Meet Bode Oluwa
BA (Hons) Product Design (1999)
Innovation Director at Li Ning (China)
What made you come to study at Central Saint Martins?
When I was a teenager I was really into athletics. I used to run the 100m and became 6th in the UK junior rankings in addition to several national medals.
I had dreams of a future athletics career and for my art A-Level I painted a picture of my ultimate dream, me winning an Olympic medal. Everyone loved it and my teacher began to coach me and encourage me to take my art more seriously and start to think of new ideas and challenge myself a bit more. She then persuaded me to apply to do Art & Design foundation at Central Saint Martins. I thought she was crazy, I’d never even heard of the place before. At the interview I took along my self-portrait and had to stand up in front of lots of other perspective students and staff and explain my ideas behind my work and the techniques I used. It was so daunting but I got in! During the course I learnt so many new skills and received some great coaching which lead me onto the BA (Hons) Product Design course.
What did you learn from your time at CSM?
Central Saint Martins brings you out of your comfort zone then challenges you to come up with new ideas and do something you never have done before (like raiding rubbish bins and using the contents to create art).
I also discovered it was a great place for character building which is essential for post college life. Having great ideas means nothing unless you have the personality and skills to convey these ideas effectively and be confident in meetings with clients and potential employers.
As an employer now, I always look back and remember charismatic and interesting graduates I have previously met (both in a professional and personal capacity) when an opportunity arises for me to add someone new to the team.
What got you started in your career after graduation?
Hard work and entrepreneurship. After graduation I approached so many different companies with my final year project. I not only had the designs but also I developed ideas for marketing campaigns and visuals. Finally Puma sat down with me and went through all my ideas and loved them! I ended up working with them for five years, until I wanted a change and moved from London to Manchester to work for Umbro. Umbro was a great opportunity. I got to work with the England football team and redesign and develop the technology for the official England football, which was amazing. Also I met lots of different sports personalities and had the opportunity to travel. It was also where I first developed my love for Asia.
This was a really exciting time for me, as I was able to naturally combine the two things I love most, product design and Sports.
So what made you move to China?
Three things made me decide that I wanted to live in China. The first thing was when I saw pictures of Ai Weiwei’s designs for China’s National Stadium in 2004, also known as the Bird’s Nest. I thought it was magnificent and inspiring and knew I had to be there to witness it.
Secondly, I had an amazing experience when I went to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. I totally fell in love with the energy and excitement of the city had to offer. Most important of all, a job opportunity came along that I could not turn down. At the time I had the chance to either move to the US or to China. Without I shadow of a doubt I knew it had to be China.
What challenges did you come across when you first arrived?
I found the first six months hard. I thought the way of working in China compared to the UK and other international company’s was more intense. As well as cultural differences and the need for a translator, working hours were a lot longer and it felt like there was twice the demand for work. I also felt that the window of opportunity for us designers to totally express our creativity was quite limited. Generally the mind set for many companies, is that in order to make money it was best to repeat what had previously been successful, rather than risk something new. However, I stayed focused and determined to increase the creativity output from the cross-function of department for new creative visions and opportunities, the same time being mind full in balancing target profits set by the company.
I kept being myself in motivating others, which broke a lot of boundaries with my boss who began to see the benefits of new designs and ideas from others and me in the team. Due to a now very competitive market and new demands from consumers, many other companies now see the real benefit for new, innovative, creative designs.
Amongst the challenges, I’ve come away with many positive experiences during my years in China and made many new friends and acquaintances. This is great for any news design graduates in China.
What has been your proudest moment?
Professionally three come to mind.
Persuading the leaders at the company on new conceptual idea, which eventually lead to the launch of some of my new designs on the market.
These were so successful that they are still being sold and are now in their fifth generation. All thanks to having the determination to break boundaries and work towards creating cultural change in the working environment.
The second, designing product placements especially for the movie Shaolin Soccer. It’s a great feeling to see your creation worn by the actor and seen internationally in cinemas. Personally I think the movie is very entertaining.
Finally, was that my employers at the time were the official sponsors of the Chinese Olympic team for the London 2012 Games. As a Londoner, they asked for my advice on design direction and story to add character to the uniforms. Which they took on board. It was great watching the 2012 Olympics and seeing my ideas being paraded in front of millions of people across the world. I’m also proud to have the opportunity to continue this in being the lead creative director for the national teams 2016 Rio Games.
What made you want to be involved in the Beijing Alumni Association?
I got an email about the start of an alumni group in Beijing and knew straight away that I wanted to be involved. I loved the idea of meeting fellow creatives in the city and being able to share experiences and look for opportunities to collaborate. I really want to make sure that graduates know there is a flat platform for them to come and express themselves and open up about any issues, regardless of their job or position, in a fun and friendly environment.
A UAL alumni community can also be a great resource for perspective and current students. We can teach them about the real world which evolves around the creative industry, what life is really like as a student in London and how to get a head start after graduation.