Archives for category: Cape Town








Richard Perez, who straddles the creative and commercial worlds, will play a key role in Cape Town’s bid for World Design Capital 2014 Article published in Cape Argus, 27 July 2011
by Lorelle Bell
The light bulb as universal iconography depicting a bright idea, probably traces back to Thomas Edison who introduced the first one in 1879. He was not the actual inventor. The technology already existed and Edison improved on the idea of incandescent lighting. But his “bright idea’,  and far more significant contribution, was really his prescience in imagining the light bulb’s potential impact. Thus Edison went on to develop a whole industry around the invention; pioneering electric power generation and its distribution for domestic, commercial and industrial consumption, in the process.
This inventor, scientist and businessman’s contribution to industrialisation and his capacity to operate along the full value chain, taking a product from research and development to the actual creation of new industries to support it, are illustrative of the kind of impact and influence designers can have when they also understand business and can anticipate market needs.
The innovation unleashed through a meshing of design with business is what institutions like Design London (launched in 2007) were established to promote.  Design London combines postgraduate courses in design from the Royal College of Art (RCA) and business from Imperial College, London.
In Richard Perez, Cape Town is fortunate to have  a champion  with a BSc degree in Engineering (UCT), and MA in Design (RCA) and an Executive MBA (UCT); a combination that enables him to  straddle the creative and commercial worlds, applying a design process for better innovation.Perez is one of the individuals playing a key role in hoping to convincing Icsid (International Council for Societies of Industrial Design) judges to confer World Design Capital 2014 status on Cape Town during their visit to the city this week. As part of the … XYZ team  Perez will be speaking about the role of innovation and design in Africa’s drive towards sustainability and human capital development. “Designers,” says Perez, “can help to plan effective interventions for the future.”  When one considers the extent to which public policies and planning, and commercial research and development, are done years in advance, it is important to be able to imagine what needs these designs might have to meet in the future, he explains. “Design can help us identify potential synergies and eco-systems, how they might fit together, and how they can be made to work together. It can help ensure that the development process is agile enough to plan for changes, in a dynamic environment,”  Perez points out.
At a time when designers around the globe are reflecting on how narrow their roles have become – often limited to the development of individual products without involvement in a deep understanding of their markets and an exploration of their potential  – it’s salutary to think about designers like Edison and others whose design innovations we cannot now imagine living without. And time to consider whether a design methodology should not be integrated rapidly into our public and private sector project modeling.
In South Africa, where socio-economic problems appear to be multiplying, it’s going to take major innovations to secure the investment and development required for economic growth, and the strategies to ensure that poor people benefit from it. “Innovation,” states Perez, “is a powerful means of discovering effective solutions for government and public institutions needing to address social challenges in increasingly complex environments. “
It is also an important differentiator for businesses looking to compete and succeed in the knowledge economy era.
In Perez’s view the design process is a tool for Innovation, and “Innovation,” he explains, bridges the gap between the exploration phase and the exploitative phase of products, services or systems.  Most businesses, he says, work in the exploitative phase; measuring innovation by how much money is made and keen to eliminate risk. Designers, on the other hand, operate in the exploration phase where there is a greater likelihood – through an investigation of the unknown – of discovering new solutions. This is where the design process, and proponents like Perez who are skilled in working along the innovation continuum from exploration to exploitation, can add real value.
But, he says, “You need time and a culture that supports experimentation; that allows failure and learning from failure, one that is comfortable with uncertainty,”  referring to the space to experiment which could result in a completely new product that could be developed.
Ploughing his business and financial acumen into his role as director  for local industrial design firm … XYZ Design, Perez offers the firm’s clients the benefit of his understanding of the interrelationships between finance, marketing, innovation and operations, and an entrepreneurial background and involvement in developing and pursuing a variety of successful business ideas. In recent years he has travelled extensively to Europe and China assisting many newly developed fast moving consumer goods businesses in the transition from design to mass production, working in multidisciplinary complex teams from different cultures and countries.
