Let’s learn from Design Indaba’s success and bring back the masterclass

Last week I was lucky to attend the legendary Design Indaba in Cape Town. I wasn’t the only Brit there – UK speakers included Michael Wolff, Hat-Trick Design and Bibliotheque on the consultancy side, along with Design Council chief executive David Kester and Pearson Lloyd co-founder Luke Pearson, both of whom had spoken there before, and Deborah Szebeko of Think Public, with Pearlfisher’s Karen Welman in the audience.

The consensus was, as ever, that this was a special thing, reaching parts of the creative psyche no other event touches and inspiring even the oldest hands in the business – graphics great Massimo Vignelli celebrated his 80th birthday there this year. So why is this so?

For a start the amazing South African hospitality kicks in with a vengeance, filtering through the Indaba team from its founder Ravi Naidoo outwards. A sunny climate helps a lot, though most days are spent locked into tantalising presentations in a chilly air-conditioned auditorium.

[Design Indaba is] a special thing, reaching parts of the creative psyce no other event touches

But more importantly, most delegates – and speakers – talk of the quality of the international line-up (hand-picked by Naidoo) and the fact they have a decent amount of time to give a show-and-tell presentation. There are Pecha Kucha elements, highlighting emerging talent, and a few interviews, but it is mainly about the personality, work and thinking of creative greats across all areas, including fashion, food and performance.

It is rare in these time-poor days for event organisers to put on sessions of more than ten minutes about work. D&AD’s President’s Lectures and Typographic Circle talks are among the exceptions, but panel discussions and issue-led debates are more common and most conference line-ups take a fairly narrow definition of design.

Perhaps, as we bemoan the decline in creativity and craft skills among emerging designers, we ought to learn from Design Indaba’s success and rethink design events. Bring back the masterclass, I say. Creatives of all ages secretly love them.

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