Design Indaba was a moment of exhilaration filled with musings from designers extraordinaire. Can design can change the world and transform lives in meaningful ways? Can it have impact? The speakers at Design Indaba challenged this and not just in little ways.

Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner of Urban Think-Tank revolutionsed Caracas, Venezuela by adding a Metro cable car public transportation system to a really hilly neighbourhood  transporting 1,200 people per hour in each direction. Hellicar & Lewis designed an interactive app to help autistic children engage and find liberation with their own creativity. Heinrich Wolff considers light quite important to improve people’s moods and finds ways to integrate natural light to buildings, helping people hate their jobs a little less.

The environment I come from, designers are less admired as change-makers and are more or less cogs in the wheel. When I try to surmise how all this will be relevant to me having all this new revolutionary banter, I find it tough. My best thought comes from Allan de Botton, in his book  The Architecture of Happiness,

“Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendencies which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.”

As much as design in the rest of Africa is not applauded nor seen relevant, I realise we cannot let bad design triumph. Our efforts in improving and enriching other people’s lives with tasteful imagination , creative passion and bringing to them the understanding of their needs out to thrive. Hopefully in turn, will encourage a community that thought otherwise about design.

Here is our summary of Day 3 and a sneak peek at the Expo.

Sissel Tolaas, an odour artist uses experiments in science and art to research and create new experiences of smell. She has built a massive library of scents and continues to help brands invent new smells. She has also worked with museums to capture nostalgic smells and recreate memories that existed before the fall of the Berlin wall. Sissel captured the scent of Cape Town and handed it to us on a postcard. Smells capture emotion and help us recall memories.

I greatly enjoyed the presentation by Carlo Ratti (left on image) Civil Engineer & Architect and Assaf Biderman who both teach at M.I.T in Boston. Carlo is the director of SENSEable City Laboratory and Assaf associate director. Their real time city studies look at how social media can be used to capture behaviour patterns. How flickr images captured in Italy by American tourists contrast to places where local Italian tourists visit. They showcased The Copenhagen Wheel – a component when fitted to a bike transforms it to an electric bike with sensors in the wheel that collect real time information about air and noise pollution, congestion and road conditions delivered via an iphone app.

(Images of The Copenhagen Wheel via SENSEable MIT)

Two of Design Indaba’s MC’s Michelle Constant interviewing Michael Bierut

 “A Taste of Sónar” a electronic music concert was one of the most anticipated events. Featuring Massive Attack (Bristol,UK) supported by a visual art from United Visual Artists, Modeselector (Germany), BLK JKS (South Africa) and other electronic DJ’s.

Robert Del Naja – 3D of Massive Attack

Grantley Marshall – Daddy G of Massive Attack

UVA ended the visual performance with some sobering messages from political change activists.

Chris Bird (UVA) packing up after the Massive Attack performance.

Electronic duo Modeselector – Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary.

Electronic DJ  & Producer Brodinski

Mpumelelo Mcata of South African based BLK JKS


The Expo feature a lot of innovative crafts and the best of what South African artists have to offer. This summary does not even do it justice. However I’ll be covering some of the emerging artists we got to meet in later posts. We also got to meet two artists whose work we’ve featured before, and had a lot of fun chatting with them.

Upcycled plastic bottle chandeliers by Libere Foundation. (See more here.)

Tart Heritage on the Runway

We just featured See-Saw Do – Work by illustrator Xanele Puren and their new childrens book  – Animals / Izalwanyana. They are a social enterprise that uplifts and transforms environments where children live, learn and play. They have painted several creches and children’s environment through their mission.

The Bicycle Portraits is a 2 1/2 yr book project by photographer Stan Engelbrecht & Motion Designer & Photographer Nic Grobler. It’s a collection of the best 162 portraits and stories captured via the cyclists’ journey in various parts of South Africa. Spilt into 3 books of 54 portraits, each story has an individually hand painted watercolor map showing the location of the cyclist on google maps. The layout was designed by Gabrielle Guy and illustrated by Gabrielle Raaff.

(Photography by Barbara Muriungi unless otherwise stated.)