In the beginning there was blinding light

Design Indaba is an international annual conference held in Cape Town, South Africa with over 2500 delegates connecting with over 40 thought leadership speakers. It celebrates multi-disciplines across the creative landscape including advertising, graphic design, architecture, industrial design, performing arts, new media, publishing and broadcasting. Check in regularly as we cover this 3-day flagship conference .

Blinding Light

Whew. The 1st day of Design Indaba always leaves you feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. It’s the Dazzling 18-Wheeler Inspiration Truck mind, the kind that leaves you a little dazed with thoughts like “OMG, what have I done with my life?” alternating with “OMG, how can I do that, any of that, with my life?”

So let me get into a little of what the that of the day was.

Opening speaker of the Design Indaba in Cape Town was, quite fittingly, Ogilvy & Mather South Africa’s Chief Creative Officer, Chris Gotz.

It’s always a pleasure listening to Chris, who today described with his easy wit how he had had his Grade 2 dream of becoming a cowboy “brutally scooped out to make space for the 9 x table”. But although I’ve no doubt Chris would’ve made a fabulous cowboy, it’s probably best that that horse galloped off into the sunset, because he’s become, as host Michael Beirut quite rightly put it, the ‘winningest’ ECD in the country, and to illustrate this fact, his talk featured some of Ogilvy & Mather South Africa’s most iconic work for VW (“Street Quest” and “Goodbye Citi”) and Carling Black Label (Be the Coach).

On the topic of winning.

I’d like to give a few awards.

MY WTF AWARD goes to one of the ‘Pecha Kucha’ students/graduates: a batch of supremely talented but in this particular instance, fairly cooked, young creative minds from across the world, talking about their various works of young genius. Agatha Haines led the audience through a theoretical but alarmingly graphic representation of what it might look like if we modified babies to become an ultra efficient future work-force. If we cut off a toe, for instance, that would encourage a hookworm infestation which produces some chemicals that could help the asthma-sufferer baby and keep them at work in future (I think – I was too horrified to listen properly).

BALLS-OF-STEEL AWARD goes to Dave Hakkens, who developed the idea for the “Phone Blok”, a phone with replaceable components to mix and match to suit your needs, instead of tossing it out onto the global e-Waste pile when it becomes outdated. This guy crowd-sourced support for the idea using Thunder Clap, gaining 900 000 supporters and capturing Motorola’s attention, who are eager to produce it. Motorola is owned by Google, and they offered him a job. To which he flicked the bird. Truth.

THE STANDING OVATION AWARD goes to Thomas Heatherwick, who revealed that, since his last visit to Design Indaba nine years ago, he’s been working on a breathtaking plan to transform the old Cape Town Grain Silos into the first Museum of African Contemporary Art. Truly freaking spectacular. They’re still crowd-sourcing funds for this project but boy, when this comes to pass, Cape Town-Design-Capital-of-the-World, you will see how your design gods smile upon you.

A toss up for PERSONAL FAVE SPEAKER OF THE DAY AWARD is between Heatherwick and Jake Barton, a media and interaction designer. It’s hard to explain what this guy does without launching into an essay, but basically he organizes people’s digital interaction with information with such incredible thought and sensitivity it could bring you to tears. Especially in the case of his design for the work-in-progress 911 Memorial and Museum. Check out some of his work.


“Get your nose out of your phone”, to Chris Gotz. And Ije Nwokorie, Brand Guru who has actually designed a cute little gadget to make two phones hug together and block the signal so you can look your friend in the eye while you chat and actually taste the chicken salad you’re lunching on instead of Instagramming it.

“Ignore the brief. As long as you’re doing what should be done”. Awarded to Thomas Heatherwick and his 1000 moving part London Olympic Flame extravaganza (on a no-moving-parts brief), and… Chris Gotz.

“Stop talking about what will work and what won’t and how you should make it, when you eventually make it. Just bloody make it. Make a prototype. Get your Client (and yourself) excited about it.” (Paraphrased) from Jake Barton.


Awards appropriately um, awarded. Let me go get some shut-eye so I can stare down the Day Two Inspiration Truck with more wide-eyed wonder and live to preach the creative gospel again after.

For the full version of Day 1 recap, click here.

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