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D is for Design

Mar 26, 2019 | Design, Featured

Top local and international design talents shared their ideas and vision for creating a better world at Design Indaba 2019, South Africa’s most exciting creative conference

TEXT Debbie Loots PHOTOGRAPHS Martin Dijkstra (Ravi); Thirza Schaap (Li); Nathan Cyprys (Ane); Michael Leckie (Alice); and Tina Ruisinger, courtesy of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative (Mariam)

Q&A: Ravi Naidoo

We caught up with Ravi Naidoo, founder of Design Indaba, for a walk down memory lane and to find out what the future holds for this renowned conference.

LOOKING BACK AT HOW THE CONFERENCE HAS EVOLVED, ARE THERE ANY HIGHLIGHTS YOU CAN SINGLE OUT? We’ve been constant gardeners for 24 years, adapting and changing in response to what we believe are the issues of the day. It’s so important that platforms are relevant socially, economically, culturally. So the one thing that’s persistent is the activist orientation – and along the way we’ve found different ways to express that. For example, when design was not represented on the high streets, we created an expo, and when design was adequately represented on the high streets, we moved away from it and sought other methods.

IN TERMS OF DESIGN MAKING A MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTION, WHICH NEW DESIGN/S ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT? I reckon design coming into the public square is so important. It actually serves people. I think what the design community must do is take on what is extensively a global agenda to become their own operational agenda. I think if we start to give ourselves a wider mandate to be in service of humanity and of the planet, design will come out of the shadows and become almost like a Cinderella industry and something with way more clout and relevance in the 21st century.

DO YOU THINK THE CONFERENCE WILL EVER EVOLVE INTO AN ONLINE OFFERING ONLY IN FUTURE? No. I think there is a huge power in convening, in bringing people together. It’s only once a year, and we do all our other activities outside of that. The energy you feel from personal contact and the power of commissioners and practitioners all coming together is absolutely immense. Networks are created. Deep relationships are forged. And I am afraid it’s extremely difficult to do that digitally. We are human beings. We are multisensorial and we appreciate touch; I think we will always have that need.


Costume designer Ane Crabtree, who won the 2018 Costume Designer’s Guild Award for The Handmaid’s Tale series, discusses the relationship between costume design and life

DOES YOUR PERSONAL STYLE INFLUENCE YOUR DESIGNS? I think it seeps into one’s work, as do influences with regards to film, photography, fashion and art. Also, personal politics and life experiences entered into the design process of The Handmaid’s Tale.

HOW MUCH DO YOUR DESIGNS DIFFER FROM COLLEEN ATWOOD’S FOR THE 1990 FILM THE HANDMAID’S TALE? I never borrow from someone else’s costume designs. I adored the 1990 film, and it certainly spoke deeply to me at the time. Atwood’s costumes reflect very much the times; the film feels ’90s in terms of colour palette and set design. I went for a contemporary look, considering the state of the world now.

DO YOU HAVE A SIGNATURE STYLE? I love clothing made for long wear, like workwear from the 1900s with an industrial bent to it. I’ve been told people love “my look”, but I don’t really know what that is. Perhaps it has to do with being multiracial and having a mother who is Okinawan.

WHAT’S NEXT? I took a six-month break for the first time in 29 years, but really have only had three months off, and in that time I concentrated on a documentary about my mother. My last project was The Last Thing He Wanted with Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck. I choose projects carefully; I look for stories that matter.


Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author of an acclaimed new book, Design as an Attitude, on the many meaningful contributions of design

DOES DESIGN HAVE A SINGULAR PURPOSE? Design is a complex, often elusive phenomenon that has changed dramatically over the centuries by adopting different guises, meanings and objectives in different contexts. But its singular purpose is to act as an agent of change that can help to ensure that changes of every type will affect us positively, rather than negatively.

WHAT CONSTITUTES GOOD DESIGN? Good design consists of a combination of qualities that change constantly, reflecting broader changes in society. Yet there are two non-negotiable components of good design: it must always fulfil its function, and must be ethically and environmentally responsible. All the other qualities that can make design enticing are optional.


WHERE IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT DESIGN WORK HAPPENING NOW? Everywhere. There is lots of inspiring work in Africa, particularly in health care, where designers are developing new digital tools to improve access to quality treatment. One example is the Cardiopad heart monitor devised by Arthur Zang at Himore Medical in Cameroon.

HOW CAN A YOUNG DESIGNER WITH LIMITED RESOURCES MAKE A MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETY? My book Design as an Attitude [published by JPR|Ringier] explores how a new generation of designers are using basic and inexpensive digital tools to operate independently in pursuit of their own social, political and environmental goals. They can raise money from crowdfunding platforms, generate awareness and flush out collaborators on social media and manage huge quantities of complex data on affordable computers.


Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort talks about preferring a neutral palette, the dawn of the colour brown, and staying in hotels with a swimming pool and a good club sandwich

DO YOUR FORECASTS EVER REFLECT WHAT YOU WEAR AND HOW YOU FURNISH YOUR OWN HOME? Actually, although I discussed the return of colour in fashion and interiors at Design Indaba, I usually wear black or navy, and my Paris home is a neutral grey, with low-lying furniture and craft from my travels. I believe in sustainable style.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR, AND IS THERE ONE YOU DISLIKE? As a dedicated colourist, I don’t think I could ever dislike a hue! As far as playing favourites, right now I have an urge for brown and my new 2021 colour forecast for Trend Union announces the coming of a Brown Age in fashion and design. Brown is often known to be the colour most people say they dislike, since they are reminded of frugality and simplicity, yet I disagree. Incidentally, there is already a lot of brown in my home (including African craft and textiles), but I have an inkling there’s going to be more to come.

HOW DO YOU RELAX? I’m a swimmer. Immersing the body and soul in water is always the most relaxing thing. I choose my hotels based on whether they have an outdoor swimming pool… and if they do a good club sandwich! My other favourite way to unwind is an annual pilgrimage to South Africa, first at Design Indaba to work out my mind and then at Singita to work out my spirit.


For Mariam Kamara, who was born in Niger and is now based in the US, architecture is much more than a creative pursuit – it also contributes to the social, economic, cultural and often political dimensions of a place

WHY DESIGN AN ALTERNATIVE ARCHITECTURE FOR NIGER? My focus is on making architecture that respects and manifests the narrative of a place. Through my practice, I try to discover innovative ways of achieving that, while maintaining an intimate dialogue between architecture, people, and context. I founded atelier masomi in 2014; an architecture and research firm headquartered in Niger. We tackle a wide variety of public, cultural, residential, commercial and urban design projects.

TELL US MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT WITH UK ARCHITECT SIR DAVID ADJAYE, AFTER WINNING THE ROLEX MENTOR AND PROTÉGÉ AWARD* Basically, Sir David wants me to put together a project for Niamey, Niger’s capital, which he will guide me through when needed. It is shaping up to be an amazing journey! What would people want really if they could have anything? What are the problems from a public space point of view, from a cultural and social point of view? So now the design work has started.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM? Simply to make a contribution and to leave a value behind.

WHAT IS NEXT? We have several new projects in the works in the office. Some are cultural in nature and others are educational, and we even have an office building in Niamey in the works – construction should start soon.

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