Design Indaba: highlights from day two

Africa's biggest design festival had a definite feel of the Americas today, with fascinating insights from Texas, Mexico, Brazil and California.

The second day of Cape Town’s vibrant festival of creativity brought together the worlds of graphic design, architecture, advertising, art and more.

Speakers included Austin-based Pentagram partner DJ Stout; Marcello Serpa, creative director at São Paulo ad agency AlmapBBDO; Mexican architect Michel Rojkind and South African-born, LA-based architect Clive Wilkinson. So here are our three insightful highlights from Design Indaba day two…

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01. DJ Stout on the importance of place

DJ Stout explained why sense of place is so important to graphic designers

Kicking off the day with a truly memorable homage to his proud Texan roots, Pentagram’s DJ Stout - sporting a rather impressive Stetson - played a haunting video of the raging wild fire that devastated thousands of acres of prime ranch land near where he was born, soundtracked by a live piano performance by fellow Austinite Graham Reynolds.

As the only partner in the Austin office, Stout went on to explain how each of his 18 international colleagues is strongly influenced by their surroundings. “Sense of place is so important to us as graphic designers, and what we do,” he insisted. “If you don't pay attention to that, you get too caught up in trying to be global."

His work is strongly influenced by his Texan surroundings and upbringing

A quote from J. Frank Dobie summed his point up nicely: “Great literature transcends its native land, but none that I know of ignores its soil.” Showcasing various very Texan-feeling pieces from his career so far - which includes a stint as art director of Texas Monthly magazine - his talk was also interspersed by video interviews with the so-called cowboy poets that were photographed for his 2012 Pentagram Paper by Jay B Sauceda.

02. Marcello Serpa on keeping things simple

Marcello Serpa swears by two principles: keep it simple, and keep it unpredictable

Charismatic creative director Marcello Serpa heads up AlmapBBDO in São Paulo, the agency best-known for developing Havaianas into the world’s first truly global Brazilian brand. Trained in graphic design, Serpa lamented that advertising often fades away all-too quickly: “New is different from good,” he pointed out. “New becomes old, but good is good forever.”

He swears by two core principles. First, keep things simple: “I learnt in Germany the art of reduction,” he explained, going on to quote Dave Trott’s belief that “complicated seems clever only to stupid people.” The second rule is to be unpredictable, and the two must be treated in tandem: “If you’re simple and predictable, you're bad,” he added.

Serpa's agency developed Havaianas into the world’s first truly global Brazilian brand

One perfect example that Serpa gives is an AlmapBBDO campaign for Volkswagen, based around the simple concept that every feature of the cars gets thoroughly checked and double-checked. A pen ticks all the items on a list, and then moves back down it to tick them all again over the top - ingeniously creating the ‘VW’ logo in the process. Simple, unexpected, and yet wonderfully cheap to make.

Another gem of advice relates to the role of the creative director, and the relationship with his or her team: “I prefer to slow down the crazy ones, rather than push the nice ones,” he explained. “Finally, be very hard on the work - never on the people.”

03. Clive Wilkinson on modern creative workplaces

Wilkinson addressed the topic of the creative workspace

Responsible for conceptual, modern office concepts for the likes of Google and Disney, South African-born, LA-based designer Clive Wilkinson spent much of his inspiring talk exploring the theory behind what a creative workspace should be in the modern world.

“There’s been a cultural shift from closed systems based on maturity and sophistication, to much more naive, open systems,” he explained. Having developed from a rural/agricultural economy, through urban/industrial and then suburban/service industries, Wilkinson argued that the 21st-century’s increasingly ideas-based marketplace requires a fully networked, mobile, flexible office environment.

For Wilkinson, it’s about creating a “village within a building” with familiar public connection points and landmarks that help communication flow naturally, throwing out the concept of dead-end corridors, closed-off desks and generally silo-based thinking.

Hogwarts, eat your heart out: Wilkinson's stunning atrium for the Macquarie Group links important areas of the building diagonally

His atrium for the Macquarie Group cuts a vast hole through the middle of the building, with staircases linking important areas diagonally. Mother London was given a vast oval table that seats 200 people, staying true to the agency’s origins around a kitchen table.

And Wilkinson’s most famous project, Google HQ in Silicon Valley, features ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ areas, ranging from bustling, loud hubs of activity to totally insulated, quiet regions that are well-served for software engineers to ply their trade.

Mexican architect Michel Rojkind

Margot Janse, executive chef at Le Quartier Francais

Come back tomorrow for more selected highlights…

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