Gaining ground

Each year the Design Indaba Conference gains impetus, assembling the world's most pioneering and perceptive minds.

From the Series

First Published in

The award-winning Design Indaba Conference has established itself as the most significant creative event in the southern hemisphere. This year, the conference hosted a record number of 2 100 delegates and 55 local and international speakers over three days. The event has notched up yet another achievement by becoming the first known carbon-neutral conference in South Africa.

Design Indaba and partners, in an undertaking known as the Carbon Standard, will calculate the carbon generated by the event and then plant trees to offset it. The Carbon Standard is a collaboration between Design Indaba's founding company Interactive Africa, leading law firm Edward Nathan, accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers, award-winning NGO Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), Toyota South Africa and petroleum producer BP, ranked among the "greenest" companies in the world. Conference-generated emissions are based on the venue's energy consumption as well as long-distance and local travel and accommodation. Planting trees will reduce the environmental impact of the conference and offset greenhouse gases.

Another conference innovation was the Young Designers Simulcast, introduced especially for emerging designers, design students and young people under the age of 25 years, across all creative fields. This entailed a live broadcast of the three-day conference to a nearby auditorium at the CTICC. Excited about sharing their ideas, DI speakers from New York, namely Christoph Niemann, Nicholas Blechman, Ji Lee and Ze Frank, engaged directly with these young designers in between the speaker sessions.

Subsequent to his DI visit, webster Ze has started three new Internet blogs, covering the illustrations of Christoph Neimann and Nicholas Blechman, a participatory project from Paul Sahre, and Ji Lee's Bubble Project. Have your say at: As for the main plenary presentations, these were characterized by broad appeal, with specialists in graphic design, interior and product design, industrial design, architecture and photography, presenting their work and opinions to a captive audience. In addition to the stalwart design presentations, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and legendary music producer and founder of Island Records and Palm Pictures, Chris Blackwell, regaled capacity audiences with their predictions and successes, respectively.

Held at an adjacent auditorium, the Specialist Indabas - now in their second year - focused on jewellery, fashion and architecture. Here, local and international designers debated the contribution of their relevant creative sectors to the South African economy. One of the key fashion industry speakers, Dr Valerie Steele, commented that it would be commercially shortsighted for South Africa to rely too much on ethnic differences when trying to break into the international market. She recommends that we consider what we can contribute to the world that no-one else can.

The Design Indaba Charity Banquet concluded the first day of the conference, with Design Education top of mind. About 400 high-profile guests including business leaders, politicians, media personalities and Indaba speakers attended the fund-raising event. The theme of this year's banquet was "Buy Design", reflecting not only the auction aspect of the evening, but also the fact that design increasingly contributes to this country's economy. Guests bid for the valuable time of, as well as bespoke pieces by, renowned South African designers. The auction raised an overwhelming R145 000 which will be awarded to leading public institutions in the creative and design fields.

The Red Bull Design Indaba After Party entitled Music: The Beat Economy was an aural and visual treat for delegates. It featured top Cape Town bands The Real Estate Agents, Lark, The Wild Eyes, The Dirty Skirts, Unit R & Jakobson, and celebrated music graphics from Cape Town's contemporary indie music scene. Feel free to download a compilation of songs by the bands at and create your own music CD.

Watch the Talk with Christoph Niemann