Spotlight: America(s)

American Design Stories: Ini Archibong

Wava Carpenter

The California-born, Switzerland-based designer on identity obstacles and adapting to—and appreciating–the moment

In the American Design Stories series, we ask designers from across the Americas to share their insights on American design today, along with three images that represent the designers’ vision of American design.

For our final story in the series, we spoke with designer Ini Archibong. Born and raised in Pasadena, California, Archibong currently resides in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Marrying luxury with emotional resonance, he creates masterfully crafted pieces inspired by his perspectives on world religions, philosophy, mathematics, and more.

Asked to choose an image emblematic of American design, Archibong points to a classic Afro pick. With origins dating back to Ancient Egypt, the comb was first patented in the US in 1969 and has been produced in multiple variations ever since. Examples can be found in museums around the globe. Notably, American artist Hank Willis Thomas paid homage to the pick as a symbol of the Black community's strength and the ongoing fight for justice with All Power to the People, a large scale sculpture that traveled the US in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Photo courtesy of Ini Archibong


What identity obstacles do you face in your work?

Underrepresentation and misrepresentation. It doesn’t take much insight to recognize that Black designers are greatly underrepresented in the design industry. Take a look at any of the major trade shows or design publications, and you’ll notice the disparity. I am as optimistic as I am skeptical about the situation today. On one hand, I am enthusiastic about the dialogue that has been opened this year, yet I still think it’s unlikely that structures will shift to favor righteousness over the dollar.

What are the most urgent topics that designers can and should address today?

I think that the biggest topic to address has not changed over the years. If approached consciously, design—like any other creative practice—has the ability to expose the unity and complementary nature of our diverse world. Once we get to a place where underrepresentation and social obstacles cease to be an issue, then we can begin to see the pure expressions of a diverse array of voices. We may find that at our core, we share many of the same values; they may just manifest in different ways.

Another representation of American design chosen by Archibong: this photo depicting a cherry red lowrider, captured at LA's annual Torres Family Empire Lowrider Convention. Photo © Nathanael Turner

Do you feel a sense of responsibility to use your platform as a designer in a particular way?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have a responsibility or an obligation. I view it as a choice. I made a choice to use my skills and talent to try to be of benefit to the world. At times this requires being vocal about issues and topics of concern. Other times it might require focusing on my craft and expressing ideals through my work. At the current moment, it feels important to be both vocal and creatively productive. It is a privileged position to be in to have my voice heard and to have interest in my creative expressions. I intend to make the most of it in service of something larger than myself.

How have current crises figured into or impacted your studio’s experience and approach?

The current crises have impacted my work in many ways. Adapting to the situation as far as workflow, scheduling, and being mindful about my daily health regimen has been critical. Finding new sectors to bring creativity and uplifting experiences to people. Also doing my best to support my people back home in the US as we continue to deal with injustice has meant rethinking the messages that my work sends to the world, as seen in the readaptation of theoracle [renamed theoracle] for the To Be Determined show at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Archibong updated his <strike>theoracle</strike> installation in direct response to the past year's events, including the ongoing fight for racial justice and the coronavirus pandemic. The work, which referenced a kind of ancestral call and response, has now been silenced, wrapped in security tape, and its title crossed out. Photo © John Smith; Courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art

Where do you look for joy or optimism?

I find joy and optimism in my daughter Alejandra. At three  years old, she has no reason not to be joyful and optimistic. It is simply her nature. She has no frame of reference to compare the current situation, so she finds joy in what she is presented. I try my best to emulate this. Every moment has the perfect ingredients for something great; our outlook can sometimes determine whether or not we are open to discovering it.

Archibong also selected the iconic Pollock Armchair as representative of American design. Designed by Charles Pollock in 1960 and manufactured by Knoll from 1964 to 1979, the chair was a symbol of the modern workplace and a constant presence in executive suites across the US in the postwar era. It was reissued by Knoll in 2014. Image © Knoll

How can design support a more equitable society?

Even though design could be considered a niche or insular community, the impact of design on our daily lives and our values is undeniable. Everyone's experiences are framed by design. Peoples' habits and ways of living are dictated by design. Even our spiritual and psychological wellbeing is shaped by design.

The impact may be slow-moving and imperceptible, but it is there, and it is powerful nonetheless. Once we acknowledge the roots of the design that has become the prevalent taste and acknowledge the societies and cultural norms that dictated what is considered “foreign” or “exotic” versus what is considered functional and useful design, then we can begin the process of discovering a rich spectrum of approaches and applications that have been long ignored due to a Eurocentric and colonial view of art and design. By nature this will lead to a more equitable approach to creating spaces and objects that have a subtle yet clear impact on society and its evolution.

What gives you the most joy in your work?

New typologies.

Thank you, Ini! 


Born in Pasadena, Neuchâtel-based designer Ini Archibong earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Design from the Art Center College of Design and later received a Master’s in Luxury Design & Craftsmanship from ECAL. His work has been exhibited at numerous international museums, such as at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Museo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan, Dallas Museum of Art, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He is currently collaborating with Sé Collections in London and Friedman Benda in New York. Archibong has had numerous high-profile collaborations, including with Hermès, Christofle, and Knoll.


Inspired by the 2020 Design Miami/ Podium theme America(s)—and all the complexities that go along with it, especially in this moment—Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Anava Projects connected with a selection of outstanding designers with personal ties to the Americas to get their take on “American” design today. Their responses were insightful, inspiring, and diverse: From thoughts on the most pressing issues and challenges facing designers now, to hopes and suggestions for a more equitable future and reflections on their own American design journeys to date. Each story is accompanied by images provided by the designer that embody what America(s) or American design means to them.