Indaba live blog

OK, here we are at the Design Indaba in Cape Town attempting, internet connection willing, to blog live from the first session of the morning by Gert Dumbar and carrying on through the rest of the day


OK, here we are at the Design Indaba in Cape Town attempting, internet connection willing, to blog live from the first session of the morning by Gert Dumbar and carrying on through the rest of the day

Dumbar starts off saying he never listened to any of his teachers or professors – as a designer he wanted to be an author and should never listen to his client (applause). “It sounds a bit arrogant but it really works”.

Three years ago he sold out his share of Studio Dumbar and now has a little studio with his son – didn’t want the restrictions of earning enough to pay for 35 salaries

Claims difference between advertising and graphic design in Holland is because during World War 2 a lot of advertising people worked for the occupiers whereas most graphic designers worked for the Resistance – “forging passports and so on”. This, somewhat outrageous claim still, he says, has an impact today.

“I’m glad to be the originator of the term Dutch Graphic Design, even though it doesn’t mean anything anymore…”

His client at PTT, the Dutch telecom and postal service said “you will not change job but the job will change you – I believe the opposite”

“Throughout my career I have been more obsessed with image than words – images rather than typography” Dumbar shows the identity project he developed for PTT using a set of abstract shapes to be combined in an infinite number of ways – two decades before the current vogue for “flexible identity” systems.

“We were very good with saying yes to the client but doing no – we’d just give them a glass of wine in the morning and they’d be OK”

Talks about the very strong poster culture in Holland – still a very strong communication medium there, particularly for arts and culture clients. And shows his work for the Holland Dance Festival – “if it was a girl, I should kiss it”

“As a graphic designer, you should have hang-ups and scream about them society. One of mine is I hate marketing-driven design. It is absolute nonsense. Marketing people pretend they knwo about design but they are too stupid to notice the difference betwen anything. I hate them. They wear the wrong clothes, have wrong cars, have wrong third wives and live in wrong houses (applause)

“Marketing is an invention from America – a lot of bad things come from America. This disease infected Britain and now it is spreading to Holland and we have to take a stand”

“Once we had an office in Frankfurt but I closed it because of the cultural misunderstanding between us. In Holland the client is one person, in Germany it is 7 or ten and they always shout at you and we didn’t like it.” Shows a film showing how German clients treated Studio Dumbar which he showed a a conference in Germany – it’s a kind of silent comedy using puppets where the clients snarl at the poor designer, beating him down untilt he collapses – applause from the audience…

Stylistic durability – “I think you should try to design things that don’t lose their power over time.”

“My ideas are the power of the image, the hatred of marketing and the importance of stylistic durability. Conferences only for graphic design are extremely boring – not this one – but graphic designers to me nowadays are the most vain people after ballet dancers, opera singers and architects. What is the value of all this graphic design? It doesn’t thrill me or excite me, so I have chosen a new, most pure form of graphic design, I do it with my son, Dan, it’s extremely exciting…”

This project was inspired by the Tsunami – it’s a set of pictograms aimed at giving victims information. Shows a set – based on very simple system – no more vain graphic design , just how can you read it quickly. Blue for information, green for safety, red for prohibition, yellow for warning, white for care – based on international traffic system.


Ends with quote from Otto Neurath – “Words divide,, images unite”.



Next up, J Abbot Miller , back after the break

On a side note, there’s much excitement at our hotel as President Sarkozy is staying here with his new missus. I can exclusively reveal, having seen him dash past his security goons into the lobby yesterday, that he is very short but attempts to make up with it by wearing shoes with bizarrely high heels – I haven’t seen heels like that on a man since Slade were last on Top of the Pops


And we’re back…

Miller starts by stressing the proximity of art and design in his education – “they were equally possible, equally ineteresting” What pushed him to design was that it could be poetic and interpretive but was clear in its motivation and purpose – “you’re either teaching something or selling something”

Stresses how his studio is intimately involved in content of projects and seen as equal partner – “design can generate ideas in and of itself”

“Spatial metaphors have always influenced my thinking” eg his book, Spatial Typography

“I’m much more inspired by architecture as a discipline than by graphic design (although not architects themselves – I’m with Gert Dumbar on that one). I tend to think in terms of plan, section and elevation even though I’m not an architect. Typography is really the architectural aspect of graphic design.”

