The Ninth Design Indaba
I was as anxious for this year's Design Indaba to begin, as Harry Potter usually is to return to Hogwarts after a dull holiday at home. Now, after the fact, I have a cold, a headache, and I am very pleased to be home. But, I still think that even though there was much less spectacle (no dancing girls nor any trapeze artists, for example), this year's Indaba was, in the main, better than the last.
The reason why I am so pleased to be home is, after all, not related to the quality of the speakers, but rather the poor organisation, whether by the Indaba team, or the CTICC. Registration was apparently not streamlined sufficiently, and we ended up waiting inordinately long. Worse, however, was the stampede for food, and the general disarray of the catering arrangements. It is, to my mind, something of an insult to engage in a barroom brawl for a little pita after you've forked out R3000.
As with last year's insanity-inducing swipe cards, the food struggle made me gasp: This is the Design Indaba, surely you can design a better system? After sitting hour after enthralling hour listening to star designers carry on about how design can uplift people's lives, such chaos suggests that we have some way to go yet.
Nonetheless, with the gripes out of the way, here are some highlights: In general, there was much less designers-are-superheroes-and-your-creativity-can-cure-the-world-of-all-ills than last year. This also meant that the speakers tended to be less charismatic, and more down to earth in their presentations, but I welcomed this. It was fun, for instance, to see Hartmut Esslinger gently tease John Hunt about Apple, telling him it's not such a great company after all. A theme this year seemed to be the importance of collaboration, building partnerships, and following one's unique creative vision, rather than trying to fulfil already existing expectations.
For me, the highlight of day one had to be the session in which illustrators and art directors Nicholas Blechman, Christophe Niemann, and Paul Sahre spoke about their work and collaborations. I have always admired the razor sharp wit and immaculate economy of line and wealth of drawing ability of many illustrators and book cover designers, and these three are some of the world's best. Apart from showing their work, collaborators Blechman and Niemann also literally illustrated, with live-drawn pictures, the value of working together.
Ze Frank, I am happy report, fulfilled my expectations (see last month's project page) by being one of the most entertaining speakers of the entire Indaba. In fact, he received two slots on the programme: one to speak about his work, and the other to deliver his amusing report on the language of airplane safety instruction pamphlets.
Day two, the best of the three in my opinion, had a number of highlights. To kick off the morning, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell was interviewed on stage by Nkhensani Nkosi (Design Indaba MC, of Stoned Cherrie fame). Blackwell, for your information, was responsible for introducing Jamaican music to the world, and, as it turns out, to Jamaica (which, prior to the founding of Island, had been more interested in Big Band tunes). In this way, Blackwell brought to the attention of music lovers the likes of Bob Marley, Tom Waits and U2.
Later in the morning, a femme duo of irrepressibly charming French industrial designers captivated the audience with their whimsical and fantastic creations. Through her witty account of how she has been ignored in France, Inga Sempé showed off her eccentric portfolio, which includes her Pleated Lamp, and her Analogic and Digital clock. matali crasset, who struck me as a kind of design Amélie gave a fascinating account of her modern-retro innovative interiors and other kinds of spaces intent on fulfilling the ideals of generosity and compassion in their very construction.
Another of the day's highlights was Ji Lee's talk on his clever iconic fonts. He is probably most famous for his rotated 3D font, which, due to its symmetrical nature, is legible from any side. In his book about the font, Lee has constructed elaborate images from his strangely familiar letter objects. In his unassuming work, Lee manages to turn the world of letters and numbers upside down.
The last speaker of the day, Tom Dixon, closed this exciting session off with a look at some of his projects that have strayed outside the realm of ordinary design arenas. For instance, Dixon presented his expensive and very classy vibrator, which is, I have to say, probably the most beautiful one in the world.
Unfortunately, by comparison, day three was dull. Ross Chowles (co-founder of the Jupiter Drawing Room) presented a very corporate, though I must concede, useful guide on how to start and maintain your own design company. This was a completely uninspiring choice from the Indaba team.
Taku Satoh, whose laborious analysis of every minute detail of a bubble gum wrapper had many in the audience exasperated, continued this sense of banality. I believe, however, that Satoh is an inspired eccentric, as he has managed to turn this obsession with minutiae into a museum of sorts, in which he holds exhibitions around the theme of 'The Anatomy of Design'. In these exhibitions, he explains everything about the packaging, how the product is made and anything else you may or may not want to know about a doll, a camera or whatever he turns his attention to next.
Denis Santachiara's talk was the best of the last day. He presented a fascinating look at his technology inspired creations that bear a striking resemblance to some of the more vogue physical computing work being made today. His cloud-lights - literally cloud-shaped lights that change and move like real clouds - elicited noises of wonder and admiration from the audience. As someone whose work straddles the arenas of art, design and technology, he emerges as a late 20th century Renaissance man, whose importance is becoming increasingly clear.
Even though there were also the disappointments (Koto Bolofo's ego being notable in this regard), I am again inspired, full of excitement and optimism. This is what the Design Indaba does best: through a celebration of design and related creative fields, we are stimulated and become eager to produce our own sensitive, clever and immaculate objects. Now, if only someone can design a thermostat for the CTICC's air conditioner!