There are two types of people in the world, those who’d rather sit at the front of the class and those who find haven at the back. Well, let’s just say that when I was in school I was always the one sitting right at the front and if you saw me at this year’s Design Indaba conference you’d have seen that nothing had changed. Attending Design Indaba had always been on my bucket list and I wasn’t going to waste any single moment sitting anywhere other than where I’d have the best view of the speakers. I think the sure way to get you to understand how excited I was is to compare it with how excited a Luhya gets in the presence of food. For all of you who aren’t from Kenya, the Luhya (of which I am one of) is a Kenyan tribe that is known for their EXTREME love for food and the way we take our food seriously is the way I took attending the biggest 3 day design conference.
After a dramatic day getting to Capetown (that included sitting next to an “acrobatic” baby for a six hour flight, a bomb scare at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg, an Uber driver from hell and breaking my hotel keycard in the lock) I was excited to be where I had wanted to be for years, listening to the design greats surrounded by creatives from all over the world.
So there I was 5,200km from home, in a land I knew absolutely no one, but I felt completely at home. As I sat smack centre of the fourth row armed with a camera, notepad, pen and a million other things that as a women I just can’t seem to get rid of in my bag, I was ready to absorb as much knowledge and inspiration from all the speakers.
Speaking of speakers here’s a look at my favourite from the whole conference. Some of them were powerful speakers, others showed great works, other’s demonstrated passion like no other but what they all managed to do was make me believe in myself and my abilities not only as a designer but as a human. So with that said here are the 10 speakers that made Design Indaba one of the greatest experiences of my life. Oh, and let the record show that in the spirit of sharing my true and honest opinion about each of the speakers I shall be sharing the exact notes I took on each one, no editing done at all!
1. THE AFRICAN FILM MAKER: SUNU GONERA
Like a child on her first day of school I was hanging onto every word the MC had to say as he opened the conference and the minute he mentioned that the first speaker was going to be legendary Zimbabwean filmmaker, Sunu Gonera, I was sure that coming to Design Indaba was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here’s what I jotted down about his talk:
- He went to the USA and started making it as a filmmaker but after he founded his film company, SHEKINAH TRIBE, with his wife Rene it completely backfired and they had to move back to Africa with their kids to a small house. It was quite a humbling experience for him and it took a lot for him to build back the business but he managed to do so, this time with an African message that targeted an African audience.
- Interesting how he had stated that when he was a kid in Zimbabwe he had felt ashamed of being black because the kids used to make fun of his “clock-wire” hair and so he really wished he was white but after not making it in the “white man’s” land he discovered that his true self lies in embracing his African-ness, clock-wire hair and all.
- I love how unapologetically African he is. He is the epitome of AFRICAN PRIDE!
“Africa is all around you. Pick your little patch and tell your story your way.”
I could tell you his talk was amazing and you could go about your day thinking that maybe that is all he is, a good speaker, but let me show you two of the clips he directed that are a testament to how brilliant Sunu is not only as a director but as an African. I dare you to watch them and then tell me he isn’t one of the greatest visual storytellers of our time (oh, and when I say our I don’t just mean Africa, I mean the world).
2. THE PLAYFUL INTERVENTIONIST: TOMO KIHARA
There are three types of people in the world. Those who see something and do something, those who see something and do nothing and those who see something and merely comment on it. Tomo is unapologetically the first. Here are my notes on this brilliant design researcher:
- After interacting with homeless people he decided to help them out in a very simple yet genius way by creating STREET DEBATING.
“Street debater is a new job that creates an avenue to question the society.”
- Instead of the homeless merely begging they create a street debate (e.g. TRUMP VS CLINTON, IS GLOBAL WARMING REAL? ETC) in which people place money on the side of the debate they lie on. By engaging in this conversation one doesn’t see the homeless person as merely a beggar but as a human with opinions giving him/her more self confidence as compared to begging that kills their self worth especially when ignored for hours or given bad looks.
- He is definitely proof that good design should be so simple that one wonders why no one had ever thought about it before.
- Best part about the street debating concept is that you can go to their site (www.steetdebator.com) and buy one or download the template for free to make your own. I love that!!
