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    Design Indaba 2014

Design Indaba

Design Indaba 2014: Rolling coverage of the last day of the design jamboree

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Day three of the southern hemisphere’s biggest design event is under way and once again we’ll be bringing you the highlights as they happen here in Cape Town. Today’s line-up includes Stefan Sagmeister and David Goldblatt so it promises another mass of creative insights. Sing with me now!


The closing talk came from the inimitable Stefan Sagmeister who toys with his own public image, gleefully admitting at one stage “I don’t give a shit about humility.” He talked about his three-year quest to explore happiness in the form of exhibitions and a film, with beautifully-presented scientific data to back up his arguments.

In essence what he is suggesting is that we need to understand what factors contribute to our happiness (or otherwise) and explore practical steps to improving our emotional wellbeing. Although at times it sounds like sociology, it does link to design if we accept Wayne Hemingway’s definition of the craft as “about improving things that matter in life.”

And Stefan is practical about it, saying at one stage: “Getting stuff done is one of my favourite things.” So at The Happy Show the typography would change colour if it sensed attendees smiling, and he is working on an app now which helps users set practical happiness goals. A rousing close to three days of inspiration!

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    Sagmeister Walsh: The Happy Show


Naoto Fukasawa is a Japanese designer whose talk started with what seemed like some very complex ideas. But as he went on it became clear that nothing could be further from the truth; his is a practice that is all about simplicity and taking inspiration from what he sees around him.

Whether that’s the fruit juice packaging (below) inspired by the natural world or chairs inspired by the concrete bollards people perch on in the street, Naoto doesn’t overcomplicate the creative process. In fact it’s so instinctive, some allege they recognise his work, but as he said: “My product is already in your mind but you have not seen it.”

He also stressed that designers should focus on the physical rather than the theoretical. “Ask your body what to design, it knows more then your mind,” he said.

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    Naoto Fukasawa: Fruit Juice packaging


It almost seems facile to try and sum up David Goldblatt’s spellbinding talk in a few sentences. It was a genuine privilege to sit and listen to the legendary South African photographer talk us through the stories behind a selection of his incredible work, from arguing with Mandela’s press secretary over what kind of chair he wanted to photograph the great man in, to harrowing tales of victims of brutality and injustice of the most grievous kind.

We have heard a lot about storytelling over the past three days and so it was fitting for one of the final talks of the final session to be a such an astonishing demonstration of the artform at its best, both in visual and spoken terms.

The final picture David showed was a memorial artwork at a South African university which was created for the campus after a horrible incident when white students were caught urinating in the food of some black students. Rather than sweep it under the carpet the university wanted to make sure people remembered and reflected on it in the right way. “It forces us to think about where we are this country and what kind of people we are,” David said. “It is for me the ultimate portrait.”

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    David Goldblatt:Albie Sachs


Dean Poole of New Zealand’s Alt Group gave the conference a masterclass in how to talk about graphic design in a funny, fascinating and engaging way. He began by saying he has “a slight obsession with language and language systems” and ran through how he sees every letter of the alphabet – "If you look at an “a” it’s an “h” designed by an architect…"n" is a “z” that never got out of bed…"r" is a poser."

Inspired by the likes of George Perec and John Cage he talked through the work he did for the Auckland Art Gallery wherein he asked: “Can you create an identity that was a language game?” The award-winning results (below) are versatile, playful and really accessible, proving the power of a simple idea extrapolated creatively.

He also talked about Alt’s work for the Silo Theatre and asked the attendees “to go out and give the world a bit of wobble” – one of the most oddly inspiring lines of this year’s Indaba.

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    Alt Group: Auckland Art Gallery

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    Alt Group: Auckland Art Gallery

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    Alt Group: Auckland Art Gallery

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    Alt Group: Auckland Art Gallery


As much as conferences like this are about the big names, it’s exciting when someone you didn’t know much about electrifies the room. That’s exactly what Nille Juul-Sorenson just did, throwing down the gauntlet to the design community. He challenged us to stop designing gadgets for the one per cent, and start looking at the systems that affect the 99%. Pointing out that while the design world is obsessed with beautiful bags or chairs, for millions of people round the world clean water counts as a luxury object. “We have to start redefining the questions we are being asked,” he pleaded. “Design like you give a damn!”

He was followed on the Danish design panel by Vinay Venkatraman who presented one of the most interesting projects of the conference. You can read the full background of _Clock Sense here but essentially his studio Frugal Digital hacked alarm clocks in India to turn them into simple health monitoring devices, relieving pressure on the country’s hospitals and doctors. A great example of what Nille talked about; design’s power to change the world!

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    Frugal Digital: Clock Sense


Ready to feel old? We just had a panel discussion chaired by the Serpentine’s Hans Ulrich Obrist with five artists from 89Plus, a group that showcases creatives born in 1989. The eclectic line-up included Kyla Philander, who believes in the power of hip-hop to engage young people in Africa, Victoria Wigzell who recreates melodramatic soap opera scenes in galleries (below) to satirise suburban mores and Haroon Gunn-Salie, who changes Cape Town’s road signs to remind the citizens of parts of its controversial history.

There was a lot to digest but the best line came from Kyla, who said: “The major design tool in my life is empathy.”


Posted by Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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