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Design Indaba

Design Indaba 2014: Day two of design wisdom live from Cape Town

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Day two of Design Indaba sees another eclectic line-up of creative thinkers taking to the stage and we’ll be here throughout bringing you the best of the insight and inspiration. Let’s do this everyone, these liveblogs don’t write themselves…


Clive Wilkinson is an architect who specialises in work-space design and has worked for prestigious clients like Google, Nokia and Mother London. He said his work was about trying to create villages – defined by meaningful interaction – in commercial spaces. Whether it’s cutting holes in staircases or rethinking how desks work, Clive and his team find very practical ways of implementing quite complex theories in a way that looks great.

The firm has just completed the world’s largest desk for New York marketing firm The Barbarian Group. They pushed their ideas about office furniture so far that the final piece is a beautiful, undulating 1,100 foot triumph.


An interesting panel curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist brought together three young African artists – Zanele Muholi, Nandipha Mntambo and Athi-Patra Ruga – who all use art to explore social, political and cultural activism of one sort or another. This film by Zanele was shown which encapsulates her work reaching out to LGBTI people through photography.

1:30 pm

Dutch designer Stefan Scholten of husband and wife duo Scholten & Baijings explained his wife’s absence (and won the hearts of the crowd) by showing a picture of the pair’s new baby son – “our greatest collaboration.” He admitted that woking with your partner is “a very intense” experience and said that “conversations, fights” were part of the process.

Stefan was particularly interesting on the subject of deconstruction and talked through a concept car they have just designed for MINI which breaks up the vehicle into six constituent parts and rethinks and reimagines how they could be made, and what they could look like. He said deconstruction was the way designers simplify the challenges they face but also agreed it seemed to be a very prevalent thread in contemporary Dutch design.

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    Scholten & Baijings: Colorone MINI


Big response in the hall for Brazilian ad legend Marcello Serpa. His speech was packed with interesting and useful advice such as always work for people who are better than you, be simple, but be unpredictable. “The cliché is immortal. It comforts the mediocre while protecting the cowards,” he said.

Also a great line about working with clients: “Slow down the crazy ones rather than pushing the nice ones.” He is credited with turning flip-flop brand Havaianas into a global success story, but throughout the talk he stressed the importance of keeping things simple.

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    Marcello Serpa: Your Cat Won’t Want Anything Else for Whiskers


Michel Rojkind is a former rock drummer turned architect who opened his talk declaring his love of the chaos of Mexico City.

He related how when Nestle approached him about a viewing platform for their factory, he went back with an ambitious plan for a whole museum dedicated to chocolate and its role in Mexican history. Two and a half months later it was built. “We understood we could read between the lines and show our client something they wouldn’t otherwise have seen,” Michel said.

His philosophy for hiring staff has little to do with portfolios. “I enjoy more having great thinkers next to me than someone who can do a great sketch or computer rendering.” And he believes inspiration can be romanticised. “It’s not about sensitivity…it’s about what we chose to call to our attention,” he said.

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Some really interesting thoughts from top South African chefs Margot Janse and David Higgs. David made the point that there was much more to being a chef now than simply looking after the menu; chefs are now like creative directors who oversee every aspect of the dining experience. One of David’s favourite parts of the job is working with a ceramicist or a chair designer to create and refine the products used in his restaurants.

Margot – whose father used to feed her frogs’ legs and beer when she was little – talked about her mission to redefine what fine dining means in contemporary South Africa. Her theatre set designer brother helped her rethink her restaurant away from the fussy fancy fripperies usual associated with haute cuisine.

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    Margot Janse’s restaurant


I have never seen a presentation quite like Pentagram partner DJ Stout’s talk today. It was really a meditation on authenticity and how a strong sense of place informs his graphic design work. Dressed in a cowboy hat and accompanied by a man playing a grand piano, we were treated to some gorgeous montages of the Texas landscape, cowboy poetry and some harrowing footage of a 2011 wildfire.

He told us: “If you don’t pay attention to where you’re from, you kind of get lost trying to be global,” and said that he can discern definite geographical echoes in the work of his fellow Pentagram partners.

From book design to magazine covers, DJ demonstrated how his Texan heritage continues to influence his work in both obvious and very subtle ways.

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    DJ Stout: World Wildlife covers


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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