Branding the Unknown!


What would draw one of the UK & Ireland’s largest independent branding firms far beyond its Irish borders to the wide-open savannahs, thick jungles and thatched-roof villages of Africa? In this interview with Dynamo, a Dublin-based branding agency, we uncover the inspiration and unique approach behind the creation of the MIA identity. Interview with Dynamo founder Jamie Helly.

What experience or life influence inspired you to pursue a career in branding and design?

I honestly have to thank David Bowie for why I now work in such a lovely creative environment. From the age of 14, all I did was listen to Bowie albums and spend days faithfully [mostly unfaithfully] reproducing his artworks on every surface I could find; doors, walls ceilings, roofs, clothes, the lot. My mum was amazing, constantly encouraging me and then we discovered that there was a job by the name of ‘Graphic Designer’ and I might even earn money for doing it! I was hooked. From that moment, my heart and sights were firmly set on going to art college, which I’m very happy to say, ultimately led me to where I am now 37 years later. Spooky.

As an independent branding agency, Dynamo has a large degree of autonomy in selecting projects. What is it that most excites you and your team about the brands you bring to life?

[Jamie] We thrive on new challenges and getting to know product categories from a 365° perspective. This enables us to create the visuals, copy and pack design that speaks to the target audience in a bold new way. Even if we are just tasked with evolving a logo, for example, we always immerse ourselves in the market and get acquainted with the competitive set. We do this to ensure that our work takes into account both the traditional cues and new trends that consumers use, often unconsciously, to understand a product and the brand promise.

What attracted you and the Dynamo team to partner with MIA, and to go beyond a service provider to become one of the business owners and long-term partners?

[Jamie] MIA has everything we love in a branding journey and it lives by an extraordinary higher purpose that really grabbed us. The heart of MIA revolves around this idea that Africa’s entrepreneurs can craft delicious foods that rival those from the world’s most sophisticated culinary centres – London, Paris, New York, etc. – and all the while creating more prosperity on an often forgotten continent.

Added to the MIA higher purpose was an amazing opportunity to work with a passionate group of people to create a brand from the ground up, from a completely blank slate. Naturally, developing a brand platform, a name and supporting visuals requires a lot of research, thought and discussion. Our approach was always to give a voice to our counterparts in MIA so we could get the most from everyone’s perspective and create a rich pool of ideas for development.

What was Dynamo’s approach to branding Africa, a continent that is often expressed in its wildlife or through ethnic symbols, and still largely a mystery to many people?

In addition to creating the MIA concept from scratch, we had the daunting and exciting challenge of bringing Africa to life. Such a vast continent so rich in colours, culture, flora and fauna is an amazing tapestry from a design perspective. But choice is also a challenge as combining too many concepts can dilute the end product.

While the visuals are beautiful, we deliberately chose not to take the path most travelled by limiting such a rich and talented continent to wildlife or a landscape. Instead, we set out to visualise MIA for what it represents: unforgettable flavours, talented craftspeople and a pulsing passion for life. It was this vision of Africa’s potential that led to a pack design of bold colours and modern patterns that are balanced by a traditional Sankofa bird icon which communicates timeless wisdom: learn from our past to better shape our future.

In your opinion, how can branding be a force for change in a world where we see so many opportunities to make a positive difference?

In today’s digital world, everyone is immersed in branding whether they realise it or not. Thanks to social media, we all share a combination of images and statements that create a lasting impression on our audience. In this personal sense, branding is omnipresent and immensely powerful to create positive change.

As for our approach to projects at Dynamo, we combine the diverse perspectives of a talented team to communicate the brand’s message in the blink of an eye. In the case of a brand like MIA, this also means we have the opportunity to showcase the best of Africa with an eye on changing perceptions and bringing more prosperity to talented producer communities in the process. This is branding at its best!