All Articles
All Articles

Design Indaba 2014: The Conference


Design Indaba 2014: The Conference

South Africa's annual discourse on how creativity and innovation can affect real change throughout the world at large

by Karen Day
on 04 March 2014

Many wondrously pioneering things happen daily in South Africa, yet surprisingly much of the world still seems slightly unaware of the nation's enduring commitment to progressive reform. The country is often still regarded by much of the modern world as underdeveloped—and even worse, unconcerned or unable. But each year founder Ravi Naidoo and his team at Design Indaba demonstrate exactly how wrong these preconceived notions are with a thought-provoking conference highlighting South Africa's vested interest in how creativity and innovation can change the world, both at home and abroad.

A roster of diverse visionaries take to the stage each year and speak about topics which span human needs, democracy, added value, giving back, affordance, shortening feedback loops and more. With more than 30 speakers at this year's conference, highlighting just a few is difficult. Here though, is a brief overview of a handful of inspiring people we were privileged to listen to this year, which collectively represent the variety of creative minds found at this ultra-encouraging conference.

Thomas Heatherwick

London-based architect Thomas Heatherwick did more than speak at Design Indaba, the prolifically industrious designer (whose eponymous studio is behind the Olympic Cauldron for the 2012 Olympic Games, the newly remained double-decker bus in London and the award-winning UK Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo) also unveiled the full proposal for Zeitz MOCAA, a museum dedicated to contemporary African art and its diaspora. Heatherwick was tasked with turning a massive grain silo complete with 42 vertical concrete tubes into a cultural institution, and his plans for the ultra-complicated project are nothing short of astounding. Much like his vision for keeping the essence of London's iconic Roadmaster bus, Heatherwick explained of designing Cape Town's forthcoming waterfront museum, "Rather than strip out the evidence of the building’s industrial heritage, we wanted to find a way to enjoy and celebrate it."

Marcello Serpa

Brazilian art director Marcello Serpa may be best known as the brains behind the Havaianas ad campaigns; an ongoing series that has turned the ubiquitous rubber flip-flop into a fashion statement. But the worldly creative—who lived in Germany for seven years before moving back to São Paulo where he eventually co-founded the agency AlmapBBDO—threw out a lot well-founded soundbites that work well beyond the realm of advertising strategy. “The cliché is immortal. It comforts the mediocre while protecting the cowards” is one such mode of thinking, but the avid surfer also spoke about his interest in sustainability, which serves as a foundation for creating relevant ad campaigns and for protecting the earth. This combination is visible in his compelling work for the Volkswagen bus (of which he's also a proud owner), as well as his bold statement: "If everyone is saving the planet then who the fuck is destroying it?"

David Goldblatt

Bringing the crowd to a standing ovation, veteran photographer David Goldblatt was decidedly one of the most poignant speakers at Design Indaba 2014. Goldblatt is hailed as the first South African artist to be given a solo exhibition at MoMA, and it's easy to see why the NYC institution applauded his work. A man of great depth, he showed his interest in people, and capturing them in both humorous and horrific situations. But it was his account of photographing Nelson Mandela that perhaps best summed up Goldblatt's fantastic mind: instead of shooting Mandela in a cushiony chair that would position him as "all knees" and essentially a weak individual, Goldblatt refused and demanded that Mandela sit in a straight-back chair which would show his dignified nature. Among other achievements, Goldblatt was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by NYC's International Center for Photography and he founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, which allows young people disadvantaged by apartheid to learn valuable visual literacy and photographic skills.

Tom Hulme

As a physics major, Design Director of IDEO London, devoted entrepreneur and self-dubbed "angel investor" who seemingly lives by the motto "talk less, do more," Tom Hulme is perhaps the epitome of all that Design Indaba stands for. The altruistic designer entertained with a few brilliant examples of design evolution, from the very early alarm clock (a "knocker up") to the Mosquito alarm, a noise only heard by young people and used to prevent them from loitering—until they in turn realized how to make it a ringtone which adult professors couldn't hear during class. But his founding OpenIDEO and OIEngine demonstrates his idea that "everyone is a designer"—both of these projects allow communities to work together to create change through impactful design solutions. Hulme also believes in the power of collaboration, and one particular example he gave is #ANOTHERLIGHTUP, which was conceived by Design Indaba Trust, street artist Faith47 and consultancy Thingking. The project uses public art to provide residents of Cape Town's dangerous Monwabisi Park with light, in an effort to raise money for permanent streetlights.

Lauren Beukes

Former journalist and award-winning novelist Lauren Beukes left the slideshow behind in favor of doing what she does best: storytelling. Beukes uses her own experiences growing up in South Africa—from the unjust death of a friend to apartheid—to create harrowing tales that are partially true and entirely riveting. She also enlightened the audience about one of the injustices of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which offered counseling to those who had been witness to violent crimes; all except for the numerous translators who served during the public hearings. Through a dramatic performance, Beukes spoke about the importance of letting go, using art for good (such as her charity exhibition for Rape Crisis) and using stories as a defense mechanism.

naoto-fukasawa-design-indaba-1.jpg naoto-fukasawa-design-indaba-2.jpg
Naoto Fukasawa

Legendary Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa spoke for a second time at Design Indaba, the first occurrence happening 11 years ago. Designing under his own name since 2003, the former IDEO head is renowned for his ability to create simple, functional products that are as easy to use as they are aesthetically pleasing. Stating, "Ask your body what to design, it knows more than your mind," Fukasawa focuses on how the product relates to human needs and their inherent behaviors. By seeing the demand instead of the product first, it not only adds value but decreases waste. In Fukasawa's mind, "A word 'world' could represent a place where we belong rather than an aggregation of different nations," and his products speak to such a desire.

Photos by Karen Day and Jonx Pillemer, courtesy of Design Indaba

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring
Loading More...