Design in Cape Town is diverse and, all too often, ill-defined. While it includes all things aesthetic, from art to architecture, it also encompasses the wider mechanisms of a society solving its own problems.
“Design does not belong in galleries and in corporate car parks,” says Christo Maritz, Cape Town Design Network committee member and owner of Design Infestation, a graphic design studio based in the city bowl. “A teacher who can teach in the dark, engineers who can build bridges where bulldozers can’t go, and politicians who can understand tribal differences are all designers.”
Architects, craft, fashion and furniture designers have bodies to serve their needs, but with the exception of the annual Design Indaba, “the city has no cross cutting support structures or networks to engage designers” says Zayd Minty, the coordinator of Creative Cape Town, instrumental in helping set up the Design Network. The gap was recognised when Creative Cape Town began focussing on design as a cross-cutting strategy to help raise the profile of the creative economy as an important driver of the wider, local economy. “When Creative Cape Town started working on Cape Town’s World Design Capital Bid 2014, and its plans with stakeholders to establish an innovation hub in the East City focussed on design and informatics; we realised there were few structures to talk to. In conversation with various leaders in the industry who had been working on a design structure at a national level called One Voice which focussed on policy issues, we realised the need for a local structure that was less formal. So, together with a few people who are now on the interim committee we decided to do something about it and helped start up CTDN.”
An interim committee of volunteers has assembled itself to co-create a mandate that supports and expands design in Cape Town. “The network is the box and creatives are the crayons inside. Cape Town is the blank page,” says Christo. Thinking out the box includes a mixture of architects, graphic and industrial designers, educators and more :
Mel Hagan, ex dean of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Faculty of Informatics and Design; Roelf Mulder, Director of …XYZ Design; Michael Wolf, Formula D; Stephen Lew, BHC School of Design; Grant Williams, Cyan Development Corp; and Sebastian van Gruenan, Find Design website; to name just a few
Christo continues, “Design professions include a multitude of disciplines set on little islands. A design network should connect these creative services so they can join forces to address their needs as a whole.”
In his view, engendering unity is a key requirement of a Design Network. “The priority need is an emotional one. Creatives in South Africa have always been marginalized to the fringes. What the network needs to do is remind designers that there are others like them out there and that they need not operate in the fringes anymore. We need to inspire each other and collaborate more.”
A fellow committee member, Y Tsai, Design director of Tsai Design Studio, a furniture, architecture and design studio based in the city bowl, looks at the issue three dimensionally. “Creativity requires multiple stimuli. An architect, for example, draws inspiration from music, art and literature. A musician may draws inspiration from films, nature and graphic. The role of a design network in Cape Town currently creates such stimuli to some degree. At its infancy, things seem to be rolling with great excitement.”
He continues with a view to 2010 and beyond. “The network itself has the potential to be a resource instead of a mere social club. I hope to see it becomes a real body that seeks to unite all the design disciplines – not as an institute, but as a creative pool where events are launched, forums set up, exhibitions run and people can meet.”
Tsai’s suggestions include a coordinated, cross-discipline network calendar incorporating events across design academia, institutes and commercial studios. He touches , too, on the idea of “a network of Design Channels” where local or international top thinkers and designers who have lectured at universities and schools are recorded and played at a network meeting to “widen the net”, and, in exchange, the monthly presentations be recorded and accessed by schools to encourage design.
Individual members have already been shopping around for examples to draw inspiration, motivation and direction from. Tsai admires the work of The British Design Council, the Scottish Lighthouse Centre (now closed), and Ted talks, while Christo feels we have a lot to learn from the work of AIGA, and BNO.
Christo is positive about working with Design in a local context. “Overcoming challenges like resources and education is part of the design journey. No one was around to show us how to become a successful democracy after so many years of Apartheid and now people refer to South Africa of the “case study” of transformation. This should teach us that solving Africa’s unique problems will not come from the West. We have the best chance and the best opportunity to design our way out of the old Africa.”
words : Jess Henson
*Watch your inbox for the invitation to the next Cape Town Design Network event: 16 November 2010 at Free World Coating Building in Waterkant Street