He has been consulting for over 15 years in the new product innovation, design and development industry. Focusing on divergent thinking and design thinking methodologies to promote innovation, he has extensive experience in design strategy and management, value engineering, new product development and innovation strategy and management.
Photo courtesy of Cape Argus and remains copyright Independent Newspapers. Further reproduction is forbidden without the paper’s prior consent.
By Lorelle Bell
CONDE NAST House&Garden SA, August 2011
It is a rare South African collaboration between business and art that allows the space for arts and enterprise that is Union House in Commercial Street, Cape Town. Behind the closed-off facade of the three-story canary yellow heritage listed building, the doors to Union House open to reveal an air of enviable creative industry on the part of resident artists and artisans.
For this is home to the Spier Arts Academy and Spier Architectural Arts incorporating Spier Mosaic Arts and The Ceramic Studio. The academy offers a three year course in architectural mosaic under the guidance of Irene Rizzin, a masters graduate of the Scoula Mosaicisti del Fruili in Spilimbergo Italy, to talented artists from under-resourced backgrounds. Prospective students undergo a rigorous assessment before being admitted and, if successful, are awarded a “living salary” while being given education and training in the arts with a focus on mosaic, as well as extensive business skills to equip them to be future arts entrepreneurs. The architectural arts programme secures major commercial commissions, then enables collaborations between established artists who design the work with senior students from the academy and artisans in the mosaic and ceramic studios, who execute it.
At the head of the Architectural Arts Programme is artist and corporate arts consultant Jeanetta Blignaut. Her ability to bridge the corporate and arts worlds and her passion for collaborations between established and emerging artists means she is well placed to manage the substantial local and international commissions garnered through Spier’s extensive arts and business networks.
One just completed commission is an 18 metre by 3 metre  public mosaic piece installed outside Kings Cross Station in London. The work Coming to the City was designed by Clive van den Berg and executed by senior students.
On a walk through Union House a piece designated for the music department on the campus of the University of the Free State was receiving the finishing touches. Designed by Pat Mautloa, the visual meaning of the work is invested with musical references in the different mosaic styles used to communicate various styles of music. “So the classical section is rendered in formalised, technical, “classic” mosaic techniques, while contemporary music is reflected in a looser, bolder style to communicate the “chaos” of the orchestra, for example,” explains Jeanetta.
In a demonstration of Jeanetta’s passion for development and collaboration, the resident Qubeka (meaning “continuing”)Bead Studio owned and run by four founding members who received training and a start in Jeanetta’s former home-based Qalo (“beginning”) studio, are working on an exciting new commission. This commission has seen studio members learn paper mache skills to create paper circles that will be “tiled” on columns in the headquarters of a popular South African food chain.
The cooperative, collaborative work is at the root of Jeanetta’s vision and is what drives the work on commissions. Her dreams for the academy are driven by the possibility of future collaborations. Ethopian artist Julie Mehretu is one who Jeanetta is pursuing for a joint mosaic art on the wall of a corporation in Johannesburg. “The beauty of this commission is that the building is still on plan. This means it can still be adjusted to accommodated the artist’s designs,” she says. Mehretu’s works are vivid abstracts; bold, textured and layered. “I can picture the diagonal shapes that feature in her work being integrated into the building to create a real architectural art pieces,” Jeanetta enthuses.
Synergy and collaboration feature as heavily in Union House as it does in conversation with Jeanetta. Funding for the arts enterprises comes partly from Spier’s Creative Block range of wines which takes its name from a Spier initiative now also based at Union House. The Creative Block incorporates small format artworks from recognised and emerging artists whose works are showcased and promoted. This initiative encourages a broader acquisition through access to affordable pieces , while giving artists a marketing platform.
In another exciting venture a Creative Block shop has opened to retail Creative Block art and wines  in Juta Street, Johannesburg.

