As a species, our best design stories still lie ahead of us.
That’s according to the Design Indaba, which is celebrating its 25th edition in Cape Town now.
Over the decades, this world-class event has presented a slew of visionary thinkers whose innovations have truly shaped our globe, both internationally and locally…
Past speaker Thomas Heatherwick’s radical transformation of a disused dock building into the spectacular Zeitz MOCAA and Silo Hotel in Cape Town is just one case in point.
Design Indaba’s future-forward focus means that it is always ahead of the curve, an approach which makes this think tank an expert on the innovations that will shape a better world during the next quarter century and beyond.
It identified a few design modalities that need to be on your radar – as epitomised by the stellar designers that are at the very forefront of these global movements, and who are presenting their ideas at this year’s landmark jubilee edition.
One of these modalities is the rise of radical empathy. Robert Wong, who heads Google’s Creative Lab, leads with empathy. He believes that technology should be about positive interactions, humanity, surprise and creativity.
His heart-warming talk about some of the work he has done under the auspices of Google Creative Lab had the audience smiling. “People say that technology is the main driver of innovation. But that’s bullshit. It has always been, and always will be, the human heart and the human imagination that will change the future,” he asserted.
He gave hope to everyone with imposter syndrome, revealing his deep insecurity when he started working at Google – a theme he later expanded upon as Debbie Millman’s guest in a live podcast of her show ‘Design Matters’.
Despite his insecurity, he leapt at the chance to work at one of the world’s most savvy brands. “When a spacecraft lands in your front yard, you pretty much have to get in,” he joked. He pointed out that if we don’t use tech to drive human connection, we’re using it for the wrong reasons.
Masterclass sessions aimed at the intellectually curious were given by leaders in their respective fields, such as South Africa’s Michelin darling Jan Hendrik Van Der Westhuizen, music video director Motion Billy, and globally renowned trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.
Li Edelkoort analyses why green has become such an important movement today:
“With the ecological green also comes an aesthetic green. Since brown is symbolic for the earth, it is only natural that green will start to grow from that current. The need for green is so powerful that it will turn around fashion and design without any doubt! Sprouting from different political, humanistic and survivalist sources, it is impossible to ignore.”
She reflects: “Maybe the most important thing about green is its capacity to bring joy. Its energy and charisma are compelling and will help us be, combatting despair with optimism and happiness: joy seen as another form of activism.” Edelkoort’s message for the fashion industry is that we’ve reached the critical turning point and that sustainability is the only way for the industry to go forward.
She looks at the connection between design, objects, and the most influential of lifestyle elements, food. “Taste is driving every aspect of our lives from homes to hospitality, from food to fashion, and from make-up to materials. The largest megatrend on our planet today must be people’s fascination with food, which is taking over our spending and inspiring all other interests.”
She explains how food continues to impact surfaces and interiors: “Indeed, kitchens are refurbished and enlarged, becoming the best place to be in the house, the room where everyone congregates to work, study, play and cook. Kitchen tools, tabletop design, pots and pans are conceived to better steam, roast, grill or bake foods that are organic, nomadic and authentic.
Fabrics play the game as well, with darker linens and printed motifs, as if designed for the sophisticated amateur chef. Fashion starts to play a role in the kitchen and aprons come co-ordinated with shirting and watches are designed for the exact measuring of minutes and the reading of seconds – essential for any successful cake or roast.
All this adds up to new shapes for furniture, new textures for materials, new needs for architecture, and new adventures for the great outdoors – all impacted by the textures, flavours and colours that define what we eat.”
Over two-and-a-half decades, Design Indaba has seen over 600 illustrious speakers take to the stage to deliver soul-stirring and mind-awakening talks earning the acclaim as the best conference in the world, whilst also actively pursuing change and action – seeding over 200 impact-driven projects into the public square.
The 3-day multi-sensory, thought provoking and expansive experience includes a series of captivating talks by day and festival by night, featuring live music, theatre, exhibitions and masterclasses.
Top image courtesy Olimpia Zagnoli who illustrated The New Yorker, June 24 2019 edition, that celebrated Pride Month
Bottom image: The Artscape in Cape Town where The Design Indaba is happening