Design Indaba: highlights from day 3

Design Indaba concludes with a bang in Cape Town, with the legendary Stefan Sagmeister in the rockstar closing slot.

Every bit as rich and diverse as the previous two days, Design Indaba’s third and final day brought plenty of wit, creative enthusiasm and thought-provoking debate to Cape Town once more.

Today’s speakers included a whole contingent of designers from Copenhagen, introduced by the Danish Design Centre’s Nille Juul-Sørensen; Kiwi creative director Dean Poole from Alt Group; a South African institution in iconic photographer David Goldblatt; and of course the inimitable Stefan Sagmeister - who’ll kindly be joining us for a video interview on Sunday, which you can watch in next issue’s Computer Arts.

So to wrap up our on-the-ground reports from vibrant Cape Town (this year’s World Design Capital), here are our three key highlights from the final day of Design Indaba…

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01. The Danish contingent on why design matters

Nille Juul-Sørensen urged the community to "design like you give a damn"

With an agenda to ensure his country’s design reputation transcends the design of cool chairs and coffee cups, Nille Juul-Sørensen of the Danish Design Centre made a rousing and inspiring appeal to “design for the 99%, not the 1%”.

Coining the mantra “design like you give a damn”, Juul-Sørensen used the powerful visual comparison of a £40,000 handbag and a glass of fresh water as contrasting interpretations of what ‘luxury’ means. “We should start designing systems, not more gadgets,” he continued. “I hope that our grandchildren will never even use the word 'waste' - we need a truly circular economy.”

The four Dutch designers have all used design to make a difference

Juul-Sørensen was followed by three fellow Danes with very different stories of how they’ve used design to make a difference, from Vinay Venkatraman’s creative interpretations of data - “the new raw material for designers” - to Mikal Hallstrup at Designit using smart, strategic thinking to solve worthy real-world problems, including shortening cancer patient waiting times by 90%.

The panel was rounded off in somewhat surreal style by Central St Martins-educated fashion designer Henrik Vibskov, who began by announcing that he’d be staying sitting down because he needed a pee, and ended by inflating a giant mint-green sculpture on stage.

02. Dean Poole on the value of language in design

Dean Poole sees language as "our base material as graphic designers"

Packed with dry Kiwi wit, Dean Poole’s engaging talk was introduced by conference MC Michael Bierut as the one he’d been most looking forward to. “I love ideas that are very simple, but engaging,” he began, before reeling off a list of quirky examples, including an inspired classified ad that Spike Milligan placed after losing his dog, which read ‘Here, boy!’

With a packed awards cabinet, Alt Group is famed for its smart, minimalist approach to design and playful use of language - and Poole took the latter as his theme: “I love language: it's our base material as graphic designers,” he remarked.

Alt Group is famed for its playful use of language

After running through the entire alphabet, with a deadpan one-liner to represent each character - including ‘A’ being “an H designed by an architect”, ‘R’ being “a poser” and ‘X’ being “busting to relieve itself” - he set up his first project case study by reeling through some classic examples of graphic wordplay - including acrostics, diastics and mesostics.

Putting the method to the test, Alt Group created a playful, clever but brutally simple concept for the Auckland Art Gallery - in which three-word phrases containing the common letters ‘A’, ‘R’ and ’T’ could be stacked vertically in any number of different combinations. “We created a system that anyone can play with, designing ourselves out of a job basically,” he grinned.

03. And finally: Stefan Sagmeister on happiness

Stefan Sagmeister kept the audience fully informed of his bladder movements

A characteristically mischievous intro from the inimitable Austrian design legend: “My name is Stefan Sagmeister and I just had a fantastic pee, which is why I’m ready to talk to you about happiness.”

He continued: “We’ve heard a lot about simplicity today, and I was getting smaller and smaller in my chair because we never do things simple. In fact, we make things very complicated.”

Anyone familiar with Sagmeister’s appearances on the conference circuit will know that the ‘happiness’ theme particularly fascinates him, and he wasn’t shy of poking fun at himself during the booming karaoke-style singalong that engaged the whole auditorium in an attempt to prove that singing as a group helps improve your mood: “Stefan always shows the same stuff / Seen it all on”, read the lyrics.

It's not often that a big-name designer leads a crowd in a karaoke singalong

Whether or not you’d seen it before, the combination of effortless charisma, the occasional splash of smutty humour, a healthy sprinkling of facts and stats about what makes us happy and of course invariably stunning work guaranteed that everyone left the room on a high.

Other highlights included the revelation that there are more Georges living in Georgetown, more people called Dennis who become dentists, and more Paulas married to someone called Paul than would be statistically viable. Go figure. Plus he showed a cool video of him, Jess and the other designers jumping on water balloons in slow motion.

“Before going to bed, think about three things that worked today,” was his parting gem of advice. “End your day on a positive.”

And that's a wrap, ladies and gents. There’ll be a full event report in next issue’s of Computer Arts, as well as a series of video musings from Sagmeister - and look out for an in-depth profile of Experimental Jetset the following issue, after a fascinating half-hour chat with the Dutch trio here at Design Indaba.

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