Talks about his identity for MICA – more here


Project for NY architects 1100 Architect – “they have a 40 foot yellow table in the lobby where they invite people to sit down and read, hang out.” They asked him to do a website – which would be “the world on a table”. But the demo’s not working – shame.

The Couch: Thinking in Repose, for Sigmund Freud Museum. Show is about concept of couch, so posters used some that have been used in psychoanalysis.


2wice “a magazine/editorial product supported by a not-for-profit foundation” to document performance as an art form. “with every issue we choose a partner and commission a photographer often to try to recreate a dance in print or to construct a new reality that is created for the page.”

Harvey Davidson travelling show – only had year to do it. Woman in charge said only way it’ll be done is “if you give me the money and leave me alone – she gave me the same brief”

“I’m not a motorcycle enthusiast but I can approach it as a design fetish – I get where they are coming from but I haven’t drunk the KoolAid yet”. He’s designing a museum for Harley D in Milwaukee opening in the summer – “exciting but tortuous. what made it exciting is that we were designing the exhibitions at same time architects were designing the buildings.”

Centrepiece of the exhibition space will be a road on which there will be a parade of Harleys inspired by the animal parade in the natural history museum in Paris.

Last project: Manhatta “very raw and undercooked but, if it happens, it will open next summer in NY”. Manhatta is project by a research scientist mapping the ecology and lifeforms of Manhattan in 1609, he managed to pinpoint down to city block level the plant life, terrain etc at that time. Chose this year as it was when Henry Hudson stepped foot on isalnd – was once of most biologically diverse places on Earth at the time – “not now”.

Concept is to turn this into exhibition. Whether it happens or not depends on politicians but plan is large-scale model of island about the size of a football field either in Battery Park or on Governor’s Island

That’s it.

And we’re straight on with Shinichi Takemura “Designing the global window”. He plays sound of traditional Japanese garden ornaments – rain water falls into ceramic vessel making beautiful sound. And guess what – it’s live! We’re listening to rain fall in a temple in Kyoto – cool. Everyone applauds. It’s a web project called Aquascape, part of show on water placing microphones around world to listen to rain – he calls it a global “stethoscope project”. You can also listen to Mumbai – listen to it here in fact

So it’s all about global windows, sharing experiences across web. Breathing Earth monitors earthquake activity around the world. “It’s not threat or earthquake itself that is the problem but lack of sensitivity to dynamic nature of our planet”. So decided to visualise this living earth to make us more sensitive to it. An actual portrait of Earth based on seismic data. See it here

These projects allow us to feel connected “in a shared embrace”. Led to next project, Tangible Earth. World’s first digital globe at 10 million to one scale. Shows where day and night are at any time (lots of applause). All kinds of other things – movement of polluted air, migratory birds, effects of deforestation, changes in temperature over time etc etc Pretty amazing. More applause

“With this project we want to communicate tangible sense of planet, to bring entire globe into view. User can look at world from any perspective, imagine things that are interrelated.”

Thinks digital platforms need to betetr represent analogue faculties unique to humans – ie more tactile. Lots more applause for the Tangible Earth project – he’s wowing the crowd with this stuff.

“The second of our big ideas connecting citizens through the internet as if it were a central nervous system……..” Uh-oh, he trails off as the screen seizes up. Darn you technology, one minute friend the next implacable foe….. we have a technician on the stage and much concerned muttering……

…….and we’re back on the road having swapped computers.

Linking us real time to what’s happening in the world would no longer allow us to ignore disasters etc That’s why his Global Stethoscope could be so important. For the 2005 Expo he tried to design a global window called Global Corridor Project. Built monitors connected to locations around globe via video chats, met children around the world in places such as Cambodia and Afghanistan, to enable participation in Expo via internet – a REAL global expo by the connection of citizens. So if we’ve met with them, we’d be less likely to bomb them. Peace may be achieved by designing effective communications between peoples. (applause, and why not)

Uh-oh, more tech problems………. seems like the design-led peace process will need some better internet connections than we have here in the conference centre…. the audience are clapping the appearance of the Windows egg timer thingy on screen – it’s a hopfeul sign we think….