Take a look at how it works:
3. THE BRAVE ARTIST: EDEL RODRIGUEZ
This Cuban-American graphic illustrator/artist is the coolest activist of our time. It’s interesting how for most of the speakers I couldn’t stop jotting down notes but when it came to Edel it was a challenge to look away from his captivating illustrations to take any notes. Here’s the only thing I managed to put down:
- How is he so brave? I dont get it! The way he chooses to depict his subject matter tends to be very controversial. How is he not scared to put out HIS truth in such a public way (sometimes as public as the cover of DER SPIEGEL and TIMES).
Take a look at some of his works. Let me brag a bit and tell you that I am the proud owner of one of his prints (the first one on the left) okay technically so is everyone who attended the conference because he gave out two of them free to everyone.
“People always ask me why I give out my prints for free. We’re in a war why would you charge people for bullets.”
Whether one agrees with his message/opinion is not the point, the point is that he has a lot of them and as controversial as they may be he is not afraid to share them the best way he can, through his illustrations, and that I greatly admire!
I kept scribbling on my notepad DOES HE EVER GET SCARED?…DOES HE EVER GET SCARED?….DOES HE EVER GET SCARED?…..and a day after his talk I met him on our way out and I had to ask him.
“(laughing) no one’s ever asked me that. No I don’t, well not about my message or my work. I have freedom of speech and I’m just exercising it.”
4. THE GENIUS DESIGNER: THOMAS HEATHERWICK
Genius doesn’t even begin to describe London based designer Thomas Heatherwick. I was in complete awe of everything that he said and most of al, all the spaces he’s designed. Here’s what I took down during his talk:
- He’s determined to make things that have a soul, things that look old and lived in but in a good way. Thomas is REDEFINING HERITAGE!
“It’s hard to get things that feel into your tummy and that’s what I want to design!”
- I’m pleasantly surprised that even for accomplished designers like him it also takes time to convince certain clients as is the case with a developer he’s been in talks with for 15 years. So patience is definitely key!
- He strongly believes in turning old buildings into new gems and his most impressive work to date has to be Zeitz Mocaa.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is a contemporary art museum located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. It is the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world and that’s not even the most impressive part, as the building itself was constructed from the conversion of the 57m tall historic Grain Silo, originally built in 1921.
“While excavating large open spaces from the 42 densely-packed concrete cylinders my team and I digitally scanned corn and used that design as the cutout shape”
5. THE DESIGN ACTIVIST: AMNA ELSHANDAWEELY
Amna Elshandaweely, a former contestant of Project runway middle east (which I must shamefully admit I didn’t know was a thing) is an Egyptian fashion desiger who uses her talents to not just create articles of clothing but spread a message of the importance of a Pan-African Identity. Here’s what stood out the most from her talk:
- When she sees an issue she does a collection about it. Fashion is her voice!
“Fashion is my weapon”
- Her work truly contradicts the ‘art for art’s sake’ ideology and what I love most about her turning her creation into an act of activism is that it allows those who wear them to be part of the movement. She empowers those who believe in her message giving them the “weapon” to speak out just by dressing up.
- Other than her using her art as her voice, I love her because she seems so unapologetically her and extremely proud to be African! She’s ready to stand up for what she believes, and most importantly, she’s ready to empower those who may feel like they dont have a voice.
“No more copying. No more being westernised. It’s time to reflect who we are”
6. THE BOLD PERFORMANCE ARTIST: LEBO MASHILE
Lebogang Mashile is a South African actor, writer and performance poet. There was no way she wouldn’t be on the list because every time she came on stage as one of the three hosts/MCs of the conference I felt right at home. She immediately reminded me of that favourite aunty we all have. The aunty who as much as is a parental figure is still cool enough to accept the parts of you that your parent’s would kill you for if they found out, cool enough to be real with you about all aspects of life, cool enough to buy you those sweets/chocolates/electronics/books that you know your parent would never get you and most importantly cool enough to be your best friend.
