There is nothing like brilliant design thinking packaged in high
gloss and delivered on a world stage to set a designer's mind
racing. So when I arrived back in Joburg in the first few days
after Design Indaba 2014, I was packed to the gunwales with
inspiration and desire to do great design.
If I were to reminisce about every speaker that sparked
something in my mind, you would still be reading, or have sensibly
given up, sixty thousand words later. What I would like to share,
though, are four key principles from the Indaba that I still find
myself contemplating every day.
These four truths were delivered by four designers as diverse as
they are accomplished. I strongly suggest that you look them up and
find their presentations because they will likely spark something
in your mind too.
The lessons that go with each truth come from my context as a
designer focused on brand, product, packaging and marketing - and I
hope that they help to make brand design a little more inspiring
and effective in South Africa.
This sounds controversial and mildly insulting to people that
are career designers, but it forces one to think about the
definition of design. In affluent society the word conjures ideas
of talent, beauty, aesthetic flair and quality, expense, refinement
and craftsmanship. Something that is designed is simply better than
something that isn't. Yet at its core design is about
problem-solving. Fukasawa qualified this statement with the
While a cigarette can be disposed of by discarding it anywhere,
the puddle offers a more complete (if not aesthetically pleasing)
solution. The water will extinguish the ember, soak it and prevent
it from blowing away while also helping it disintegrate. The
pedestrian smoker has solved a problem and designed a solution.
So in truth any client - no matter how naïvely they may speak of
design - is aware of the problem and is thinking about how to solve
it. Look into every brief with this in mind. It wasn't written by
someone who can't design. It was written by someone who needs help
to realize a solution.
Briefs often read like solutions rather than problem statements.
The parameters and suggestions are so numerous and explicit that it
can feel like a paint-by-number. Fill in the outlines and create a
This is not an effective way to get the best out of design - and
it is a symptom of a poorly articulated problem. In the same way
that irony is used to inversely describe an ugly person ("He's no
oil painting", "not exactly a CK model"), possible solutions are
often thrown in to try and describe the depth and breadth of a
This is where breaking the brief comes in. By testing each
parameter set out in the brief - pushing it until it breaks - you
can gauge if that parameter is critical to the success of the
project and eventually reveal the true problem to be solved.
For example, a brief might ask for blue to be the primary
colour, but the underlying issue is that the masculine target
market is ignoring the product. By coming up with better design
solutions to the problem at hand, it will become clear that the
colour in the brief was not something to take too seriously.
By breaking the brief, a new set of design criteria can be
formulated in which the design is evaluated based on how well it
answers the underlying problem of the client.
In Heatherwick's case, the brief he received for the 2012
Olympic cauldron had the 'critical' component of 'no moving parts'.
Watch the video below to see how that worked out.
PA Sport News:
To dwell too long on this truth is to do it a disservice. But I
will say this: the key to simplicity is immersion. Throw yourself
into your projects even when the client's business is unrelated to
any of your interests. Be the target consumer and understand the
business and its goals as if they were your own. By looking at
their challenges with the perspective of an outsider but the
understanding of an insider, the simple, elegant and unusual
solutions will reveal themselves.
Simple and unexpected? AlmapBBDO for Getty Images:
In the South African context, heritage can be a thorny subject.
Although we are drunk on freedom and democracy, our heritage is
generally a sober affair. Inextricably linked to something as
public as our skin colour, it is easy for it to divide us.
In a design context though, heritage is far more personal. It is
our own history, memories and experiences, family traditions,
preferences and in-jokes.
These are the things that should shine through in your approach
to design, giving you a unique touch as a designer.
In Stout's case, his Texas cow-boy heritage comes through ever
so slightly in his work. And that's what has become his signature
style. Not overtly stylized, but subtly Texan - big Texas with a
hint of cowboy pensive.
As brand designers and marketers, we operate in an exceedingly
well established and researched sector. We work at creating
differentiation, yet it is easy to follow category rules and brand
guide-lines and fall into step with global trends - generating
perfectly acceptable, but soulless, design.
In a country with diverse, unique and vibrant heritage and
talent, we should be bringing Jozi, Soweto and Mother City
paradigms to life. Reinventing, playing with and celebrating our
own aesthetic will lead to much more interesting and relevant
design than a copy-paste of global design trends. If one man's
creative influence is distinctly Texan, aren't we falling a little