Mao to mangos, Lebron to bike lanes – day three at Design Indaba

27 February 2015


The third and final day of Design Indaba in Cape Town promised a great deal with its eclectic line-up, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. From advertising royalty to reinventing public filmmaking, Saturday Night Live to Dick In A Box it was a heady mix of the inspiring, the entertaining and the enlightening. Catch up on all our coverage here.

Casey Neistat

Casey may not be a household name in the UK but you may well be one of the millions of YouTube viewers who’s seen his work. He was passionate about celebrating what he called “the virtues of ignorance” and said that this is an idea that should be “nurtured not corrected.”

He is not a trained filmmaker but has embraced both flexible and easy-to-use technology and the merits of YouTube as a publishing platform to build a huge following. “What happens when you’re not taught to do something is you have to forge your own path; that’s the most valuable asset I’ve had in my career,” he explained, because by figuring it out he had no option to default to the so-called “correct way.”

The impact he’s had speaks for itself. A film lampooning New York’s bike lane laws (which saw him crash into an array of obstacles) was watched five million times in 48 hours and raised with the city’s mayor at a press conference. Elsewhere he’s filmed himself flying from the USA to Cape Town to surprise his girlfriend and exploring a crazy German water park.

“I don’t know how to write a romantic comedy; what I know are these experiences from my life. I don’t know how to sell a car or a Nike product but I know how to share my experience. It’s only by embracing that ignorance that I’ve been able to do what I do,” he said.

Yoni Bloch

Yoni is another man whose work you’ll probably know but whose name you might not. No matter, his talk was my personal highlight of the whole festival; a soaring, clever, funny and at times spine-tingling presentation about his work on interactive videos.

Much of his invention may be down to the fact he started his career at a time when music videos were dying but he was fascinated by the new opportunities opened up online. “Every time a new form arrives,” he said, “it takes a few decades for content to catch up.”

Arguably his best-known work was the interactive video for Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone which jumped between channels. Interestingly although the song lasts only five minutes, the average time spent on it was 18 minutes as people went back to try different combinations.

From music videos he now works on commercial campaigns and projects like an interactive chat with the Israeli President, where voters could feel like they were getting to discuss the issues that mattered to them. Yoni is confident and ambits for what impact interactivity can have on almost all the content we consume.

Emily Oberman

Pentagram partner Emily Oberman gave a funny, passionate and fiery talk which ran through her rules for graphic design, using her longstanding work on Saturday Night Live as the general overall hook.

She talked about the challenges of the joys of working on an institution like SNL (“reinventing something over and over is hard but rewarding”) and explained that for the recent 40th anniversary they wanted graphics that felt “gritty, like they’ve been degraded.”

Elsewhere her talk touched on deadlines ( a job for the UN went from initial call to logo approval in 37 hours) and the benefits of silly thinking – “dumb ideas are some of my favourites,” she said.

Emily also showed arguably the best case study of the three days, in the form of her work for Ablixia, a fake anti-depressant which appears in the Steven Soderbergh movie Side Effects. She likened it to “method acting for graphic designers” and they went full out on the project, designing not just a logo, but packaging, a tote bag, a website and even a promo mug (heat-sensitive, of course).

“Not everything we do is a joke but I do think everything should have a level of wit,” she told the delegates.


Emily Oberman: Ablixia

Dan Wieden

As founder of Wieden + Kennedy, Dan Wieden is one of the advertising world’s leading figures and his talk was a spellbinding exploration of how they’ve grown the agency from a one-room affair in Portland (with no phones) to an international empire.

He spoke about the importance of creating the right culture and waxed lyrical about chaos: “It asks stuff of you order never will, and shows you all the weird shit order tries to hide.”

He didn’t show a great deal of work but he did screen the extraordinary Nike Together spot, which he revealed was written by two Wieden’s employees both aged just 26.

In terms of the future, he admitted that the digitally-defined age had thrown up some challenges but that he was really enjoying bringing new skills in to keep Wieden’s at the head of the pack (although balancing the different kinds of creatives could be challenging he admitted!). And he revealed (for the first time ever) that all the company shares have been given to a trust “whose only obligation is to never, ever, under any circumstances, sell the agency.”

William Kentridge

Closing the conference this year was the South African artist William Kentridge, whose talk took the form of an erudite, compelling lecture about the trains of thought (from mangos to Mao) that fed into his recent project. It culminated in a live improvised jam with some African musicians, who played while a big screen displayed slogans like “Be Not So Refined” and “Be Not So Restrained.” It seemed a fitting finale to Design Indaba 2015.

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About the Author

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, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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