Creative Voicesby Sean O'Toole / 09.10.2009
“Woop woop woop korr, korr, korr, korr…” So goes the call of the crow-sized Knysna Loerie, at least according to my burgundy coloured Roberts’ Birds of Southern African, an enduring classic in South African book design and illustration.
Having bagged another headline award for The Zimbabwean poster campaign at the recent Loerie Awards, one might justifiably have expected Damon Stapleton, executive creative director at TBWA Hunt Lascaris, to sound a bit like a loerie afterwards. Not so. Instead, the shaggy haired adman in square-rimmed black glasses delivered a droll Philip Seymour Hoffman impersonation at the award’s press conference.
“Our client paid us trillions and trillions of dollars,” he monosyllabically offered during a press get-together at which his agency’s local Grand Prix win dominated the talk. Stapleton, who has presided over TBWA Hunt Lascaris’ return to form after a couple years in the doldrums, was also remarkably sanguine about the implications of the agency’s recent win in Cannes: “Winning a Cannes Lion is never going to hurt you.”
The improvised quality of The Zimbabwean campaign, which used real Zimbabwean currency as substrate for an agit-prop poster campaign, prompted some discussion on the current status of local print design. “I think design in South Africa is becoming far more conceptual,” ventured Stapleton. Trading punches with Stapleton on the couch was Chris Gotz, creative director of Ogilvy Cape Town. After singling out print design entries by three studios, Richard Hart’s Disturbance Design (two silvers, three bronzes), Garth Walker’s newly launched Mister Walker (silver) and Cape Town’s The Black Heart Gang (gold craft award for book design), Gotz remarked: “A decade ago the biggest hammering we took was that South African design was derivative of things in the annuals.” Added Stapleton: “For a long time we were good at doing what other people were doing.”
*Watch video for the Black Heart Gang’s Tale of How
Chatting to one of the Loerie winners on a street corner a week after the awards, I mentioned the big boys at press conference and their assertions about the shift in tone and style of local print design. “Kak,” he remarked. “It’s still the same.” Perhaps, but change, even in tiny increments, is still change.
Take Cape Town designer Peet Pienaar. Over the past few years this Cape Town based print designer has garnered a cult following for his unorthodox print design treatments. His fans include the legendary New York book designer, Chipp Kidd, who in an interview a few years ago likened Pienaar to comic book illustrator Chris Ware: “Both of their work has qualities in common. Chiefly that on first inspection it’s formally beautiful. But then when you look at what the content actually is, it’s often quite devastating. Peet’s work concerning the sudden disappearances of South African youths comes immediately to mind.”
Pienaar’s studio The President clinched a gold award at the Loeries for MK Bruce Lee, a magazine commissioned by emo-infused music channel, MK (see video ad for the mag). Pienaar’s solution: a his and hers format magazine, Bruce for boys, Lee for girls. Similar to Afro, Pienaar’s earlier foray into conceptual magazine design, he didn’t bother with binding, instead presenting his assortment of folded posters, packets of cards and stickers and a mini-book in a “Lucky Packet” envelope.
A 2006 conversation with Pienaar offers insight into his experimental practice as a designer. “One is allowed to do more in design than in art because people are not so critical around design and you can push things in interesting directions,” he said. “Push how?” I asked. “You can change people’s ideas about themselves, their own identity. You can influence how other people start designing, especially in South Africa where there is not a big identity of local design – you can formulate it.”