WDC Design Policy Conference: The Ball is in Our Court

Mieneke van der MerweMieneke van der Merwe, Plascon Trends Contributor

If you told me some time ago that I would be attending a conference on policy making, I would have hoped you got the wrong person. But if you told me I would be attending a conference discussing design policy and the far-reaching effect it can have on the country and continent I call home, I would have bought you coffee.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com

WDC Design Policy Conference, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

It was an honour to attend the WDC Design Policy Conference which brought multiple leading international and local design influencers together on the 17th and 18th of October 2014 at the Cape Town Stadium. In line with the ‘Make a Plan’ conference theme, each speaker contributed unique insight on design as a vehicle for a more innovative society.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com

WDC Design Policy Conference, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

My excitement for South Africa’s design future has certainly been fueled and I left with generous food for thought.

WDC Design Policy Conference: Design Definition

It’s stirring to talk about a design policy with the capacity to bring forth large-scale sustainable change. Yet the need for a clearer definition of design was mentioned more than once as discussions of implementing a successful design policy got underway. In the words of Design NPC’s CEO Alayne Reesberg: “Ours is an ambitious task; to try and persuade people that design is more than pretty things, that design is more than objects”.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image: Design NPC’s CEO Alayne Reesberg, Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com

Design NPC’s CEO Alayne Reesberg, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

These definitions stood out for me during the event:

  • Design is a linkage between creativity and innovation which formulates ideas into practical and attractive propositions for customers.
  • Design stretches beyond objects to affect services, systems and strategy; we need to adjust our thinking of design from a noun to a verb.

Hester Du Plessis from MISTRA also spoke of the design ladder which starts with non-design, proceeds to design as styling, continues to design as a process and reaches its peak when design is implemented for innovation.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image: Design Ladder, Source: www.bouncingideas.wordpress.com

Design Ladder, Image Source: bouncingideas.wordpress.com

WDC Design Policy Conference: Why we need a plan

Drawing a parallel between soccer and a design policy, Gisele Murphy from the Brazil Design Centre highlighted the importance of formulating a plan for design. She contrasted Germany’s structured, thought-out game strategy to Brazil’s spontaneous game approach during the 2014 Soccer World Cup. The results, with condolences to her country, spoke for themselves when Germany triumphed with a 7-1 victory.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image: Gisele Murphy from the Brazil Design Centre, Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com

Gisele Murphy from the Brazil Design Centre, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

We can’t underestimate the fact that excellent, innovative design requires excellent planning. In order to move forward, we need a clear map of our country and/or our city’s design network, and consider relevant collaborations from there on.

WDC Design Policy Conference: Celebrating Indigenous Flavour

TIA – This is Africa. We speak our own languages, have our own history and need to face our own challenges. The importance of celebrating the uniqueness of our culture whilst remaining open to learning from other countries was often highlighted. Current ICSID president, Mugendi M’Rithaa, reminded us of our need to refresh and unlock the richness of indigenous design.

To truly advance design in Africa, various factors will need to be addressed. Education in the design field leaves much room for improvement; we will need to encourage more recognition and awards for the design industry, and the exploitation of African designers needs urgent attention. Mugendi also reiterated that when it comes to the future of design, the youth need to be onboard from the beginning.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com (Left image: ICSID president Mungendi M’Rithaa, Right image: design symbolism from indigenous design)

ICSID president Mugendi M’Rithaa, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

WDC Design Policy Conference Image Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com: design symbolism from indigenous design

Design symbolism from indigenous design, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

WDC Design Policy Conference: Focus on Responsible Design

The importance of overcoming obstacles in order for us to create a thriving design industry in Africa was put into perspective when design’s potential social impact was discussed. Hester Du Plessis painted a clearer picture of the local problems that design needs to address: Unemployment, corruption, poor educational standards, an insufficient healthcare system and a remaining distrust between races should be key concerns for designers to focus on.

Pradyumna Vyas showed slides of communities in India which were once forgotten and severely neglected, but through community craft upliftment projects, dignity was restored and the area transformed.

It was tempting to listen and want to put a ‘design plaster’ over all our challenges. But as Erika Elk, director of the CCDI, aptly put it: “We need to remember that design is not the silver bullet”. I’m brimming with excitement about what design can and is doing to create a healthier society, but I was pleased to be reminded that design – as significant a role it can play – only forms part of a bigger picture.

WDC Design Policy Conference Image Source: www.wdccapetown2014.com

WDC Design Policy Conference, Image Source: wdccapetown2014.com

WDC Design Policy Conference: Dreaming a dream with millions

We were asked an important question: What city (or country) do we want? We need a dream that can be dreamt by millions. This statement challenges me, and I don’t want to let go of it. In terms of design, what vision will include and inspire Capetonians and South Africans from every background?

WDC Design Policy Conference: People like People

Time and again, speakers echoed the vitality of people-centred design. Ludo Campbell, design champion from the Auckland Council, quoted Shakespeare: “What is a city, but it’s people”. When designing our cities, he urged us to consider whether we are keeping cars or people happy. “At the end of the day,” he said, “people want to be with people”. (I also caught myself outing a louder than expected ‘yes’ when he said that we need to create more spaces for fun in our cities 😉 )

WDC Design Policy Conference Image: Beach in Paris – why not? Source: www.dcrainmaker.com

Beach in Paris – why not? Image Source, dcrainmaker.com

WDC Design Policy Conference: Why a plan won’t solve any problems

Ludo made another important point: Our design policy need not be perfect before we get going. He encouraged us to set in motion with a 70 – 80 % correct plan. Having a plan is not going to change a thing. Making a plan and implementing it, despite its shortfalls, is when progress can start happening.

Erika echoed: “Make a plan. Make a plan and then implement it”. The ball is in our court.

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