Design Indaba -- day two: The difficult second album-

Maybe it’s just me, but what is it about the second day of the Design Indaba? Opening day is always a trip: It’s like Christmas morning (or in my case Chanukah).

You’re brimming with the anticipation of a treat-filled day to come, the content of which could include anything from reconnecting with former colleagues (otherwise known as getting all the gossip on your ex-boss), schmoozing with your contemporaries, sidling up to your design heroes at the coffee counter, simultaneously making notes on your iPad while tweeting, at the end of it all, floating back to your car on a cloud of inspiration. Day three is also always good fun: It’s the weekend, there are hours of viewing and listening pleasure ahead, and the expo doors have opened.

But day two is like the popularity of Justin Bieber—a curious anomaly.
Again, is it just me, or are the presentations always a little hit and miss on this day? And what is up with that collective feeling of being slightly jetlagged after arriving in your favourite city? You’re thrilled to be there, are mindful of how much cultural richness surrounds you, but the picture is just a little soft and grainy. Nope? Just me? Fine then, let’s chalk it up to communal sensory overload in combination with bad hangovers and get on with How I Learned To Stop Nitpicking And Love Design Indaba Day Two—

Truth be told, there was actually a lot to love. I only caught the tail-end of the presentation by Jody Aufrichtig and Nick Ferguson—the local visionaries responsible for, among other things, the regeneration of Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill in the former no-go zone of lower Woodstock as well as the Daddy’s World chain of boutique hotels—but they were well received by the audience. Their unique selling point for the hotels, if you aren’t familiar, is a fleet of classic Airstream trailers with interiors (some beautiful, some bonkers) designed by the cream of South Africa’s creatives. Apart from having fashioned cool places to hang out, their real achievement has been in giving fresh exposure—both national and international—to the exciting state of local design.

I thoroughly enjoyed being taken through a selection of projects presented by the trio behind London-based Bibliothèque design consultancy—Tim Beard, Mason Wells and Jonathon Jeffrey. Their work, which ranges from creating corporate identities to graphic and exhibition design, is intelligent, meticulously researched and beautifully reductivist. Plus the ping-pongy banter between the three was sweet.

The Pecha Kucha session (anyone know what those words mean?) is a forum for a handful of recent design graduates to present their work—be it one project or several—to the audience in no more than twenty slides and a slot that lasts, on average, around five minutes. There were a couple that stood out for me. Canadian Christine Goudie’s focus on improving wheelchair design may not have been sexy, but it strongly reinforced yesterday’s theme of design to improve lives and echoed Pearson Lloyd’s work with the British Design Council in rethinking the hospital commode. That zeitgeist again. Creative technologist Joe Saavedra’s Citizen Sensor is a piece of technology that aims to empower its users by allowing one to measure the environmental conditions of your immediate surrounds (think carbon monoxide, light and noise pollution and dust). Its application for asthmatics, for example, once again related back to the idea of design and its ability to improve our general wellbeing.

And then there was Laduma. Laduma Ngxokolo. Remember that name. Why? Because the man is barely out of the starting blocks (he graduated from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2010) and has already won an international award for his brilliantly realised collection of men’s knitwear. The range, made from South African mohair and wool, was conceived as a response to the local custom of circumcision that calls for an entirely new wardrobe post-snip - knitwear being the main focus. Dissatisfied with the usual suspects of Pringle, Tommy Hilfiger et al, Laduma was inspired to create his colourful collection that interprets, in a contemporary way, the patterns, colours and designs of traditional Xhosa beadwork. He doesn’t have a website yet, but you can see some of his designs on the Design Indaba website.

Being a mom to two small sprogs, I was moved and inspired by the presentation by Kiran Bir Sethi. Kiran is a design educator and activist from India who, as well as running a school based on her self-designed curriculum has also initiated several admirable philanthropic projects. Design for Change encourages children across the world to participate in a one week project—of their design—to change an aspect of their lives or the lives of others. Aproch, shorthand for ‘a protagonist in every child’ aims to design and adapt cities to be more child-centric, the underlying philosophy being ‘when the city gives to the child, when the child grows up they will give back to the city’. Amazing stuff with great relevance for South Africa.

I’ve long been a groupie of Renny Ramakers, curator and co-creator of Dutch design collective Droog, even though some of their projects, as one colleague said, feel a bit gratuitous. She’s not wrong, but they are always experimenting with and pushing the creative envelope, which I find exciting. During the last few minutes of her talk she mentioned a new project that I can’t wait to check out—a platform for downloadable design called ‘Make Me’. She promised it wouldn’t be like anything we’ve seen before and you know what, I believe her. I also loved her concept of including a ‘Wall of Owners’ on the Droog website—a cute idea for creating and fostering a community of Droog products and the people who love them.

Whether you were intrigued, hated or just feel ‘meh’ about the talk by David Butler, vice-president of design for Coca Cola, that demonstrated the brand’s approach to their global visual design language (apparently it’s all about ‘systems’), the facts that he threw out about the company kept me interested. It was like opening an endless supply of Chappies wrappers. And yes, I had an ice-cold Coke with my dinner later on.

Ah, Alberto Alessi. How do I love thee, even if personally I am ever-so-slightly over your products — The current, third-generational president of this iconic brand offered an endearing, funny and colourfully-delivered glimpse into the history of this family-run company. I particularly loved his anecdotes about working with some of the ‘maestros’, as he refers to them, of 20th century design. It was a privilege and an absolute delight to be in his presence.

The final designer of the day was Maarten Baas. Ever since I came to know about—and covet—his work thanks to his then famously controversial Smoke series of furniture, I’ve painted a mental picture of a rather grumpy, intimidatingly intelligent and darkly tortured artiste who would reduce me to tears in a one-on-one interview. He certainly is smart. Very. And while he admitted to being a design fascist (the quote of the day came from him and went something like ‘in creativity one needs dictators, not a democracy; this is what it is and if you don’t like it, don’t fucking buy it!’) he also came across as likeable, funny and (gasp) quite normal. I particularly liked his visual analogy comparing a picture of Superman to a host of mass-produced, meticulously formed design objects in order to illustrate that sometimes perfection is overrated. Observing him dissect a cross-section of his projects was fantastic. It seems you can stick two fingers up to the establishment and still be a commercial and critical success. Be sure to check out his ‘Real Time Analog Digital Clock’ iPhone app that creates the illusion of someone painting the time inside your phone. Super-duper-cool.


  • The Watato Children’s Choir from Uganda serenading world-renowned Italian designer Massimo Vignelli on what was his 80th birthday.

  • Alberto Alessi not-so-subtly implying that Philippe Starck’s youthful appearance is not down to his fabulous profession, but rather some surgical assistance. *Snicker, guffaw, chuckle*

  • Hundreds of members of the audience being videoed by Maarten Baas wishing his mom a happy birthday. A lovely way to end the day.


  • Arriving late to a bit of parking chaos. The shuttle service running from the overflow parking area ran without a hitch, though.

  • Discovering at lunch time that someone in the kitchen had put knives, not spoons, in the bowls of tzatziki as dishing up utensils.

  • Seeing Massimo Vignelli’s wife, Lella (also a celebrated designer and co-founder of their company, Vignelli Associates) being interrogated at the entrance to the media pause area by a security guard. Cringe!

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