Design Indaba still the biggest

WORDS Nadine Botha

February is here and since 1995 that has meant one thing for South African creatives: Design Indaba. The three-day conference from 26 to 28 February, followed by the three-day expo from 28 February to 2 March are both at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

This year, with all the World Design Capital 2014 celebrations, there’s a few more competitors than usual jostling for our attention that weekend – both Guild Design Fair and Cape Town Art Fair. However, there’s no denying that Design Indaba was the first and what put our city on the world design map to begin with. With that in mind, we’re expecting the monolith to pull all the stops this year. So we say: do all three! It’s not World Design Capital in Cape Town every year, after all. 

As always, founder Ravi Naidoo and his Indaba elves are being very tight-lipped about the Design Indaba Conference line up and of course there’s no programme in sight yet. However, UK architect Thomas Heatherwick (who can forget his Olympic Cauldron or his Seed Cathedral?), Japanese product designer Naoto Fukasawa, US graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister and SA’s design-obsessed novelist Lauren Beukes pretty much seal the deal for us. Lesser known but not lacking in talent are Dutch product designers Scholten & Baijings and Mexican architect Michel Rojkind, not to mention US architect Clive Wilkinson who designed the Google headquarters. 

Yes, three architects make that quite a focus this year. There also seems to be a food emphasis with SA chefs Margo Janse and David Higgs taking to the stage. SA art is also featured prominently with David Goldblatt, Nandipha Mntambo and Zanele Muholi all on the bill. Of course, there’s always that one obscure speaker that no one has ever heard of that just steals the show… Who’s it gonna be this year? 

Maybe this year it won’t be a person, but a satellite event? For the past couple of years, the Design Indaba Film Festival and Music Circuit have been slowly building up momentum. Going quaintly retro, this year the film festival is offering an old-school drive-in-style experience at Maiden’s Cove for the first few nights, before relocating to an open-air cinema at the Cape Town Castle. No info on the music circuit yet, but keep your eyes on our February Social Diary for regular updates. 

How to survive Design Indaba Expo

But, back to the convention centre, where the Design Indaba Expo often gets flack for having too much craft. Believe it or not, however, it’s exactly these intricately handmade smalls that buyers from international chain stores travel across the world for. It’s huge overseas – just here in SA that we feel so over-exposed. Forgive the crafters; be proud that they’re bringing money into the country and creating jobs.

Instead, get the most out of the expo by following our survival guide:

  • Whatever you do, don’t go on Friday, especially not in the morning, as there are hordes of school kids, queues that snake out the building around the block and no parking because the conference delegates got there first.
  • Start with the Emerging Creatives section – don’t leave it to the end and rush through it. One of Design Indaba’s best-kept secrets is that, time and time again, these young local designers fresh-out-of-school steal the show.
  • Every year, the expo presents a centerpiece exhibition and this year its called Africa Is Now, an exciting expose of design from the rest of the continent. We spoke to coordinator Kelly Berman in the new WILD DESIGN issue of VISI.
  • Next hit the fashion boutique, which often has end-of-season and show-only prices on distinctive pieces. And, if you’re prepared to risk your must-have number still being there, by Sunday afternoon designers are even ready to start bargaining prices down.
  • In fact, Sunday afternoons are completely underrated – the crowds have decreased, prices become negotiable and at 5pm they announce the winner of the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa, which is another must-see exhibition on the floor. You can also vote for your favourite.
  • There are a few exhibitors that are reliable frontier-pushers, so do stop by the Western Cape Furniture Initiative with its genuinely original, contemporary wares from local designers, and last year’s Most Creative Stand winners Thingking (who we made a little video about here). We’re also excited about the Walter Battiss homeware range launching and it’s no secret how much we love Wintec’s flatpack rhino table (also featured in the new WILD DESIGN issue of VISI).
  • Finally, relax with a cocktail from the Fine Brandy by Design bar, made specially for the event by Peet van Straaten from Raw Studios.
  • If then, you still have energy, you can go trawling the smalls stands for that one-of-a-kind objet de arte that everyone else missed and becomes the talking point of your home and wardrobe – don’t you just love those shopping finds?

VISI will be tweeting all three days of the conference, and we also have a stand at the expo where we are giving away two Pierre Cronje chairs (find out how to win them here).