Ravi Naidoo on Design Indaba’s 25th Anniversary, Promoting African Design and Creativity
Ravi Naidoo is the founder of Interactive Africa and of Design Indaba, an annual three-day design conference hosted in Cape Town, South Africa. He has created a few other events as well, including antenna, an interactive platform where 20 graduates from around the globe present ideas that will shape the future. Naidoo is also a co-founder of the Cape Innovation and Tech Initiative (CiTi) and of Rain, Africa’s first 5G network.
Design Indaba, a multifaceted platform committed to “a better world through creativity,” was established in 1995. Since then, it has become a respected institution on the global creative landscape and has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talents. In this interview, Naidoo speaks on Design Indaba’s journey, its 25th anniversary, and plans for its future.
Congratulations on the forthcoming 25th anniversary celebration of Design Indaba. What inspired you to establish it all those years ago, and what particular aspects of your background influenced it?
Thank you. Well, 1995 was such a peculiar time in South Africa. Our country had just made it out of apartheid and its inherent racial segregation, and we were reimagining ourselves as a new nation. We were creating a new flag, a new brand for the country, and a new government that prioritised all South Africans. So I wanted to create a platform that would help inspire people by bringing the best creatives from all over the world to South Africa, so we could be inspired by the best.
What are your expectations for this 25th edition, and what significance do you want it to hold for designers and enthusiasts alike?
A big part of the Design Indaba story going into the next 25 years will definitely be us becoming more of a company involved in creative projects. Over the past few years we have evolved from a company that puts on a conference once a year in Cape Town to one that is involved in creative projects, along with our former speakers, that span from public monuments in Cape Town to an artisanal valley in Niamey and all the way to a recent series of dialogues we organised as part of the N’gola Biennial in São Tomé.
How would you describe the growth of the African design industry in the past two decades, including the part Design Indaba has contributed, especially in terms of its impact on global perceptions of design in Africa?
I definitely think Africa is having a creative moment. A graphic design company in Johannesburg has rebranded Michelin while an architectural practice in Cape Town did a big development in Turkey.
This is on top of what is happening in other aspects of design, like Maxhosa and Orange Culture showing at the recent New York Fashion Week, and of course, former Design Indaba Emerging Creative Thebe Magugu winning the LVMH Prize. I think everywhere you look across the creative spectrum, African creatives are producing ground-breaking work.
Through our Design Indaba Emerging Creatives programme (launched in 2005 along with our partners at the South African Department of Sports, Arts and Culture) we have selected 40 young creatives from all over the country and offered them mentorship, a platform to exhibit their work, exposure to international media, and the chance to mingle with our speakers or delegates.
This platform has launched the careers of many local designers, and we continue to see the impact that it has had on the local creative scene.
My wish, going into our 25th anniversary, is for us to find partners that will enable us to spread the platform throughout Africa, so that creatives from all over the continent also get to benefit from the platform we have created for up-and-coming creatives.
In the past few years there has been a sharp increase in the number of design festivals. To what would you attribute this occurrence and the growing attention Design Indaba is receiving? And why do you think festivals are essential for the design industry, especially in Africa?
I think it is because we are slowly finding our confidence to also stake our claim to the design sector. Africans have been designing for as long as everyone else.
We may not have the design schools nor the funding bodies to help make these events common, but it is encouraging to see that from Lagos to Kampala, creatives are creating their own platforms to showcase African design and creativity.
I think, looking at Design Indaba as an example, we have a three-day conference, a festival, seminars, master classes, and more. A visit will give you a good grasp of where design is at the moment and expose designers to customers and future collaborators.
The more of these platforms that exist, the more opportunities for designers, and this is always a good thing when trying to build the creative economy.
What is the selection criteria for conference speakers? What elements do you particularly look out for?
Our motto has remained the same for 25 years: “a better world through creativity.” That is always our starting point, and we build our speaker list around this ideal.
Last year, Design Indaba collaborated with multinational design company IKEA for the launch of their highly anticipated collection. What future partnerships can we expect, and what contributions do you think they will make to the African design industry?
Yes. As I mentioned earlier, we are moving into the project space, and this is exciting. We had Marcus Engman, then IKEA head of design, come speak at Design Indaba. Then we got to talking about the possibility of IKEA doing a range with African designers, and the idea grew from that.
We were very proud to launch the Överallt collection at this year’s Design Indaba where the ten African designers, made up of former Design Indaba speakers and Design Indaba Emerging Creatives, got to speak on our stage about the collaboration.
I think we need more cross-continental collaboration, but also for us to collaborate with international partners, as we all have something to learn from each other.
We have some interesting collaborations brewing, but you would have to be at the Design Indaba in February next year to find out more.
Presently, there are several debates around environmental sustainability. How can African designers practise environmentally responsible architecture and design?
I think African designers have been producing sustainable products, mostly because of a need and not because of trying to hold up some environmental ideals.
It makes us proud that the world is finally catching up to what has been happening on the continent in the sense of working with found material, reusing old objects, creating new products, and sourcing locally.
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