Not only did the Indaba - meaning ‘celebration’ - surpass its reputation as the world’s best design conference, it coincided with the Cricket World Cup - a big distraction for the local creative community.
Though the cricket was being played in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Design Indaba MC, Pentagram partner Michael Beirut, read out the odd score and live action was screened in the foyer. India being one of the venues added to its appeal , given the incredibly high proportion of South African creatives of Indian extraction, including Design Indaba’s intrepid founder Ravi Naidoo.
There is huge enthusiasm for sport across South Africa - if you saw TV screenings from the townships during last year’s Football World Cup - you’ll know what I mean. And cricket possibly ranks second only to rugby, with South Africa’s Springboks immortalised in Clint Eastwood’s unmissable 2009 movie Invictus about the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted by Nelson Mandela’s then emerging nation.
Sport was fundamental to Mandela’s bid to achieve social cohesion in his country. It is now changing international perceptions of South Africa through the prowess of its athletes and is seen local politicians and businesses as a generator for economic growth.
It is no surprise, therefore, that, as well as having a passion for creativity, Naidoo counts sports marketing at national level among his many talents and has played a part in his country’s winning bids to host the world cup for various sports since Mandela took office. As with sport, Naidoo sees design as a key to development, not just economic, but social, and has proudly promoted South Africa as a world-class arena in which to share ideas and innovations. To this end, he has persuaded local politicians and businesses of the value of creativity and both were there at Design Indaba and related events such as the burgeoning Expo showcase of local design, crafts and emerging talents.
So what makes Design Indaba so special? It is a magnet for outstanding talent from across the globe covering a vast array of creative activities. This year, for example, it celebrated the 80th birthday of Massimo Vignelli, with the great man jetting in from the US for the party hosted by, among others, the local Woolworths chain for which he is creating a new identity. Michael Wolff made his Indaba debut by showing work - a rare treat - but so too did newer talents such as Karin Fong of US group Imaginary Forces and our own Hat-Trick Design and Bibliotheque. Meanwhile, South African musical giant Hugh Masekela took to the Design Indaba stage.
Design Indaba presents a rare opportunity to survey creativity across the piece. Where else will you find the likes of Israel’s eccentric typographer Oded Ezer on the same platform as, say, Dutch entrepreneur Renny Ramakers of Droog, social activist Deborah Szebeko of London’s Think Public, Google creative director Robert Wong, performance artist Charlie Todd and local boy Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu?
Diverse themes emerge across this range of global experience and I will be exploring some of these on the Design Week blog over the next few days, such as entrepreneurship, materials, design for good and sustainability. All amount to design leadership in some form or another, providing lessons for all of us - wherever we’re coming from.