Design Indaba 2018
By Sharlene Safi
Being in design means keeping abreast of trends and new developments in the industry. What’s intensely satisfying about the field of design is that it spans so many industries. Where there’s a problem, there’s a design solution waiting to be implemented, and nowhere is this more evident than at the annual Design Indaba 2018.
I was fortunate to attend this year’s event in Cape Town and represent Twisted Toast as an agency. I came away totally inspired by the amazing creativity and ingenuity applied to some of the most complex problems. I would love to tell you about every single talk that was given, but I’ll contain myself to my top four picks. But before that, let’s just talk about Cape Town.
In the grips of the worst drought in 100 years, I thought I’d had my last shower the morning of my flight to Cape Town. It’s true, the situation is pretty grim. Everywhere you look there are signs asking you to conserve water. But what impressed me about Design Indaba was the lengths they went to to ensure that even conference attendees were made aware of the situation. All the taps in the venue bathrooms were sealed off, hand sanitizer was the order of the day. Bottled water was provided, and tips were given on how to best conserve water, even if your stay was temporary. Let’s hope for plentiful rain this winter.
The venue for this year’s Indaba was at the Artscape Theatre Centre. Morag Myerscough dazzled with her installation with an “Embrace the Unknown” sign. This interactive installation, what I can only describe as a jungle gym for grown-ups, encouraged you to explore all aspects of it, from its vibrant colours, to moving parts and tunnels and pathways leading to who knows where. It even brought out the inner child of many, who plonked themselves on the swings during breaks between talks. It had a child-like quality to it, which reminded me to run with the creativity and boundless imagination of children. It was a perfect representation of the power of ideas and just where they can take you if you let them.
Now on to the talks. Let’s talk about the amazing William Mapham and cause-driven design. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as this ophthalmologist recounted the turning point in his career where as a young professional interning in a rural clinic he was unable to save a patient from blindness due to a lack of experience and mentorship. He worked to get funding to build an app, Vula, which now links specialists with doctors in real time to consult on patients who ordinarily wouldn’t get that kind of expertise. His closing story had me in pieces. Thanks to this app, an old woman who’d been led by the hand for the last nine years was able to be diagnosed and treated for double cataracts, and seeing him clearly for the first time burst into tears of joy at being given a new, independent lease on life.
Next in my line-up of favourites was Tomo Kihara. Another disruptor, he realized after having a conversation with a homeless person that there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. Many are educated, many were successful, and most, if not all of them, have been stripped of dignity by the hardship of homelessness often brought about by a series of unfortunate circumstances. He decided that what needed to happen was for ordinary people to connect with the homeless and shake off their perceptions of what it means to be homeless. And in order for that to happen, dialogue was necessary. His concept was Street Debater and it’s simple: Have a question hanging between two scales and encourage debate rather than begging. More immigrants? Place a coin on the scale for yes or no and listen to a perspective that you may or may not have been expecting. For Kihara, confirmation bias is a huge problem and this concept is a perfect way to help, to restore dignity, and to see things from a different angle. Just hearing about it changed my perspective in a lot of ways.
Another favourite speaker was Mark Kamau, a cause-driven Kenyan innovator who blew me away with his passion to create change. A firm believer that “Africa cannot afford decontextualized design… the stakes are simply too high,” he set out to create an African solution to an African problem – Internet connectivity and educational technology in rural contexts. Over 3 billion people don’t have access to the Internet, and 800 million of them are in Africa and he was determined to find a design solution that would address both problems. His answer was the BRCK, a re-appropriated, virtually indestructible military grade suitcase with an onboard battery that can house and charge tablets loaded with hundreds of educational resources. This concept has caught the eye of Mark Zuckerberg and it is being rolled out as we speak.
And last but not least, Edel Rodriguez, designer and illustrator for Time and Der Spiegel and Trump critic extraordinaire. His background of fleeing Cuba for Miami in the 80s shaped him and his activism as an adult. An orange, shouting blob features heavily in his work, particularly as his very status as an immigrant is threatened by the controversial policies proposed by Trump. Being so outspoken has garnered him a following, and now his themes are proliferated in publications and protest posters around the world. We received limited edition artwork depicting the one catastrophe to the next Trump manages to stumble into, and it’s something I’ll always treasure. He is brave and remarkable.
And so concluded this year’s Indaba, you can read about all the other speakers here. I was glad to return home, not just for the shower, but to be able to share my experiences with the Twisted Toast team. Every single one of our team are hugely talented and I’m proud of the design solutions we come up with for every one of our clients. I know that in our own way, we’re making a huge difference to our clients and their businesses.