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Design Indaba 2016

Welcome to Design Indaba

One of the greatest things about living in Cape Town is the annual Design Indaba (pronounced in-dar-bah) Festival, it’s a little bit like TED but with more of a focus on the creative industries.

Launched in 1995, Design Indaba was created by Ravi Naidoo, an ex-ad man who believed that a lot of Africa’s and world’s issues could be solved by design and creativity. Every year since he has carefully curated and invited to Cape Town the most innovative thinkers from across the creative sectors.

Cape Town is the hub of creative industries in South Africa. Naturally, most of South Africa’s emerging tech world decided to call this place home too. I’m sure there are all kinds of economic or social reasons why. Personally, I think the picture below explains everything.


South Africa is a pretty exciting place to be, especially as far as creativity is concerned. Given that, it’s an obvious choice for a festival of design.

I’m originally from London, but I decided to ditch the rain and move here for the sunshine. Twelve years in, I still find it fascinating how South Africans tend to always look at things differently. I think this might be because of the problems they face, most of which are alien to people from Europe or the States. They have to think more creatively just to get on with life. They thrive when they act in a less conditioned manner. After all, what they have today, might be gone tomorrow. A lot of creativity comes out of that. If necessity is the mother of invention, necessity must be feeling particularly inventive here in the Mother City.

As a transplant here, I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by this incredible continent. Here are three things that I trot out to explain Africa to the uninitiated:

Africa is exciting. Many people forget it’s the world’s second largest continent in terms of size and population.

Africa is dynamic. A lot of the almost 1.2 billion people here are connecting to the world via the web (pretty much always via a phone) for the first time. Most countries here are experiencing pretty rapid growth. All of sudden, people can connect, prosper, and share their views, hopes and dreams.

Africa is an opportunity. Africans can now buy more things than ever. For some reason, folks in the West have chosen to ignore this, so instead China is the country making the most deals across Africa. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

Africa_continentDesign Indaba takes full advantage of those three magnificent aspects of the African experience. This year, the organizers launched a campaign that sought the best young emerging creative entrepreneurs in Africa. They have selected the top 40 young designers and decided to give them space to exhibit and sell their work. They also are giving them professional mentorship on marketing and starting a business.

How can a mere festival afford such generosity? By donating their entire advertising budget of R30 million (approx $2m) towards the program. That’s just about all you need to know to understand the creative vibe here in South Africa. (Incidentally, you can see all the 40 chosen up and coming designers here.)

Design Indaba is more than just a showcase of talent. Like the other great creative festivals of the world, Design Indaba invites a world-class set of speakers—a list that gets better every year. If you want a taste of what I’m talking about, have a look at this talk on how to think like a designer by Pentagram’s Michael Bierut.

Watch this space for interviews with and articles about this year’s great speakers and exhibitors. For the first time the ogilvydo team will be live in Cape Town to share all the inspiration and wisdom from Design Indaba. We’ll tell you about Snask, a Swedish creative agency that moonlight as a rock band. Margaret Calvert, the graphic designer behind all the road signs in the UK, as well as the typefaces Calvert and Transport. We’ll even hear from musician Imogen Heap, who will be talking about her gesture control music gloves (Mi.Mu) as well as a collaborative music hub that uses block chain technology called Mycelia.

If you ever get a chance to go or if you have some leave and can get a flight, I can’t recommend it highly enough. As one previous delegate put it “Design Indaba is like a Cirque du Soleil for your mind!” I’m looking forward to this year’s performance.

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