Published by Weekend Argus, Sunday 7 August 2011

Domestic architecture – when it really responds to clients’ needs – must be the most challenging of jobs. For as architect Minette Bell (no relation) explains, “When it comes to homes, everyone’s an expert. We all live in homes, don’t we?”

If it were not for Minette’s own deeply felt empathy with clients (and in fact, with people generally) one might be suspicious of the touch of irony. Instead, given that architects are trained to be the most complete designers, she makes you see and admire the fine balancing act that an architect needs to negotiate between a designer’s sensibility and the need to fulfil another’s aesthetic vision.

In Cape Town – where so many new builds seem either to move between faux Georgian or Tuscan follies and the “step-and-repeat” of modern blocks, or the work of starchitects like the one so admired on the Atlantic seaboard who even designs his clients’ furniture because God forbid any individual client tastes should desecrate his vision –  it’s refreshing to listen to Minette.

For her, the compact with a client is pretty sacred and her recent projects – which include a farmhouse in Worcester, a beach house in Elands Bay and a fairly traditional southern suburbs home in Claremont – have all been very different. She is amused when she relates how builders have asked her, “So, what’s your style actually”, to be met with her response, ”It is ‘no style’ it’s unique, one of a kind. “

“Of course,” she admits, “it’s wonderful to have clients who are prepared to push the boundaries and allow you to explore with them the best response to the site and their needs, and to influence their choices.”

“Locally, it’s a challenge sometimes to persuade people of the importance of orientation and it’s also a challenge to explore an appropriate architecture for South African weather”.

But still it’s the clients’ desires that drive her design. And the enjoyment she derives from being challenged by these desires is evident.

Her latest design for a family in Constantia is a case in point. A dynamic couple with a very young family, they had fairly firm ideas on what they wanted to achieve. Their physical needs included an open-plan contemporary house with a separate study and playroom, but an integrated living area, and a dining and kitchen space which had to lead to a covered outdoor terrace and pool. The brief included a hard entry court to play sports in, and a level lawn where balls can be kicked and bats swung,  as well as a large covered area to store boats. The architect was asked to incorporate green principles as much as possible. Then, on top of these, the owners requested that the house design be based on Feng Shui  principles.  This was not an approach with which Bell was familiar and an expert consultant was brought into the project to check the design’s compliance. Feng Shui  is considered to be a system of aesthetics which when used correctly in the home is meant to enhance one’s life with positive energy. Orientation, light, the situation of the entry, the colours – particularly an abundant use of red – and water are all essential elements and the Feng Shui  consultant was involved in all aspects of the design process from conception to checking orientation of foundation trenches, footings and walls.

A fairly prescriptive brief and rigorous process, – but Minette really appreciates all it taught her.

“For the first time,” she says, in the context of a twenty-odd year career, “I really, really learnt the value of having to work within constraints.” This in spite of priding herself on always honouring the compact with clients and her preference for not developing a style that represents herself – other than in their hopefully being uniformly sensitive to her clients’ individuality.

“Apart from the usual site and budget constraints with which architects are so familiar, the Feng Shui  design presented further constraints or challenges.” The building orientation, a level change that was required and locating the entrance centrally to the perimeter measurements of the house were the main areas of influence. Specific light entry, water features and colour had also to be taken into consideration.” But, as Minette points out, “All these elements combined to create a simple, yet striking house.” The low-slung mono pitch roofs which combine to form the massing of the house,  frame an entrance court, which Minette points out is going to be a fantastic space for the kids as they grow up. The roofs are tilted up towards the views to let in more light, and they ‘stagger’ over the bedroom wing to let in east light through a clerestory to an internal passage. Exposed roof structures reveal the drama of volumes all over the living areas and the  flat concrete roofs interspersed between allow  for ‘unexpected’ light throughout the day through high windows in gable ends.

For Bell it was a real challenge to orient the house in accordance with Feng Shui which dictated a  north-west facing aspect. Fortunately the tools exist to measure the impact of sun and sun angles. “All the windows were therefore screened with heavy pergola – the depths of which could be determined –  to cut out high summer sun but let in low winter sun.”