When I thought I could’t love her more she proved me wrong when she got on stage on the second day of the conference as the 18th speaker. She was so captivating, giving a wonderful talk about her journey as a black African woman and a poetry performance truly worthy of the standing ovation it got, that I could only pull myself out for just a slight moment to note this down:
- Hands down one of the best performers I’ve had the privilege to watch live. She’s fun and quirky, yet authoritative and captivating.
“Poetry is the core that runs through my work.”
7. THE OUT OF THIS WORLD ARCHITECTS: ENSAMBLE STUDIO
You know how they say opposites attract.Well in the case of the husband and wife team behind Ensamble Studio, Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa, that statement has never been so wrong. These two were definitely cut from the same cloth and make the most perfect couple, in my opinion. They have the same calm demeanour, think out of the box, have a similar design aesthetic, and as with most couples who’ve been together for a while they are starting to look alike.
Okay Jordan, focus! You’re agenda is to tell people about design not about love and compatibility.
So before I go off on a tangent again let me show you what I jotted down during their talk:
- Their architectural style is very experimental and playful. They’ve built their famous unconventional Madrid home, the Hemeroscopium House , in a lego style way balancing masses on top of one another as one would do legos and in turn creating a visually simple yet breathtaking structure. But as simple as their work may seem the thought process and execution behind this form of design is quiet intense and requires a lot of experimentation to get it right.
- In design school I remember that we were always taught that your final product, as complicated and strenuous as the design process may be, should always seem simple to the layman. That is what true design should be and these two have definitely mastered that.
“We always start with the models. They are part of our creative process. They are not just beautiful objects. No, no. They are quick, rough, robust, structural, cheap, not afraid of outdoors, and amazingly beautiful models. There is an element of elevated beauty there because they are the inherited part of our creative process. We do them ourselves, Débora and I. Of course, we get help, but this is what we do. This is where the spark is. Then, there is a lot of hard work – to describe, represent, measure, engineer, etc. But making models is the only thing that we cannot delegate.”
- They seem like the modern day Gaudi with their lack of a “formal” architectural process. It seems more organic and experimental for them rather than structured and following a formula of sorts (check out MY ANTONI GAUDI EXPERIENCE (PART 1) to see how Spain’s most famous architect Antonio Gaudi unconventionally created architectural models by hanging weights off strings) .
Perfect example of Ensamble Studio’s informal architectural process is when the couple created the TRUFFLE HOUSE by cladding grass with concrete and then they had a cow eat out the grass leaving a hollow structure that ended up becoming a house.
Yes you read that right!
An architectural process that involves concrete, grass and a cow!
You don’t believe me check it out yourself, and I dare you to tell me they aren’t one of the most amazing architects of our times:
8. THE HEROIC DESIGNER: INI ARCHIBONG
Product designer Ini Archibong, founder of DESIGN BY INI, is first and foremost a child of the world as he is the son of Nigerian immigrants in the United States, and a resident of US, Singapore and Switzerland. Having four continents under his belt is truly the perfect recipe for creating the perfect designer/artist, which Ini undoubtedly is. To be honest the real reason he’s part of the list is not only his amazing work but his sheer vulnerability when he was on that stage. My notes can give you a better insight:
- One of the most open and honest talks ever! He just opened up to all of us, a room full of strangers, that he had been battling with depression and was having suicidal thoughts and it was his decision to fall in love with the art of design his way, without bearing the burden of others opinions, that has given birth to his new lease on life and in turn his most recent collections
- He believes that inspiration for one art piece can come from another as was the case with his IN THE SECRET GARDEN COLLECTION that was inspired by a poem he wrote.
- Note to self: dont be one dimensional with where you seek your inspiration because other than his own poem he was also inspired by stories—fairy tales, mythology, and fantasy—primarily derived from literature such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Bible, and Greco-Roman mythology.
“The many hours of my youth spent escaping beyond the looking glass, a witness to heroic deeds and fantastical landscapes, have shaped who I am. A common theme with fantasy stories is the escape to the world beyond: a place where the nature that we are so accustomed to surrounding us operates with different rules. Referencing some of my favourite childhood fantasy books, the pieces in this collection are an attempt to bring an element of that vivid, larger-than-reality dream world to a living environment.”
