Designer and artist Yinka Ilori set out on his daring yet equally vibrant journey on the streets of London and now his patterns are spreading across the globe. Open until 25 June at the London Design Museum, the #ParablesForHappiness exhibition is a short excursion into his extraordinary world and a perfect display of how cultural heritage turns into a design concept that gives joy to people.

I was in London last week so it was the perfect opportunity to drop by the Design Museum to see Ai Wei Wei’s “Making Sense” exhibition but I was so distracted by the colors and patterns in the reception hall on the second floor that I almost forgot why I went there in the first place. Wei Wei’s shattered ceramics and iPhone molds made from materials obtained from historical artifacts had to wait while I veered towards the hypnotizing patterns and colors of 37-year-old designer Yinka Ilori, an artist I had never heard of before. The vibrant colors, positive slogans, and naïve patterns decorating the corridors of the second floor were enough to put a smile on my face even before I read the texts about the designs. Born in London to a Nigerian family, Ilori grew up in the multicultural neighborhood of Islington. The artist’s design approach is a juxtaposition of different cultures that is inspired by the fabrics, graphic patterns, and colors he saw during his travels to Nigeria at a young age. He gained acclaim after his designs first appeared in the streets of London, from where it spread like wildfire.

After graduating from London Metropolitan University, Ilori started working as a furniture designer and then moved on to upcycling second-hand furniture. He has many creations including a recycled shopping bag for Marks & Spencer. Today, the designer has diversified from functional products and furniture to architecture, interior design, graphic design, sculpture, and fabric design. For him, design is an instrument to tell colorful stories throughout the process of creation, regardless of the end product. The collection consisting of over a hundred photographs, books, objects, and furniture is a testament to Ilori’s prowess in fusing London’s unique cultural diversity with his own roots.

Ilori made his breakthrough in public spaces and furniture design where he used traditional Nigerian colors and patterns alongside phrases from ancestral stories to decorate pavements, walls, and playgrounds. The first basketball court in Canary Wharf, the courtyard of Somerset House, Nine Elms Rail Bridge, Bank Street Park, and the 2021 Brit Awards stage are only some of the canvases used by the versatile designer who founded his eponymous design studio in 2015. Famous architect David Adjaye is listed among the “12 Talents Shaping the Design World” by New York Times Style Magazine and he thinks that Ilori designs tools to transfer cultural memory by transcending product and functionality. Work by Ilori is featured in the collections of V&A Dundee, Vitra Design Museum, Guggenheim Bilbao, and the New York Metropolitan Museum. Ilori’s work in public spaces especially focuses on making art and design accessible to everyone. For Ilori, city streets are a canvas, and his fun, intelligent, and provocative outdoor creations have a quality that unites people and cultures. Besides project-based collaborations with brands such as Adidas, Kvadrat, Lego, Meta, Nike, Pepsi, and SCP, Ilori has also teamed up with the NHS Foundation Trust to donate some of his designs to the Hospitals in Chelsea, Westminster and Springfield University. “My work will always be about inclusivity and for people enjoying design.” Yinka Ilori’s Parables of Happiness exhibition is open at the Design Museum London until 25 June 2023.