Design Indaba: Inspiration

‘Africa is not just a place, it’s a state of mind.’ So said Pentagram partner Michael Beirut last week as he kicked off a session at Cape Town’s Design Indaba, at which he was a mediator.

For many there – especially first-time attendees at the event – Africa was proving to be an inspiration. And it wasn’t just the line-up of creative stars from across the globe or the breadth of interests represented on the Indaba platform that prompted that view, it was as much the can-do culture of the local crew and the amazing warmth and energy emanating from them.

Several speakers did though share tips about inspiration and how to sustain it, one of the common thoughts being the need to keep an open mind.

Michael Wolff
Michael Wolff

According to UK design guru Michael Wolff, ‘Having an idea is a block to having more’ so it’s best to make your mind a blank when facing a creative challenge. As for experience – something Wolff has in spades – ‘I’m not sure experience is my friend,’ he says. It tends to make you think you know what to do. It can colour taint and dominate.’

Curiosity is the key for Wolff, who advocates that with any job you ‘start in the “I don’t know” position’.

For others taking the Indaba stand, inspiration lies in a particular place. ‘My passion is in transformation where physics and poetry meet,’ product designer Dror Benshetrit told the audience as he unveiled his Qua Dror structural system. The versatile system verges on architecture and engineering, with anything from bookshelves to motorway barriers as possible applications, has been created by Benshetrit’s New York consultancy Dror with input from structural engineer  Arup.

For others collaboration is the key. For London group Biblioteque this means with complementary creatives such as Universal Design Studio, with which it worked on the Barbican’s Le Corbusier show, or curator Daniel Charny and designer Martino Gamper, with whom it collaborated  on Super Contemporary at London’s Design Museum.

For the likes of Berlin-based African architect Francis Kéré and art historian-turned-fashion designer Carla Fernandez, co-design with local communities in their respective countries – Burkina Faso and Mexico is what gives them a buzz. Kéré showed a simple, but appropriate self-build school he had designed, while Fernandez created a range of denim school clothes for kids on the impoverished Oaxaca estate.

Some, such as Durban-based graphic designer Richard Hart, find inspiration in useless things. Citing Anish Kapoor’s red wax installation at London’s Royal Academy, Hart said ‘There is something I find beautiful in uselessness – a sentiment echoed oddly by Italian maestro Alberto Alessi when he spoke of the unsuccessful Art Multiples his father allowed him to commission for the family firm for a short time the 1970s. ‘They were a complete fiasco,’ he confessed, while glowing with pride over his creations.

But despite this individual diversity, an overriding theme links the inspiration of many speakers. ‘Love what you do,’ said Fernandez, neatly summing up a thought hanging in the auditorium throughout the event.

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