Design Indaba

As this year’s line-up demonstrated, Cape Town conference Design Indaba is about much more than just design

In its 20-year history, Cape Town conference Design Indaba has recruited an illustrious list of speakers spanning graphics, architecture, fashion and furniture, as well as industrial design and interiors. Describing the three-day event as a design conference, however, risks overlooking a significant part of its line-up, which often showcases creativity in a much wider context, with work which defies any clear categorisation.

This year was no exception, with a series of talks form speakers who found success through adopting an unconventional approach to their craft or following misfortune in other career paths. Roy Choi, for example, told how he founded Los Angeles food truck Kogi (offering a Korean take on Mexican tacos) after losing his job as a restaurant chef. With a minimal budget, he achieved success through a creative approach to cooking and a clever use of Twitter, and has since inspired food truck trends on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a feature film by Jon Favreau.

Casey Neistat, too, discussed how a lack of formal training and a compulsion to do things ‘the wrong way’ helped him build a successful career in filmmaking.
After dropping out of school at 15, he made a successful TV series, the Neistat Brothers, which he sold to HBO, but began posting content online after growing frustrated at the time it took to get his show on TV. He has since created several films for brands from Nike to 20th Century Fox which often have little to do with products or brands themselves but still achieve viral success (in one for Nike, he spent his budget on a trip round the world, resulting in 13 million views), as well as personal films documenting his everyday life. Neistat said he found success through embracing a lack of understanding over how advertising or filmmaking ‘should’ be done.

“I don’t know how to write a rom-com or a film about science fiction – what I know are my experiences…it’s only by nurturing and embracing that lack of understanding…that I’ve been able to do what I do,” he told the audience.
Yoni Bloch, co-founder of tech company Interlude (which made last year’s interactive music video for Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone) discussed his equally unconventional path to success – a musician and former judge on the Israeli version of American Idol, he founded the company after experimenting with promos for his own music, which he started posting online as a teenager, and now makes interactive films, TV shows and branded content.

Talks from Rosita Missoni and Nando’s founder Robbie Brozin offered insights into the founding of two very different, but very successful brands. Missoni discussed the inspiration for her iconic designs, and how she founded the label with her husband Ottavio on a shared love of craft, pattern and materials, while Brozin explained how Nando’s used provocative advertising to establish itself during a period of political unrest in South Africa (and with next to no money to spend on campaigns). Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey, meanwhile, reflected on the festival’s desire to create a new kind of model for public art and create interpretative, thought-provoking experiences for visitors.

The conference also offered the chance to hear from emerging African talent and Pecha Kucha presentations from international graduates. Alongside this, there were still plenty of talks from well-known figures in advertising, branding and graphics – from Dan Wieden to Shubhankar Ray and Stanley Hainsworth – plus a great talk from Dominic Wilcox on the importance of playfulness in design, and another from Emily Oberman on her work for Saturday Night Live, parodies and rapid response identities. Hella Jongerius, too, gave a fascinating insight into the process (and challenges) of redesigning KLM’s business class.
As ever, it was a varied programme offering a look at design and creativity in various guises, and with such diversity, it’s little wonder that Indaba continues to thrive.

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