Eleventh Design Indaba takes place in Cape Town
by Michele Horwitz
The Design Indaba conference, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, is a place for artists and designers to gather and listen to speakers from across the globe, who share their experiences of the world and design - through graphics, products, fashion, furniture, architecture, television, websites, music and art.
This year's conference, the eleventh, focused on issues of the environment and how to make a difference through design. Most speakers were interested in how to create an experience that can impact people. In such a way, previously separate categories become entwined, creating a multi-layered result in which the viewer becomes key.
Marije Vogelzang is a food designer working in Holland; or rather, an artist who uses food as her medium. She focuses on installation and performance, highlighting the importance of the experience of food. She re-designs food in a way that can facilitate a unique experience for her viewers/guests. Vogelzang runs a restaurant/studio called 'Proef' in Rotterdam. One of her installations involved covering a large dinner table with dough above which were strong lights, which slowly cooked the dough. The first course was served on the dough once it had been sufficiently cooked, requiring that the guests literally eat the 'table cloth' as well. Underneath the first was another layer of sweeter dough, on top of which dessert was then served.
When asked to prepare a Christmas meal, Vogelzang created a curtain behind each side of the dinner table, and cut slits in it. Guests were required to sit inside these slits. As people tried to move around and eat, their movements were felt by everyone else as they tugged at the fabric. Vogelzang saw this as a way to emphasize the significance of festive dinners, the coming together of people. Later in the night each was given scissors to cut the fabric around them. The meal was served on a plate that was cut into two, and people on one side of the table got fruit while those on the other side got ham. Because the plates were cut, participants could trade with the people opposite them. This was a unique way to bring strangers together, and emphasize the experience of food.
Architect/Designer Jason Bruges creates large-scale interactive installations. In Switched on London '08 a series of lights follow pedestrians across London Bridge, lighting up the pavement behind them as they walk. The installation is made possible through cameras that have been placed in the handrail - the 'eye' of the camera follows the pedestrians. The effect is playful, but also comments on people's paranoia: in today's world, we are cautious of who is behind us and whether we are being watched or followed no matter where we go. Bruges creates conversations and interactions with the observer by bringing architecture to life.
Founder of IDEO and Associate Professor at the Stanford Design Division Bill Moggridge is primarily an industrial designer. He designed the world's first laptop, which he was surprised to find left him feeling stunted by the interactive technology. He realised then that it was not enough to just design the look of the piece, because if the software interface is not user-friendly, people still cannot interact with it. He went on to explore a new concept at the time called 'Interaction Design'. Moggridge looks to things like the Ipod trend and the new Nintendo Wii for inspiration. These show just how much is possible with interaction design. He's also inspired by Epoc, a gaming technology which uses brainwave input sensors, so that you can just 'think' your game. He proposes that interaction design be considered like train design, whereby it is not just the look of the train that is important, but the whole experience, from arrival at the terminal, to the journey itself, to getting off the train and transferring to the point of exit. Moggridge also designed Aquaduct a tricycle which purifies water as it is pedalled, an appropriate tool for developing countries.
Airside is a British design agency (View the Times article video http://www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=715637), who have recently taken an interest in doing what they call 'silly projects', because it keeps them happy. One such project was Meegotech - the Alien God. This interactive piece was set up in a booth at a public event where people would queue up to enter one at a time. Upon entering they were met with a talking, animated Alien God. There was, in fact, a person sitting behind the screen acting as Meegotech, interacting with vistors. While this was one of Airside's 'silly projects', it did result in people really interacting with the piece as they would an imaginary friend.
The variety of speakers at the Design Indaba all seemed to demonstrate the merging of disciplines. The result, it seems, is that design is shifting its focus from aesthetics and functionality to broader conceptualised experiences, where projects are realised through a collaboration of skills. In such a way the boundary between designer and artist also fades. The future of design holds exciting prospects, where the limit is no longer in sight.
February 27- 29
Cape Town International Convention Centre