In the end, she says, the orientation and location of the house on the site seem perfect, presenting spectacular mountain views and the light and sense of serenity of the house are fantastic.
As Minette says, “The design embraced the ‘constraints’ using them as tools to inform the final design to create a house that is extremely ‘comfortable’ in the ‘respectful’ manner that it occupies the site. The house does not ‘scream out’ its presence in Mount Prospect Road and there is a simple legibility to the spaces flowing into each other, from the ‘service’ wing, to the living wing and the private bedroom wing.” Perhaps the most abiding testimony of its success for the architect is how much she herself loves spending time in the space and how much it invites her to rest in its serenity.

DWA has a new web site. Click below to read an opinion piece I wrote for it on a planned design museum for Cape Town.

How to be second-hand Savvy in Heart of the Home, Weekend Argus 2 July 2011.

Lorelle Bell

Decorating on a shoe-string doesn’t have to look Salvation Army – even though Salvation Army-type thrift shops might well be your source for examples of twentieth Century design that can transform the look of your space from so-so second-hand to savvy modern styling.

Design fundi’s are currently trawling the designs of an era that spans the Bauhaus movement through Eames to the Italian designers of the 1970s – an era that offers some of the enduring style images of the past. Their re-discovery, reinvention or reinterpretations add an interesting take on responsible consumption at a time when the credit crunch and climate-change concerns should be high even on a decor agenda. Going for collectables will demonstrate your design cred with your personal triple bottom-line of cost, green and uber-cool.  

And you’ll be in good company. Twentieth century design has become the go-to era for domestic design inspiration; from architecture to furniture to homeware.You don’t have to look far to find their direct references in the work of popular young local designers. Heath Nash’s fabulous flowerball lights seem to take their design cues from George Nelson’s 1947 Bubble Lamp, a mid-century classic and Holger Strom’s 1972 IQ hanging light.

Furniture designer Haldane Martin’s chairs and sofas are quite close facsimiles of modernist pieces. His hide-covered Simplicity Chaise Longue, for example, bears a striking resemblance to Poul Kjærholm’s 1965 PK24™ chaise longue, while Cini Boeri’s 1971 Serpentone Sofa seems to have been the inspiration for Haldane’s Songololo couch and his Zulu Mama chair reminds one of 1960s Scandinavian wicker chairs.The Zenkaya prefab house, often punted as South Africa’s answer to modular living, derives much from Mies Van De Rohe’s 1951 Farnsworth House. Even Y.Tsai’s award-winning stacking bed has an antecedent in the Rolf Heide’s 1967 modular stacking bed.

So what makes this period such an inspirational one for contemporary designers? And why should we care? As Kirsty Machen of online vintage shop Minttheshop, a showcase of smaller items of twentieth century design, says, this era reflects “a time when everything was designed with thought, consideration and style”. Significantly too, as Kirsty points out, products from this era were created “before the concept of built-in obsolescence was incorporated into the modern economy, (and when) attention was paid both to (their) design and durability.”

Luckily for us, original pieces from this era are also still to found. Mid- to high-end antique shops are starting to stock some pristine mid-century finds. Other sources are vintage shops trading in retro, and the best are thrift shops and markets where the products of spring-cleaning and downsizing might land up.

The current local mecca for originals of iconic pieces of the twentieth century would be the recently opened Mid-Century Modern in Woodstock which has taken over from Eddie Sanderson’s Zoom now on Kloofnek road. Here you might see an original Egg Chair designed by Denmark’s Arne Jacobsen in 1958 or a set of Eero Saarinen’s famous Tulip tables and chairs of 1956.  Antique Shop in Wynberg Main Road and Kalk Bay Antiques also stock a good selection. At the latter you’ll find a very knowledgeable owner in Ingrid Aron who, in addition to displaying some gorgeous samples of mid century furniture also has probably the best selection of kitchen and tableware from this period. It’s here you’ll would find a complete selection of British ceramic designer Susie Cooper’s collectable pottery. And it was here that I spotted an example of Finn Antti Nurmesniemi’s enamel coffee pots in the flesh for the first time.

Shops like Vamp in Woodstock and Saks Corner in Observatory also offer an offbeat range of retro and revamped pieces for the eclectic home. Antiques on Kloof remains a long-time favourite for collectables from this era. Owner Bruce Tait can also be found at Milnerton Market where you can find collectables from this era at bargain prices.

