News & Trends, Decor & Design

Joburg's New Wave of Talented Graphic Designers Pay Tribute to the City of Gold

We asked five of our favourite graphic design talents to create something special for us in tribute to the City of Gold.


The next wave of Joburg’s graphic design talent is rethinking the city’s identity in exciting new ways. We asked five of our favourites to create something special for us in tribute to the City of Gold. 

Unknown Design Agency

Unknown Design Agency is anything but. Founded in 2014 by Coenraad Sutton and Linel Louw, the agency has distinguished itself in the Johannesburg creative landscape by specialising in holistic brand development. Unknown’s recent clients include product and interior design brands Dokter and Misses, Joe Paine and Tonic Design. They also recently completed a comprehensive brand revamp for the Slow suite of airport lounges. 

Unknown’s style is unequivocally contemporary, but with an emphasis on longevity. ‘We start with an in-depth understanding of our clients’ personality, values and business strategy,’ say Linel and Coenraad, and they regularly collaborate with top creative talent to produce well-crafted and functional solutions. 

For the two directors, Johannesburg is a city of flux: multifaceted, constantly evolving and regenerating. ‘Joburg is a fantastic place for creative people and offers long-term rewards for anyone willing to stick it out,’ they say. 

The Unknown design contribution for this issue, an Escher-esque typeface derived from a Joburg skyline (that also spells out JHB), illustrates the infinite mutations and potential of the city. Linel and Coenraad explain that the ‘golden phrase “There is no end, only the city” refers to the many ways the city can be navigated and experienced – each choice leading to new, potentially infinite possibilities.’ 

Jana + Koos Studio

Jana Hamman and Koos Groenewald of the eponymously named Jana+Koos Studio are creative shapeshifters and innovators. Unrestricted by conventions, their fluid and expansive idea of design encompasses graphic design, branding, conceptual and interior design, fashion design, photography, illustration, jewellery design, and art. The duo launched their agency in 2011, but their creative partnership dates back to 2003, when they met as information design students at the University of Pretoria.

Jana and Koos say that although they now frequently work in Cape Town, across Africa and abroad, they are Jozi kids at heart. ‘We started here and will always retain a Joburg spirit and sensibility,’ they explain. ‘We think it’s informed a lot of our visual aesthetic.’ 

The pair’s first art exhibition, City of Gold Diggers, took place in New York City in 2014, and was ‘a homage to the Johannesburg that we love to hate (to love)’. From this followed the ‘JHB Hates You’ T-shirt, art prints and brand. 

For their design, Jana and Koos revisited the very first piece of art they made together after moving to Joburg. In this piece, gold paint is applied to an existing magazine cover with a gold velvet cloth. ‘It made sense to throw this all in the mix and not over-think it,’ they explain, ‘kind of like what we’ve always loved about Joburg – a little rough around the edges and imperfect in a very inspiring way. For us, Joburg is a place where you can experiment and where people are open and supportive to trying out new things. That’s why we keep coming back and making work here.’ 

SHOP IT: 'JHB Hates You' t-shirt by Jana+Koos

Sindiso Nyoni

Going by the moniker RiOT, Sindiso Nyoni’s politically charged illustrations tackle some of Africa’s most pressing issues. ‘I feel that as creatives we have a duty to contribute to our communities using art that addresses social issues and advocates awareness and change,’ says the Zimbabwe-born artist and designer. 

Sindiso has called South Africa home for the past 13 years, working as an illustrator and art director at an award-winning advertising agency before striking out on his own. He says that since migrating to Johannesburg he’s been influenced by its cultural diversity and that ‘the gritty, bold, urban character of the city has permeated (gradually) through some of my work’. 

That work, which he describes as ‘a subversive South African “street” style,’ combines drawing and digital techniques. Sindiso is inspired by artistic movements born out of liberation struggles, particularly in Africa, and says that his ‘culture and origins play a significant role in [his] overall work and activism’. 

Sindiso looked to the beautiful game for inspiration for his design. ‘Football has always played a very important role in my growth as an artist,’ he explains. In this illustration, Sindiso honours the Soweto-born legendary golden boy of South African football, Dr Ephraim Matsilela Sono, affectionately known as Jomo Sono and ‘the Black Prince of South African soccer’. 

The Bread

When The Bread launched back in 2014, the creative industry immediately took note. Led by youth-culture aficionados Anthea Poulos and Andrew Berry, the bespoke Braamfontein-based agency specialises in PR, design, events, content creation and strategy to help brands communicate and connect with their audiences in a definitive way. Bakery is
a new addition to the breadbasket, adding UX/UI design and development to the mix. 

‘What sets us apart is relationships,’ Anthea says. ‘We’ve grown a massive network of young creatives around us over the years and we work with them to make sure we’re always putting out work worth talking about.’ This means that the agency has a finger (or 10) firmly on the pulse of youth culture and trends coming out of Johannesburg. 

When it comes to the city, Anthea says that it’s a love-hate relationship, ‘but there’s nowhere else we’d rather be. It comes with its challenges, but there are so many layers that you never really feel like you’ve uncovered everything – because of the diversity there’s always constant change and evolution.’ 

The Bread’s tongue-in-cheek graphic design was created by Carl Ascroft in response to the energy of the city. He says: ‘Our work tries to establish connections between people and ideas, so this image is suggestive of the city, and its inherent opportunities for connection and creation.’ 

Masonwabe Ntloko

Masonwabe Ntloko, better known as The 21st Century Blackman, is a young art director and illustrator from the Eastern Cape. Born with artistic talent, Masonwabe has been experimenting with different outlets – such as textiles, graphic design and digital art – to find his creative groove. 

Specialising in image manipulation and digital illustration, Masonwabe’s art seeks to merge traditional and contemporary culture in a way that resonates with his generation. ‘I see myself as a bridge between culture/tradition and today’s youth, to help them find a place for culture in the world of today,’ he says. Earlier this year, Masonwabe was included in Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives platform and named one of the 37 House and Leisure Next Level disruptors in our August 2018 issue. His Instagram feed reads as a continuous vertical showcase of his recent work, in which each image merges seamlessly into the next. 

In his design, Masonwabe has pictured himself floating above the Nelson Mandela bridge in Braamfontein. ‘I’ve always seen myself as different from everyone else in Joburg in terms of how I present myself and how I see things,’ he explains. The serene figure in the design represents the need for balance, to allow himself to grow without being consumed by the city and losing his sense of self. As Masonwabe says, ‘I understand that there is power in individuality.’   

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