After the conference I was still so obsessed with him and his work that I started researching on everything Ini. One of my discoveries was his CLEVER PODCAST interview that I listen to every time I’m in my car. In it he said something that has stuck with me for weeks now and has drastically changed the way I think as a designer. He stated that the moment he realized that the only standards he needs to meet as a designer and artsist were his own that was the moment he started creating his best work because he wasn’t weighed down by the expectations of others. I strongly believe that this applies for everyone, in every field, and every walk in life brcause the minute you stop trying to please others and do your best, your way, that’s when brilliant things happen.
9. THE INSPIRING DESIGNER: JOHANNES TORPE
Parents always say they don’t have a favourite child but we all know they secretly do and I can admit that as much as I loved all the speakers I’m mentioning here my favourite was hands down, the one the only, Mr. JOHANNES TORPE, Danish designer, musician, producer and founder of Johannes Torpe Studios. If there’s anyone who needs a course in how to make an entrance then Johannes is hands down the best one to give you that lesson because at a conference, where everyone walked onto the stage, he was slowly lowered down wearing a space suit imitating the famous scene from the 1968 film ‘The Space Odyssey’ when Hal refuses to open the pod bay door.
“What is your golden spacesuit? What made you become a creative and thus do what you do? When I feel like I’m not creating my best works I metaphorically put on my golden spacesuit to remind myself of all the endless possibilities out there right at my disposal.”
Here’s what I noted down about him:
- He’s mastered every part of the creative field imaginable. He works in interiors, product, lighting and graphic design. He also produces music and also plays the drums (which he is actually brilliant at as he’s performed for us). How can all that talent be in encompassed just one man?
- Most amazing part’s that he’s completely self taught, only going to school for three years his whole life. I’m currently questioning every educational facility and whether we actually need them if this is the result on not being bogged down with years of facts and theory and rules!!!! Maybe Kanye West had a point in college drop out.
- I love him soooooooo much (yes I wrote down exactly 8 o’s). He’s the epitome of cool, random and quirky. He’s definitely my favourite speaker of the day, scratch that, of the whole conference!
- He seeks a lot of his inspiration from space and in turn has created numerous space inspired interiors.
- He was the creative director of Bang & Olufsen, a high-end Danish consumer electronics company, and begun by designing their speakers incorporating elements of wood and eventually designed their store interiors and also exteriors. Yes, all that from someone who didn’t attain formal education and that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the amazing Johannes.
- He’s currently completed the concept for a one of a kind resort in Iceland, THE RED MOUNTAIN RESORT that’s awaiting approval.
“We wanted to create the illusion that one is entering another world when they arrive at the resort. It is a world that awakens and stimulates your senses in ways everyday life doesn’t have the capacity to do.”
10. THE ICONIC SET DESIGNER: ES DEVLIN
Set designer for the stars, Es Devlin, was the 31st and thus last speaker at Design Indaba. Here’s what I jotted down about her as I wiped away the tears, sad that the conference was coming to an end:
- She’s designed sets for the following tours; U2, Kanye west and Jay Z, Beyonce’s formation, Adelle, Miley Cyrus bangers (where she slid down her own tongue), Take That tour that had a huge robot (see below), and those are just to name a few.
- I love that she’s showing us the origins of her ideas, from her initial never seen before rough sketches, to the final product. She’s also revealing what changes were made because the client wasn’t happy or logistics of creation or transportation.
- I love how she makes the impossible come to fruition and has successfully turned what was once considered just a normal stage into a work of art!
- Lesson: Don’t limit yourself if a giant robot can be created for a concert, what can’t you do?
So there you have it my 10 favourite 2018 Design Indaba speakers. What do you think? Is there a speaker I’ve mentioned that you weren’t aware of before and now you are obsessed with? Did you attend the conference and if so what would your ten favourite speakers? Leave a COMMENT BELOW and let me know. Oh, and if this is your first time visiting this neck of my woods be sure to SUBSCRIBE BELOW so that you don’t miss out on any other posts.
Till next time, be sure to Be Inspired…Be you!