Travel Diary: The South Africa Edition – Day 7, final reflections

Now that my South Africa trip has just come to an end, I’m realizing that the biggest lesson I have learnt, one that I was not even remotely aware of, is the fact Cape Town is a heavy-weight design city. I enjoyed the arts and culture in Johannesburg and its buzzing young professionals whose lives move at 100 miles an hour, but expected that before I got off the plane. When I visited the townships and some of its famous eateries, I mmm-ed and aaah-ed as I sampled some good down home soul food at Sakhumzi restaurant on Vilakazi street. In Stellenbosch, I successfully struck a balance between singing and eating at the amazing Amazink Live, a musical dining experience which was a nice contrast to some of the finer dining experiences I’ve had this week. None of it was shocking though; somehow I have always known South African food and music would blow my mind away.

But what I didn’t expect to find is just how big design is here. South African creativity is blossoming every which way one looks, and it’s a creativity that has risen out of a need to apply innovative solutions to the challenges the country faces as it endeavours to leave its painful past behind. I’ve seen how the lack of space in townships has prompted designers such as Tsai and architects such as Luyanda Mphalwa to come up with products that ease some of the issues the country’s poorest combat daily. Tsai’s Nested Bunk Bed and Mphalwa’s 10×10 Low-cost Sandbag Homes  just two of the myriad of reasons Cape Town became the first African city to snag the much coveted World Design Capital 2014 title.

With creative design literally bursting at Cape Town’s seams, there had to be a zenith where new-thinkers and fertile minds could meet to synergise. This is where Design Indaba comes in. Conceived 17 years ago, it is an annual conference and expo platform where diverse global design talents rub shoulders with local creatives of the mad scientist variety (and I mean that in the most positive sense of the word). I gleaned one or ten lessons from this year’s Design Indaba, which ended yesterday. Here they are in no particular order.

From the British duo Hellicar and Lewis:

Tsai: “A great idea, like a beautiful woman, must be wooed. You must be persistent.”

Designer Tsai's Lecture: Here talking about his award-winning Nested Bunk Beds.

From the founders of FoxP2, A South African ad agency: “Don’t put pants on the wookie”. (Translation for those who like me are unfamiliar with Star Wars analogies: Don’t overthink your outside-the-box ideas, just go with it).

Creative facilitator John Beilenberg took it one step further: “Don’t think outside the box. Think wrong.” He went on to admonish creative thinkers to “Fail Harder”, a notion that Hellicar and Lewis echoed on Day 2 of Design Indaba when they also asked the audience to “Fail,” only “Faster.”

Porky Hefer is the man behind the now iconic Cratefan Installation (also known as the Coca-Cola Man) I saw on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront:

And the Giant Nest I stumbled upon at Babylonstoren:

Porky Hefer's Giant Nest, seen here at Babylonstoren, Stellenbosch South Africa.

His entire lecture can be summed up in this gem he shared with the audience: “I was on a brief where the client asked, how do we make coke eco? Well you stop doing coke.”

Another Design Indaba new-thinker, this time of the cuisine world, was founding chef of Noma, the World’s Best Restaurant, Rene Redzepi: I could not help but marvel at the multiple meanings of this concluding quote from his lecture. “We just throw seeds in the ground and hope something special comes up.”

Finally, Graphic Designer and Lecturer Paul Sahre told the audience “Nothing interesting happens if you know where you are going. Trust the unknown. Design whatever you want.” Speaking from his own experiences, he added that to do great things, you need a plan and not quite enough time and money.


  1. Thank you for sharing this post, you’ve discovered some magnificent things for this post. I have really been enjoying all your posts in South Africa 🙂 Keep up the excellent work!



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