Designs on a better world

Story by Ian Coutts for Perspective Kingston 2015

For more than ten years, Brian Dodo and the staff at BmDodo Strategic Design have been serving customers as far away as East Timor – and today they are stretching the very idea of what design can do.
Dodo had never even heard of Kingston when he arrived here from Washington D. C. in 2001 to take up a three-month temp job with what is now Open Text. He never left. Four years later, he and business partner Jen Cameron founded the firm that bears his name, with the idea of helping companies and institutions develop brands and identities that would grow their businesses or change the public’s perception of them. Given its location between four major cities – Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Syracuse – Kingston seemed like a particularly good place to set up. As well, says Dodo, “In comparison to our colleagues in Toronto, we could get better office space at a much better rate. Our commutes were better. And Kingston is a good place to raise children. Life is just better here in general.”
Today, working from a funky office in a former limestone barracks (with a satellite office in Toronto) Dodo and his team services clients around the world, among them, the United Nations and the European Community. “More than 70 per cent of our business is international.”
While continuing to service clients and develop new ones, Dodo is taking his firm in new directions, using their design expertise and what little downtime they have to develop their own ideas and make them happen. Ideas for anything from a water bottle to building a better community.
MAPP Africa, an ambitious social media platform, is the first of these. “The image and brand of Africa is very negative,” says the Zimbabwean-born Dodo, “Yet there is so much going on that is positive.” By concentrating on Music, Arts, People and Places (that’s where MAPP comes from) rather than the continent’s divisive politics and religious struggles, Dodo hopes to create a social media channel that will tell Africans -- and the rest of the world -- about the good things that Africa produces. The social media platform combines elements of the music channel Vevo with an interactivity reminiscent of Facebook, but with an innovative twist: MAPP Africa is “more than virtual.” MAPP has “ambassadors” in a dozen African countries. Attend an event like the recent Victoria Falls Music Festival in Zimbabwe, and you have the chance of meeting an actual flesh and blood representative of MAPP Africa. Active on a number of other social media platforms and boasting its own app, the platform reaches 2.5 million people each month. MAPP Africa, Dodo feels, has the potential to become very big, and he is looking to expand the idea to Mexico and elsewhere. At present, BmDodo supports MAPP Africa to some degree. Ultimately, as it grows, Dodo hopes that it will start to give paying work back to the firm.  MAPP Africa is more than a business for Dodo. It is like an updating of the traditional African village, bringing people together and creating a stronger sense of community – and improving their lives.
“Design,” says Dodo, “has the potential to solve problems.”