and his sense of belonging.
“The inspiration came from all around me, hangin out with my family that I was in quarantine with at the time, abstract patterns I would see in fashion, surrealist artwork and illustration, speaking sheng with my bros and my students – in Kenya we have slang that we use called sheng, but the words tend to be different depending on where you’re from and what age group you’re in. Millennials like me speak a slightly different sheng than the younger Gen Zs, so I had to interact with my students to learn what new sheng words they were using. Finally I decided to use sheng words that would cut across all age groups and types of people. All these ingredients just sort off mixed together to form the illustrations in the sticker pack.”
Designing and creating art for a chat service used by the next generation of internet users in Kenya, can be quite demanding and challenging. During the creative process with so much space for creativity, Brian struggled to get the quality of rightfulness in his designs, as in – does this look right and does this feel right.
“At first it was a little challenging, my initial ideas were a little too safe and not quite as convincing, but once I got some feedback and worked on the revisions, my imagination started to flow and I really got into the groove of things. The illustrations got better with every revision, until the versions with all the color got the approval from the client. I was really happy with how they came out.”
As long as he can remember, Brian has always drawn, and with the support of his parents and family he became a professional artist and illustrator who collaborates in international initiatives and with international brands like Opera.
“When I was about 5 years old, I would pause cartoons and try to draw the characters, that’s my earliest memory of drawing. After that my parents put me in schools that were big on art and creativity, which I really enjoyed. I always loved drawing and creating when I was in school, just the freedom in it and the challenge of using your imagination to create something new and different. It felt fresh and new every time, I felt like I could truly be myself. One way or another, I knew that it would be the perfect job for me.”
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