 (see Heart of the Home for photographs.)




Heart of the Home is the name of the Weekend Argus’s new monthly decor supplement. Below are some photos I took at a photoshoot for an article I’ve done for the supplement this coming Saturday.

While the photo’s of the Tulip Chairs and Table and the Egg Chair and Anglepoise Lamp are from Mid-Century Modern, the very kind owners, Gawain and Erndst, allowed us to use their shop to photograph more affordable mid century furniture and home ware from hoolie-hah.

A climate change conference in the city this week looked at how funding could be used to mitigate the impact of climate change in developing countries. One session focused on how public transport and emphasising non-motorised transport in city planning could address social issues while also reducing carbon emissions from cars.

Given that the focus was finding pro-poor interventions, and that presentations from other developing countries focused on solutions they were implementing, a presentation by our city representatives was pretty nauseating starting as it did with a long touristy presentation of Cape Town’s beauty and with the official saying: “We’re very proud of our city. It’s a safe, secure, walkable, human city,”  and added, “we’re also proud of our use of bicycles.” Tell that to the vast majority of Cape Town residents who don’t share Mr Stephen Granger’s parallel universe.  

No wonder the conference moderator expressed surprise at the idea that there are 3.8 million inhabitants of our city. In Cape Town, Mr Tumiwa, we keep citizens out of the city and like to pretend that it’s clean, green and pristine for everyone.

Here’s a blog post I did for the conference.


“Cities are the future” – a growing cry from urbanists and planners globally as projections suggest that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas; most in burgeoning, unserviced informal settlements. Connecting urban populations to economic and education opportunities and goods and services is a critical consideration for the future. So the panel on transport at the Climate Investment Fund conference with its Delivering Climate Smart Mobility  theme was an interesting prospect.

The panel focused on how to balance the expanding demand for transport and increase in freight volumes, with its high carbon emissions.

The transport sector is already the highest generator of carbon emissions. So the fact that the the sector has not traditionally been included in negotiations around climate change, as panel moderator Samuel Tumiwa‘s points out, indicates a rather dangerous omission.

Jamie Leather, Principal Transport Specialist, of the Asia Development Bank (ADB) says that poor transport systems impact badly on economic development, equitable access and quality of life.  Sound familiar?

His solutions come in the form of a mantra: Avoid, Shift, Improve.

By understanding the direct relationship between land use and the need to travel, and by improving access to goods and services, travel can be avoided, he says. Shifting to more non-motorised transport and public transport  will  have a radical effect on carbon emissions while also having substantial social and economic spinoffs, provided social issues like safety and security for pedestrians are also addressed. Advances in fuel and technology can help improve vehicles themselves with direct environmental impact.

Given that these concerns relate directly to cities in the developing world, they should resonate deeply in Cape Town, especially at a time when the municipality is taking a beating for not prioritising the eastern metro where the majority of Capetonians live, in the roll-out of its integrated rapid transport system. A pity then that Cape Town’s new mayor couldn’t be here to lend weight, or at least explain, Cape Town’s vision – if it has one – for ensuring that the IRT is a pro-poor intervention that will link the city’s residents relegated to the urban periphery, to economic opportunities and social services,

Instead a city environmental official began by showing a raft of slides of Cape Town’s natural beauty – no people here to distract from our urban reality then,  and invited delegates to enjoy the safe, secure, walkable city. “We’re very proud of our city,” he said. “It’s a walkable, human city,”  and added, “we’re also proud of our use of bicycles.” Tell that to the vast majority of Cape Town residents who don’t share Mr Granger’s parallel universe. It was left to the director of transport for the City of Cape Town who nodded vigorously at a question about the City’s Mayoral Committee putting densification and urban fringe development policy proposals on the backburner despite their impact on sustainability and implications for transport  – but alas offered no answers. Instead she claimed for Cape Town the coup of putting transport on the local, provincial and national agenda and acknowledged that in spite of our new IRT system, car ownership is growing.

