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February 24, 2011

Young Designers Simulcast (YDS) at Design Indaba 2011

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Students at the 2011 Design Indaba. Photo courtesy Anne-Sophie Leens

The Young Designers Simulcast was created to give students and young professionals access to the Design Indaba Conference, by broadcasting proceedings live in a second auditorium at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in the Western Cape, and at the University of Johannesburg in Gauteng, at a discounted rate. This is in keeping with Design Indaba’s commitment to design education; exposing young designers to innovative thinking help’s drive tomorrow’s creative industries.

The conference simulcast kicked off shortly after 09h00 on February 23. Presentation slides were displayed on one screen, footage of presenters themselves on another, and delegates were encourage to engage with topics up for discussion by SMS-ing questions and tweeting their thoughts together with the hashtag #designindaba. The most relevant and insightful tweet walked away with a Kindle. 

Michael Wolff, thought leader on branding and co-founder of one of the world’s most iconic design companies Wolff Olins, spoke of the ideas behind decades of his work for companies like Volkswagen, Audi, Oxford University and One&Only. The most inspiring speaker of the day for me – opening my relatively novice design mind – he also spoke about the Design Crime Out campaign as a good example of how design can create a better world. 

Top international designers and thinkers cast a spell over delegates, but were also captivated in turn – by the Mother City. Dana Arnett, who has worked for the likes of Harley Davidson, IBM and Converse, declared that “Cape Town is a world-class city”. Product designer Dror Benshetrit said, “It’s my first time in South Africa and Cape Town and it’s been amazing so far.” He launched a new concept at Design Indaba called the QuaDror, a structural support system that can be used for numerous applications including a flat pack house, and then issued a call for collaboration, urging companies and philanthropic organisations to contact him to discuss possible uses for the structural system including strengthening shacks and informal dwellings.

Francis Kéré, an architect from Burkina Faso who was educated in Germany, is simply one of the most inspiring, energised presenters I’ve seen in ages. Committed to authentic design solutions to Africa’s problems, Kéré’s drafts are conscious of climatic adaptation, of keeping buildings costs low and construction easy.

The highlight of the simulcast, at least for me, was when Michael Wolff joined students in the auditorium during his lunch break – to give career advice in his humble and humorous way – while wearing a pair of blue Crocs that other design aficionados with less clout might never have dared to don. He told students a story about a house with four rooms, and its implications for design careers and creative living. His story, in summary?

  • Room one is filled with the great works of other designers, work you aspire to, by people you wish to emulate. Don’t design in this room: Imitation lives here.
  • Room two is filled with reason and knowledge, critical as a foundation but not as a design space. Mediocrity lives here.
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  • Room three is filled with precedent, what others have done before you, what works. What is in this room is important to be aware of, but only repetition can come of designing here.
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  • Room four is a place of not knowing, the place from which to create. This is where you learn to trust your own creativity and power to imagine.

As Cape Town repositions its branding, decides on its core message to the world, we should keep this parable in mind. Here’s to the fourth room, to trusting our own creativity and capacity to inspire, as a city and as a people.

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