Debbie does Design Indaba

WORDS Debbie Loots PHOTOS Jonx Pillemer for Design Indaba


VISI’s features writer Debbie Loots lost her Design Indaba Conference virginity this year and was just swept away by the incredibly inspiring speakers. Unable to keep her heart off her sleeve, she introduces us to her new creative beaus.

It was my first time and, as the saying goes, there’s a first for everything, good and bad, happy and sad. But, I wasn’t ready for this, my first ever Design Indaba conference, three days in a row. So, here it is, plain and simple: I am in love, a convert, a groupie, name it what you will. And I’ll be back in a flash next year, come hell or high water. See, it’s even driving me to cliché-speak, no two ways about it. So here goes, meet my handful of ab fabs.

Chris Gotz, chief creative officer of Ogilvy&Mather SA, did his thing first – day one – I was mesmerised and inspired by this hardcore, funny-on-his-feet ad-man who shared his life and business philosophy, beautifully and sensitively. He got me to convince myself that all kinds of meaning can be found in making cute and clever ads. Such is the power of the man. Can I come work for you?

But then, not two presentations later, I met the Amsterdam graphic design trio Experimental Jetset. It wasn’t long. My affections were divided. They could do with someone like me. I so could have contributed to their brilliant branding project for the Whitney Museum of American Art and – yes! – I’ll wear one of their John & Paul & Ringo & George T-shirts designed way back in 2001, every day. Really. Ok?

Oh woe, though. This traitor’s heart of mine. It started beating faster for yet another foreigner, British architect Thomas Heatherwick. I mean, whose wouldn’t? This man is responsible for doing a marvellous modernisation of London’s classic red busses, and he has plans with our own V&A Waterfront’s old Grain Silo (read more here), all in the name of contemporary art. Ai…

Day two dawned and I was composed and ready. No heart on my sleeve stuff this time round. No way. Hardcore, ready for what’s to come. Been there, done that on Design Indaba day one. Bring it on, I say. Day two. And then I walked in, into Texas, hand-in-hand with DJ Stout, a super talented graphic designer and art director at Pentagram, a man with Texas running through his veins. He introduced a couple of cowboy poets bearing heavyweight hearts on their stetsons. Who was I to hide mine? This was love. For real. From the earth.

But alas, design fidelity was not inscribed on the palm of my hand, here it came again, that lovin’ feeling. And I’d saved it all day two long, only to lose it again in the end, to our very own author, Lauren Beukes and her fabulously passionate, experimental presentation about the power of hope in the face of severe adversity (read more about how design cross-pollinates Lauren’s fiction here). Heart-wrenching stuff.

Day three came and really, so did good sense. I thought. By now my heart’s my own again. Pulled it back by the strings. And fastened it. Fast. Now why on planet earth did the Danish architect, Nille Juul-Sørensen have to stride onto the stage and say, “Design like you give a damn!” And why did his fellow Dane, fashion designer Hedrik Vibskov, unpack the meaning of mint, yes, just mint in general, by getting men dressed in brightly printed frocks to hold up a huge inflatable mint-coloured structure. Ag nee man! Have a heart.

But, know what? I think Dean Poole’s the one. In fact I know. My soul said so. Co-founder and creative director of Alt group, a multi-disciplinary design studio in New Zealand, his heavy accent just didn’t matter. His reinterpretation of the alphabet is the stuff of genius; his simple application of the letters comprising the word “art” for the Auckland Art Gallery is goosebumps stuff. Clearly out of my league, this one.

Knowing my limitations, I moved on, to another of our own, photographer genius and Randfontein homeboy, David Goldblatt who, brimming with love and quips, shared with us some of his great picture-taking moments. I was charmed, along with everyone else, and we gave him a standing ovation.

But, wait for it. It was the last speaker of the Design Indaba 2014 who had me at hello. Really. Stefan Sagmeister. Philosopher, thinker, happy-seeker disguised as graphic designer. I loved him. Telling how people choose partners with similar names, in the style of his own parents and grandparents, he threw it out there, to us, the audience: “Is there anyone going by the name of Stefanie?”

Well, Debbie’s just not going to cut it. I knew. It was a sign, it was back to life, back to reality. So I took my black bag with my black Design Indaba T-shirt inside and left the building. I went home on a MyCiti bus. Not quite a Heatherwick, but it’ll do. 

We also summarised the Design indaba Conference into 11 must-see design and architecture solutions – a creative espresso you can read here.

Read more articles by Debbie Loots here.

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