Design Indaba Expo 2013 – In Review

It has taken a while to get this post out because frankly, I procrastinate...

That said, for the longest time I was just processing everything about this year’s Design Indaba Expo 2013.

For us creatives, (the ones not looking to discover the next big talent, buy wholesale or commission a one-off) Design Indaba Expo is the compulsory fix of design inspiration and admiration, a chance to see some of Cape Towns finest talent as they showcase their ‘handmade’ and/or indie-designed’ products, of both the physical and intellectual kind.

The Expo is actually a minor part of Design Indaba really; the conference is where the real value lies but that is a different blog.

Cape town has some incredible design talent and standards are high; high enough to influence and be influenced by an international audience but last year I found the Expo a bit dull. This year I ALMOST didn’t go; my sister stepped in and motivated me to make this visit and I am so glad she did.

World Design Capital 2014 has kicked in; it is a hot topic obviously, predominating the current design culture in which we find ourselves, but over and above that there were several tangible shifts in this experience that made this Expo the most interesting yet; not least the perception that a new generation of ‘designer-makers’ has taken over.

I don’t know if it is my age or my accumulating cynicism but the usual trendy-set (the one I just can’t seem to crack and have long since lost interest) seemed absent (although there) and there was a ‘fresh’ feel about the place for the first time in ages.

This is what I came away with:


This was definitely the most exciting part of the Expo for me. The number of EC’s this year seemed higher, but I am not sure that’s true; maybe it was just that they weren’t ‘tucked away in a corner’? I had a merry time chatting to most of them and exploring their (mostly very innovative and refreshing) ideas and it really made me happy to see so much amazing talent hitting the market.

One such person was Phumulani Ntuli. His pretty AK47′s made the news, generating some peculiar and inevitable debate. I had to wait until the lady in front of me had spat out her arbitrary/accusatory monologue (yes, berating this abhorrent use of guns blah blah not art blah blah) before I got the opportunity to speak to Phumulani about his work and in particular that ‘abhorrent use of guns’.

His work “investigates the representation of masculinity and violence by undermining socio-historical constructs in order to encourage new masculinities and changes in violence.” The simple explanation as I saw it, was that by transforming an AK47, a weapon that ordinarily invokes feelings of fear (and let’s face it, death!) into something pretty, contradictory and even feminine, we are diminishing that social constraint, taking control and turning the very culture that crime breads on its head. Or something. They looked great.


I think that this is something we are going to see more and more of in the coming months in general, not just in the design sector – collaboration between brands that will ultimately spawn new brands. Also, brands that become more open to the interaction of their customers so that in the end the interaction becomes collaboration, making the customer an artist too. Market research proclaims that consumers want to be feel included/engaged by the brands they are buying, whether they are drawn in by story or by design; it is a way for businesses to keep clients interested and a swift way of tapping innovation.


‘Green’ is undoubtedly the buzz word of the year, and recycled; re-purposed, reused, reinvented (among others) are all being spouted left, right and center. That of course, does not diminish the value in buying products that will save our planet. Ok, it does a little. But our planet is important and it is in trouble and we do have too-much-stuff, so it makes sense that this should be a big feature of design trends of the day. I can’t wait to hear some new adjectives though. Without the ‘re’ prefix preferably please.  Oh, by the way, someone must have got their hands on a catalogue because Ikea/Sweden is finally having a visible influence on South African design. There are a lot of ‘flat-pack’ products hitting the market soon if designers at this Expo are anything to go by. Mostly lighting I predict. I am all for it and it should be interesting to see how it translates into local product and innovation. Flat pack african wind-chimes anyone? No?


The ‘disposable-income’ generation was very much catered for at this Expo, more so than I have ever seen before. Perhaps it was because there were a large number of school groups attending; when I got trampled in the stampede of a designer determined to push her promotional samples on two school girls BEHIND me I realised that I was (old) no longer their ‘target market’.

Students are a major influence when it comes to design innovation; they are after all where much of the new styles and trends originate so no surprise there, but this seemed to extend to a much younger audience this year – the ‘students of tomorrow’ if you will.

In keeping with what this market segment wants, several bigger brands had ditched traditional marketing methods in favour of technologically advanced interactive media options and every one of them was sporting long queues.

Other signs of technological growth were abundant. Found Shopping is a nifty new cell phone app that turns shopping into a sport by harnessing the power of communities, launched over the Expo weekend. A tool that essentially allows you to share-as-you-shop your favourite products with your tribe; the app was designed locally and in a stroke of genius they personalised the whole event by encouraging people to promote the items ‘found’ amongst those for sale at the Expo. It is an inevitable winner, Bandwidth barn explains more about the Found app.


OK, so this last one isn’t actually a Design Indaba exclusive really, food trucks have been growing (like ‘cute’ caravans) in number over the last year or so in Cape Town (hey, farmers markets got all swish and trendy, so why should the borie-roll dude?), but this was the first event I have been to where all the food vendors pretty much had to be in a food truck or something. Maybe I am exaggerating, but it did look cool.

So there you have it, my valued insight into the Design Indaba Expo 2013. So what did you think?