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March 02, 2011

Design Indaba inspires Cape Town

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A comment from a visitor to the Design Indaba, on what makes Cape Town a great design city. Photo courtesy Ingrid Sinclair

Hailed by thought leaders like Michael Wolff and Dana Arnett as the top international design conference in the world, Design Indaba has captured the city this week – the energy was palpable as delegates from all corners of the globe were welcomed into Cape Town’s creative heart. Not only was the city’s beauty and fabulous weather celebrated by speakers from abroad, but our people also clearly left an impression. Tim Beard of Bibliothèque, one of the UK’s top design agencies, said, “The warm hospitality of Cape Town is unsurpassed”

As with previous years, all conference tickets to this international innovation platform were sold out weeks before the event, which showcases the best in advertising, architecture, craft, décor, film, graphic design, interior design, jewellery, new media, publishing, product design and visual media. In founder Ravi Naidoo’s words, “By attracting the world’s best design talent, Design Indaba has become a respected institution in the world’s creative landscape. Cities across the world that are positioning themselves as creative hubs have recognised the continual growth and success of Design Indaba.”

I made a point of speaking to different people around the conference venue (the Cape Town International Convention Centre) during tea and lunch breaks, and had conversations with delegates from Nigeria, Japan, the UK, France, the USA, Switzerland and Sweden, all of whom spoke of the incredible inspiration to be found in Cape Town, of its desirability as a design destination and character as a creative city – one teeming with artistic ability.

Design Indaba is not just a boost for the spirits, but also the local economy. The University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business did an economic impact study of the event last year and found that it contributed R232-million to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 and helped to create over 900 jobs. This year’s event is expected to attract over 40 000 visitors and 170 international buyers.

One of my favourite speakers was legendary graphic design genius Michael Wolff, who trained as an architect and evolved into one of the world’s foremost branding and corporate identity experts in the world. The combination of Michael’s genius with his humility struck me. His philosophy is simple: “I’ve never stuck to one view of what is good in design. My personal goals have always been the same: to help organisations to express themselves, in their own particular way, for the benefit of anyone with whom they’re involved. And do this in a way that brings value to everyone and to the world that we all share.”

And sharing we did. We learnt about the benefits of design addressing social problems, the endless opportunities of design to create a better and sustainable world, and how design can be used as cultural facilitator and incubator. Design Indaba 2011 is the most positive overload of creative inspiration that I’ve had in years.

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