And we’re back…..

Next up Sakura Scape which tracks to cherry blossom as it blooms across Japan – aggregates images that people send in from cell phones alongside a haiku written in celebration of the blossom’s appearance. It’s very beautiful – the characters of the Haiku fall like leaves on the screen alongside the supplied image. It archives people’s cherry blossom experience in real time at same time a mapping movement of the cherry blossom front as it works its way up the Japanese islands. (more applause)

One last project – Water . Device to visualise the consumption of water in the production of food – the virtual water server. A vending machine that shows the amount of water used toproduce the meal you order. One hamburger costs 2000 litres of water.

“Cool web design is not very meaningful if it never affects anything outside our computer displays.”

More tech glitches… he’s going to take questions.. no he isn’t, the computer’s working again…

One more project – the Ubiquitous Museum . Using cell phones as mobile net terminals, provides info about spaces as you walk around them. So, it’ll tell you that, as you walk around Tokyo, that part used to be under water – using a cell phone as a magnifying glass to read the hidden stories at each site.

“I want to develop tools that make people more sensitive rather than technologies like sat nav that eliminate the need for thinking. Why build a society where things begin and end with the push of a button.”

“We have the chance to design a more humane civilisation.” Masses of applause – and cheers even. That went down a storm even with all the tech problems

OK, that’s lunch. I’m off to find a power socket. More later.


Kicking us off is, from the UK, Jason Bruges. Trained as an architect, worked for Foster designing airports, then to Imagination designing experiences – started to think about putting two together, combined with art. His studio sits somewhere in middle – he’s used 17 different terms to describe his work to clients.

Artists, interaction designers, architects, industrial designers make up his team. Paid Poke to design his website by building them a chandelier – barter, we like it.

He works, small to big – everything from nano scale to buildings. One project in Moscow maps movements inside the building onto the outside.

He’s talking about the idea of “architecture as performance” – making buildings “do things”. Mapping movements, having buildings respond to what is going on around them in real time.

Bruges also worked with Willy Williams and onedotzero on the concert visuals for George Michael which won Best in Book in our Annual last year.

“Great thing was it changed the way George danced” which, if you’ve ever seen it, is no bad thing.

Isn’t all this tremendously wastfeul of energy we ask? Bruges cites his Wind to Light project to promote debate over micro generation of power

He’s extending this around the world to examine sustainable, renewable power generation.

Great stuff – Bruges brought along an installation piece which he’s going to donate to a local school.

Next up, Jakob Trollback of Trollback in NYC – he’s Swedish of course and, we hear, self-taught…

What? He’s trying to blame Abba for everything that’s bad in the world – there was a much hipper Sweden going on at the time that apparently didn’t get a look in, like his sister’s clothing store.

Early influences – jazz, Japanese movies, Bach – apparently Helvetica and Bach have a lot in common, purest form of design or music, he says. DJ-ing led, via flyer design (as with so many others) to graphic design and to NY.

“motion is the real deal, I decided” – and here we have his showreel to prove it, which has cool stuff like this.

A joke. Husband thinks his wife’s hearing’s bad. Doctore suggests asking her a question from 20 feet away, if she doesn’t hear move closer. He goes home, asks his wife from 20 feet away what’s for dinner. She doesn’t answer. Closer, he asks same question. Still no answer. Right next to her now, he asks same question, what’s for dinner. “For the third, time it’s chicken,” says his wife. Boomboom.

Shows Monsoon Wedding titles

One last project – another installation,light wall type piece (Indaba speakers are certainly doing their bit for light pollution around the world) but this is the amazing light wall at the IAC building on the west side of Manhattan.

And with that he’s done

My battery’s exhausted and so am I so I’m signing off. Losing power now…. going down…. may day…….may da

What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

Buy the issue

The Annual 2018

The Creative Review Annual is one of the most
respected and trusted awards for the creative
industry. We celebrate the best creative work from
the past year, those who create it and commission it.

Enter now


South East London


Burnley, Lancashire (GB)