words Justin McGuirk
Design Indaba, held in Cape Town every February, is the only design conference of its kind. Covering design in the most inclusive sense, there’s no theme; it’s just three days of people simply talking about what they do. Some of them will put you to sleep, others will renew your faith in mankind’s ability to save the world.
One of the things that’s so refreshing about Design Indaba is the sense of optimism that builds over the course of the conference, reflecting back onto the speakers from the enthusiastic local audience. A banner at the back of the stage offered a list of achievements that creativity makes possible: curing diseases, lowering crime and so on. At the start of the conference it all looked like sappy nonsense, by the end even the jaded Europeans were whooping along with the audience. Head of the Design Academy Eindhoven and regular attendee Li Edelkoort described it as “the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve known”, which suggests just how easy it is to get swept up in the bonhomie.
In fact, the speakers weren’t quite up to last year’s impressive standards. There were a few too many designers showing pictures of themselves as toddlers set to their favourite music, only then to launch into painful presentations honed in corporate boardrooms and illustrated with Powerpoint slides of the word “Inspiration”. Luckily, for every one of those there was a speaker who was genuinely inspiring or at the very least entertaining. They included our cover girl, Marije Vogelzang, Dutch graphic design legend Gert Dumbar, Bosnian-born graphic designer Mirko Ilic, Czech product designer Maxim Velcovsky, Ideo founder Bill Moggridge, New York graphic designers Karlssonwilker, robotics expert Shunji Yamanaka, media designer Shinichi Takemura and Londoners Doshi Levien.
The drawback to this kind of event is that by the time you get home it all feels like just so much talk. So, over the next two pages, we bring you two tangible projects that will actually make a difference.
top image Marije Vogelzang dresses up the opening party
Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo and Ilse Crawford
A Cape Town flea market
Mirko Ilic (left) and Maxim Velcovsky mock the 2012 Olympics logo