Design Indaba: Day 3

Highlights from Design Indaba’s third and final day of conference include talks by Israeli type designer Oded Ezer, American data-visualiser extrordinaire Ben Fry, Robert Wong of Google Labs, and an unexpected choice of final speaker…

Still from Typembrya, a film by Oded Ezer inspired by Herb Lubalin’s Mother & Child logo

Highlights from Design Indaba’s third and final day of conference include talks by Israeli type designer Oded Ezer, American data-visualiser extrordinaire Ben Fry, Robert Wong of Google Labs, and an unexpected choice of final speaker…

Oded Ezer, whose Hebrew Rutz typeface featured in our recently published Type Annual, demonstrated that type need not be boring by showcasing a host of projects, mostly self-initiated, that all served to highlight how his love of typographic forms leads him to introduce elements of typography to almost everything he sees and does.

For example, when giving a talk in London, he wore a typographic mohican on his head in reference to some colourful local characters he’d spotted in the capital’s Camden district. In another project called TypeShaman he invented a “typographic religion” complete with its own mythology and type figurines of a supposedly ancient being with the body of a human and the head of a letterform.

Fusing animals and natural living creatures with type seems to be an ongoing theme in Ezer’s work. HIs Biotypography projects include creating tiny sculptural creatures that are half ant, half letterforms and his Typosperma project involved imbuing (graphic) sperm cells with typographic qualities…

The third Biotypography project, and the final piece he showed to the audience, was a film he made in homage to Herb Lubalin’s Mother & Child logo (above), which sees an ampersand represent a foetus in the womb. Here’s the film, entitled Typembrya:

Typembrya by Oded Ezer from on Vimeo.

Ben Fry, co-developer along with Casey Reas of UCLA of open source programming tool, Processing wowed the audience by showing various projects of his that look to visualise highly complex data in a way that makes it easier to deal with. Highlights included a project called Isometricblocks which combined several different methods of displaying complex human genome data. It’s enormously difficult to describe due to the complexity of the data and of the nature of the interactive display he built – but if you visit Fry’s site at you can have a play with the display (still shown, above) to get a feel for how it functions.

In another project, Fry mapped all the changes in the text across the 14 editions of Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species – to highlight visually the evolution of Darwin’s own ideas and thought processes during his lifetime. Again, to find out more and see the project as it is intended to be seen, visit

As well as showing some of his own work, Fry explained that the point of developing Processing was for people to get involved and use it to make beautiful visuals, whether those visuals represent complex data or not. He showed a film that demonstrated how Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg of Nervous System explore a design approach that directly relates process to form, creating jewellery and home products using software built using processing:

Cell Cycle demo from Nervous System on Vimeo.

But of all the work he showed, perhaps the following film, created using Processing by Robert Hodgin, was the one that made the audience go “ooooh” the most:

If Fry wowed the audience with technical wizardry, Robert Wong of Google Creative Labs impressed with an infectious energy and enthusiasm for his work, looking to create what he called “posititve interactions” with his team of engineers and creatives. He began by describing his theory which puts the notion of surprise as one of the most key ingredients in creating a joyous experience – more specifically, a surprise created as a result of a process involving empathy and creativity.

He then listed various other ideas to bring greatness into the workplace. “Do good things that matter should always be the brief,” he suggested. “Increase marketshare by 5% is hardly a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” he added.With that in mind, Wong briefly outlined Google’s recent project to scan art in some of the most prestigious art galleries of the world (read our post about it here) in order to make art accessible using Google Maps technology. “It’s time consuming and there’s no money in it, but art is important and we feel it’s a great project,” he said, before going on to describe Google as “nine parts awesome science and one part baby talk.” He then showcased the first Google Labs project – a set of shortcut stickers to stick on your keyboard. They were popular but flawed: the ink on the stickers wore off leaving no trace of the information (including what letter the key should be). Oops!

Google Labs’ second idea was project 10 to the 100 where Google asked the world for great ideas to help as many people as possible, promising to try and make the best ideas (the ones that aimed to help the most people) a reality. Here’s the film that launched the project:

Whilst Wong briefly outlined the work Google did on Arcade Fire in collaboration with Chris Milk, and explained a little about the recently developed Google Docs project that allows multiple users to make changes to one file at the same time, it was probably an ad for Google, created by a young creative in Google Labs that resonated the most with Design Indaba’s audience and endeared Wong and the company he represents to them:

Of course the Design Indaba experience isn’t all about what happens on the stage at the conference. People meet and mingle and are inspired by new ideas and new ways of thinking – in a spectacular setting between the sea and Table Mountain. My hat is doffed in the direction of organiser Ravi Naidoo and his team for the organisation of the event and, also, crucially, for its inspired curation which lined up a “mystery” speaker to close the conference. That guest speaker turned out to be legendary South African musician and recording artist Hugh Masekela. After an interview on stage during which Masekela spoke of his extraordinary carreer – from his days hanging out in New York with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Ella FItzgerald, to his later return to South Africa to find his own musical voice – he then played a short but wonderful set with his band, encouraging all and sundry to get up and dance and sing along with him. It was a beautiful and joyous close to an inspriational three day conference I won’t forget in a hurry.

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