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A Day in the Life of Design Indaba

by Rusty Marcus / 08.03.2012

The funny thing is that most of the designers attending actually don’t really do that much interesting or mind-blowing work. They mostly have to be content with doing retail work, get told what to design by their brand managers and creative directors as well as clients. Yeah sure, a few of them actually get to work on shit-hot above-the-line projects from time to time, some of which even make it onto the production line, but the bread and butter of most agencies is day-to-day retail. Though they won’t tell you that because it’s so uncool.

So can the Design Indaba actually inspire? Yes there are some guys and girls who have the best jobs in the world. They design awesome stuff, make a difference to their environment and inspire others around them. In fact, they inspire me to leave my job and seek work at Google or Pixar, they make me want to design forests, cook food from fallen leaves, design menstruation machines, design land mine detonators, re-plan Venezuelan cities and fling dead ducks across the stage.

I guess it’s more of a fun 3 days out (in my case one day as who can really afford to be out of the studio for 3 consecutive days?). It’s great to see what’s going out there, some wonderful ideas, some crazy shit. Speaking to the other designers who went on the Thursday or Friday, it sounds like they had the same mix of the good, the bad and the truly shit…

2 determined SA okes who have a unique talent for creating clever, funny but at the same time hard-hitting advertising in their Don’t Drink & Drive ads (you’ve prob seen them on the tellie). Uncompromising, and so are they. Nice!

John Bielenberg:
Cool American who believes in “thinking wrong” which creates a platform for going beyond “thinking out of the box” which is doing things in a way you never thought you could. I like this, but mostly (as he admitted) it just all ends up a lot of nothing or a bunch of crazy ideas. But as he said, he’d rather inspire his team to come up with something crazy, than nothing at all.

Dan Pearson:
Is a landscape designer who a few years ago recreated/regrew/reclaimed a forest in Northern Japan. He’s created something where Japanese families can go and see/feel/smell what a real forest is like. Christ! Has the world gone to shit already? Reminds me of that old 70s sci-fi movie Silent Running.

Rene Redzepi:
Danish chef who cooks with almost anything, leaves, grass etc. As long as it’s found in Denmark, he’ll cook with it. Restaurant voted number1 in the world. Brought a dead duck, which was hanging on a rack and had its throat cut, onto the stage. Proceeded to present his work while everyone stared at the duck. Eventually cut the rope around its neck, pretended to make it fly and finally flung it across the stage. Then proceeded with his presentation. Never referred to the duck again. Everyone wanted to know what the fuck’s with the duck dude?

Lunch was yummy but gave me indigestion and wind halfway through second act. Had to knyp hard not to let rip.

Eddie Opara:
Can’t really recall too much of him to be honest. Designed some interactive table you can play with in a gallery, put Oprah Winfrey on a book cover, aaaaaand, uh shit, I must have fallen asleep just there.

Pecha Kucha:
Gay American-Asian guy who receives letters from hard-core prisoners, talks to old ladies about sex and HIV/AIDS. American girl who designs Empowerhouses (wooden low cost housing). Nice stuff. Canadian/Asian guy whose major concern is for where people are going to poo when their homes have been struck by a natural disaster and also how to get rid of the smell in your gym shoes. SA girl who graduated in architecture, more interested in the relationship between objects and how to interact with them than building stuff. Some Icelandic dude – no idea what he was on about. Crazy Japanese pop star/designer/director/industrial designer who has invented a menstruation machine and a whole lotta other useful goodies. But damn cute: Check out her website on sputniko.com as well as on YouTube. Afghan dude who invented a unique way of tracing and detonating landmines.

Urban Think Tank:
South American guy who creates community spaces and innovative transport in over-crowned slums. Really great stuff. This guy needs to be commissioned by our government.

Chris Milk & Aaron Koblin:
Music video directors. Check these guys out. Have done videos for Radiohead & Arcade Fire. Brilliant interactive music video for new (lost) Johnny Cash song, created by hundreds of amateur animators. My favourite of the day.

The whole Indaba thing is rather hit and miss, in my opinion, lots of crap with loads of gold. I know I don’t take it as seriously as most do, as I work for friggin Woolworths but having worked for ad agencies, design houses over the years, I know they’re all mostly the same. These presenters are an inspiration as they’re one (or a few) in a million, but they inspire me to want to be like them. I’ve still gotta go back to work the next day and make my packaged pitas look great, increase the product description size and make the price smaller as the damn price has gone up, again.

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  1. simon says:

    “Had to knyp hard not to let rip.” – fucking laughed at that and: “Everyone wanted to know what the fuck’s with the duck dude?”

    Thanks man!!

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  2. Johnny says:

    Great story, felt the same, though I would never pay that money myself for a day off at work

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  3. ERRR says:

    Well done. That was utterly pointless.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s unfortunate that the majority of people who attend the conference do so because they all work for big agencies or corporates who pay for them. These people are not going to change the world. Well, maybe some of them will but I do doubt it.

    That said, there is just no way a young entrepreneur/ self-employed designer can actually afford to go because of a. taking time off and b. money

    Same applies to the exhibitors – everyone is showing the more commercial stuff so that they can at least try to recoup some of the cash they spent to be there as opposed to actually showing there wild/crazy/might be the answer stuff.

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  5. baby jane says:

    change the world with innovative award winning design ? my what an interesting idea

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  6. resigner says:

    What really got me at DI in the past is how weird quirky creative the audience tend to look/dress & how normal average joe the speakers tend to look/dress. The speakers also tend to be modest while the audience tends to be arrogant bitches??? Gert Dumbar made a great statement at DI 2008 about designers, unfortunately I can’t remember the exact quote, but it came down to designers having no reason none whatsoever to think they are so fucking brilliant.

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  7. Roger says:

    Cool/lazy/funny article… any local stuff/people worth checking out? Guess not.

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