Design Indaba – What It’s All About

Cape Town’s Design Indaba is an enormous celebration of creative talent, centred on the annual Conference and Expo at the end of February, but with projects that reach out to international partners across the year.

It’s hard to know where to start, looking at all the components to the Design Indaba (DI) brand: it took me couple of weeks with them to get a solid sense of how the many components work and link to each other. I’ve already written a summary of the DI Conference and Expo, but let’s take a bit of a closer look at the bigger Design Indaba picture.

It’s About Great Ideas…

The common thread is that DI, across all its elements, promotes great ideas and inspirational creative people, from across the globe. What’s more, Design Indaba is intent on changing the world, using its respected position to shift Africa’s creative landscape, bringing together people and ideas that shine a new perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing South Africa, and South African creative enterprise.

… And Making Them Happen.

How did they do that? All well and good having great ideas – Design Indaba is interested in the people who make them work, who share their thinking and also tell us about the ideas that didn’t work. Perhaps those experiments have led to the next idea, which did work. Or provided a link to a person that can help make the idea work, or grow, or evolve it. These are the approaches the Conference speakers take, talking us through their working methods.

How do you do that? It’s also the big question I’m asking though out my ICE Fellowship. How was Design Indaba created, how has it evolved, and where is it heading next? Design Indaba is the brainchild of founder Ravi Naidoo, who has grown not only the DI brand, but the aspirations of the design world, raising the profile of design in South Africa.

Source of Inspiration

Design Indaba began as a conference began in 1995, a space for designers to learn from one another. Over 17 years, DI has evolved into a top-flight international event, bringing in speakers at the top of their game in a huge range of industries and all ready to talk about just how they’ve made their ideas into reality. This conference of creativity is broadcast live to another auditorium in Cape Town, as well as venues in Johannesburg and Durban, so in all over 3,000 delegates are watching each presentation, many of whom fly in from around the world to attend the event.

Showcasing and Opportunity

When you speak to people in Cape Town about Design Indaba, they assume that you mean the Expo, the huge fair that pulls in 40,000 people to shop, eat, watch fashion shows, have a beer and see what’s new in South African design. It’s a buzzy space, with 380 gorgeously decorated stands showcasing and selling everything from ceramics, jewellery and fashion to food, furniture and craft. There were a few architects, but not too much by way of industrial design, and as most stands were manned by the designers themselves, there was plenty of chance to talk through the products and ask questions about their individual businesses.

As well as the general public, around 400 buyers come along to find new products for the stores they represent,  and each year DI works with researchers at the business school to assess the economic impact of the event. In 2011, it was recorded that Design Indaba was worth R300 million (£25 million) to the South African economy.

A Festival of the Future?

During Design Indaba, and for the preceding two weeks, the DI FilmFest screens a range of design films at cinemas around Cape Town, celebrating film and film makers, as well as the ideas, communities and subjects of the films selected. While it sounds like a niche event, many of the films would appeal to a more mainstream arts audience.

This year, there was a partnership with SONAR, the vast electronic music festival that happens outside Barcelona. Over 2,500 rammed in to City Hall to listen to the likes of Massive Attack and Modeselektor, as the grand old audience chambers were transformed into dance floors, smoking decks and a cinema, complete with popcorn machine. It was quite an experience to stand on the rooftop, bats flying around search beams that lit up the sky, music coursing through the building.

Questions to Explore

Just as I arrived, Design Indaba made the decision to close its quarterly magazine – unsurprising, given that the publishing industry is facing plenty of challenges, and there’s a trend in other creative communities to move to digital and multi-format storytelling.

It’ll be interesting to see what Design Indaba decides to do next, in the run up to Cape Town as World Design Capital 2014. More simulcasts? DI in other countries? International networks? Expansion beyond the design community? There was a rumour on Twitter, subsequently quashed, that DI was looking to buy a building in the Woodstock area of Cape Town. Would they be interested in the future in taking on a building? There’s plenty more for me to find out.

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More adventures from Anna in creative Cape Town >

Anna’s International Creative Entrepreneurs (ICE) Fellowship in South Africa is part of Creative Scotland’s innovative Creative Futures leadership fund.


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