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Cape Town 2014 World Design Capital

This prestigious status is designated biennially by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) to cities that are dedicated to using design for social, cultural and economic development.


Winning World Design Capital 2014 is a win not just for Cape Town – it’s for the region, the country, the continent. Stellenbosch Mayor Conrad Sidego, who has been a part of the delegation in Taipei for the IDA Congress, comments on design for empowerment and employment, leadership and entrepreneurship.

Redefining design

We need to understand the potential of World Design Capital, then it is easier to consider the benefits of it. In South Africa, the concept of design is very far removed from ordinary life. Most people would consider design as related to art and artists. Now design should be on the lips of all South Africans, not just Capetonians – in the hearts and minds of people. We are here by design and we’re trying to redesign things. We must all try to be involved. World Design Capital will take us one step up in terms of creativity and involvement.

We don’t have to live the way we are. We can imagine a different and better life – this will be the result of a rethink, a redesign. Everybody must rethink their own roles and responsibilities and the possibilities in society. The most important part of this is to redesign our thinking – our behaviour and attitudes.

That’s why this is so wide and fascinating. A teacher, a doctor, a plumber, a street vendor – all of these people can take something out of this.

Designing opportunity

We must successfully help Cape Town and Stellenbosch, as partners in the initial stage – and they should be joined by other municipalities, by the provincial authorities and by national government – to see how the rethink and realisation of design can improve lives. This popularising of design is the best way to show people how design influenced South Africa up to now and how design can impact on their future.

South Africa faces major challenges. Take poverty, which is helped by opportunity, in most cases a job opportunity. But these job opportunities are created by entrepreneurs. So how do we create jobs where they didn’t exist yesterday? That’s how you design: You’re part of a creative process. It’s a redesign of attitude. We need to design the education system to create entrepreneurs. To teach young people to look for possibilities – the word ‘design’ takes on a completely new meaning.

It’s not about going to university to study design. Everyone can be a designer if they grab this chance. We are all designers. Look at poor single moms: they design the life of the family to survive. If you can make that mother understand she is a designer of a different kind, we would have achieved in this process. So we must empower ambitious designers to improve their lives. Design needs to be done with the people, not just for the people.

Design for our future

We must tell people we’ll help them with what they do, and get others to help those efforts … to trigger a process that will last way beyond 2014. We should be able to look back and say that World Design Capital had spin-offs way beyond Cape Town and its material benefit. If we start this process with the end in mind we’ll be diligent to start with a changed mind set, and confident to live lives by our own design and not dictated to by circumstances – to keep putting in the effort to take charge of our lives.

Our schools must teach the importance of designing life and the future. In the process we assist individuals, especially at local level, to be part of the design of Cape Town’s DNA. This is a major shift for Cape Town. The leadership must communicate the greatness of this opportunity, people must be able to understand and be able to make the whole concept of design their own. This is another attempt to put power into the hands of the people. People must accept the concept of design as something that belongs to them and their tools to determine their future.

Design for democracy

The physical environment is important, but design must now become part of our leaders’ vocabulary. Those in the design industry must use this opportunity to plough back into the community and people that they design for – in that way you also unleash in them their design potential. People should be encouraged to be co-designers of their existence now and their future – not merely observers. It comes back to empowerment. Government can facilitate but it cannot create – it must give space to entrepreneurs and create an environment in which business designers, job designers can operate.

We must revisit the bylaws that cramp the style of these entrepreneurs. Our laws have to be redesigned so as not to inhibit designers. And if they aren’t, there will be robust debate about the relevance of those legal barriers. We cannot allow them to stand in the way of jobs. Like the internet completely changed our lives, so design-focused thinking can change society. This must impact the political and special decisions and effects of yesterday. The same goes for our business laws. Very often we manage to not lead. Our leadership will also be pushed in this design process, with this kind of freedom in the minds of people that will come if we understand it and internalise it properly. It can be a really powerful force if we take this opportunity.