Design Indaba: highlights from day one

As the first day of South Africa's biggest design event draws to a close, Computer Arts editor Nick Carson brings you three inspiring highlights.

With a diverse and consistently inspiring line-up that included Experimental Jetset, Wolff Olins' Ije Nwokorie, Ogilvy South Africa's Chris Gotz, Jake Barton from Local Projects and London 2012 cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick, the first day of Design Indaba kicked things off beautifully in sunny Cape Town. Here are just three of Computer Arts' highlights from the day…

  • Also read our interview with the event's founder, Ravi Naidoo

01. Experimental Jetset on pop culture

Dutch agency Experimental Jetset revealed what makes them tick

Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers and Danny van den Dungen - any one of whom it's all-too rare to see outside their tiny Amsterdam studio, never mind all three - delivered an inspirational alphabetical tour of their influences, despite being a little dazed from having only flown in late the previous night.

With the ambitious goal of spending just a minute on each - and a countdown on each slide to help keep them on track - the Dutch trio touched on everything from their love/hate relationship with Helvetica and how the work of Wim Crouwel helped define their graphic language, right through to pop culture influences from the music of the Beatles and The Jam, and the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Stanley Kubrick.

The trio have a love/hate relationship with Helvetica and obsession with detail

"We share Kubrick's obsession with details - a really neurotic desire to control every detail in our work," they explained, going on to question, when they reached 'W' in the alphabet, why any of it really matters.

"The world is on fire, with billions struggling to survive, and we're playing with geometric shapes. Can we justify it? Should we justify it? Well, we do hope that in the heap of pop cultural references and clever wordplay, we might create some meaning."

02. Ije Nwokorie on why it's ok to be messy

Ije Nwokorie explained that branding is about "making a mess"

Kicking off with a rather frantic video tour of Wolff Olins' London offices, filmed with a head-mounted camera - complete with glorious mess of Post-Its, cables, sketches and all the familiar paraphernalia of a busy agency - Ije Nwokorie set himself up neatly for his main point: why "making a mess" is really what branding's all about.

He lamented posed, styled photography of agency interiors as pure fiction: "There's this notion that creative spaces should be perfect," he said. "Actually, they should be the opposite. People's desks should be manifestations of themselves."

This is a fitting metaphor for the branding process, Nwokorie went on: "Design isn't about creating a precious object; the perfect elegant solution," he declared. "Design is a verb - it's about actively butting in, disrupting the received, the assumed and the accepted. I'm always bugged by when people only talk about a brand in its finished state: by and large, the creative process is about making a mess."

03. Jake Barton on why experience is everything

The relationship between design and technology is like that between painter and paint, explained Jake Barton

Founder of New York-based Local Projects, Jake Barton kicked off his passionate exploration of great experience design by comparing the ideal relationship between design and technology with that between painter and paint. As he points out, cutting-edge tech dates remarkably quickly: it's what you do with it that counts.

Local Projects works primarily with museums, galleries and public spaces, and Cleveland Museum of Art stood out in particular for its three innovative approaches to helping visitors navigate the range of exhibits on offer.

Barton has done some innovative work in helping visitors navigate museums

Facial recognition technology is used to match an exhibit with a visitor's expression; a touch-screen tool matches people's gestures with a corresponding shape in an artwork; and finally, there's a tool for visitors to match the physical pose of a particular sculpture as closely as possible, exploring the importance of body language in the process.

Barton is a strong advocate of building prototypes quickly to test out concepts and strike out anything that falls short: "When you're making failures, that's when eventually you reach something that works," he remarked. "It's a highly un-fun, inefficient way to work as most things end up of cutting room floor, but on the plus side you end up with something you actually like."

A music festival is running alongside the design conference

Chris Gotz of Ogilvy SA

Juliana Rotich, Kenya-based tech entrepreneur and founder of Ushahidi

Come back tomorrow for more selected highlights…

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