This article was published in the Cape Argus on 24 June 2011


Lorelle Bell

Cape Town has been shortlisted for the World Design Capital 2014 award, one of three with Dublin and Bilbao out of 52 global cities chosen by Icsid (the International Council for Societies of Industrial Design). 

The implications of winning this award,  given to cities which use design in their social, economic and cultural development, are enormous.  Seoul, as World Design Capital 2010, underscored both the economic benefits from increased designer and general tourism flowing from the global exposure of its design capability, as well as an improvement in the quality of life for Seoul’s urban dwellers as a result of the enormous public investment in transforming into a greener, more culturally sensitive city.

Far beyond this kind of impact, World Design Capital status in 2014 could catalyse a major public assumption of design as a tool for tackling social and economic challenges in Cape Town, as well as throughout South Africa and continental Africa. Understanding design and its capacity for developing solutions is key to this.
Already there are significant design initiatives on the continent – many emanating from Cape Town – that illustrate our capacity for using design for transformation and in the realisation of our – and in fact Africa’s – enormous potential.
But, as Mugendi M’Rithaa, Kenyan-born Professor of Industrial Design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and a member of Icsid’s board,  points out, “Africa doesn’t tell its own stories often enough, particularly its success stories”.
And that is true of Cape Town and South Africa. One of the implications of this tendency is the missed opportunity for learning from our successes and scaling them for wider application.
Cape Town, for example, is the home of …XYZ Design, Africa’s pre-eminent Industrial Design Consultancy, the only corporate member of Icsid on the continent and founder members, with M’Rithaa, of Design With Africa. 
Combining qualifications, skills and expertise in Design, Industrial Design, Engineering, Business and Information Technology, XYZ’s innovation has resulted in over 100 products in the company’s 10 years of existence, ranging from high-tech portable kiosks that allow wireless and cashless online transactions using bank cards for real-time payment in remote areas, to the Modular Traffic Lights System that collapses on impact making it arguably the safest of its kind in the world. Other innovations from the consultancy include a compact baby monitor that clips onto nappies, the 4SECS Condom Applicator in its funky packaging, and a wind-up radio.
Their designs are lauded internationally and form part of permanent collections at prestigious institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum. Over the past decade they’ve received more than 20 awards from the South African Bureau of Standards’ (SABS) Design Institute. 
But it is their design methodology that resonates best with design’s capacity for transformation. XYZ follows the widely-recognised iterative design process that moves from a need to the consideration of all constraints to designing a solution which is communicated and tested, and ultimately refined. To this process, however, they add a design ethos that ensures that through in-depth research, the context is deeply understood; and then appropriate, effective, scalable designs are developed in response.
As proponents of socially-responsive and socially-responsible design, which emphasizes design that addresses social needs while remaining cognisant of the social, economic, cultural and geopolitical contexts of the communities in which they’re applied, XYZ favours participatory design and co-design methods. Illustrative of this is the team’s participation in Icsid InterDesign workshops. The last one held in South Africa was on sustainable rural transport, in Rustenburg in 2005, and resulted from a request by the North-West Provincial government to SABS’ Design Institute for assistance with developing tender specifications for a donkey cart for specific local uses. SABS facilitated a two-week workshop, Sustainable Rural Transport – Technology for Developing Countries, which involved designers from South Africa and 16 other countries looking at ways in which appropriate technology and good design could be harnessed to address mobility challenges of developing communities.
Participating designers worked with local communities, government institutions and industry.
The National Department of Transport provided valuable research data and information on issues surrounding rural transport and enabled contact with provincial and municipal structures. Experts in social, gender and technical topics and issues were consulted as were institutions like the CSIR, intellectual property lawyers, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals (NSPCA), bicycle manufacturing companies and NGOs.Research revealed that for 60% of rural households in South Africa motorised public transport was either unavailable or inaccessible. Delivering effective rural transport could drive sustainable economic development and improve access to social services in rural areas.
Designers worked in three focus areas: Bicycles and TricyclesAnimal-drawn Carts and Alternative Modes of Transport. Roelf Mulder of XYZ led the Bicycles and Tricycles workshop. Participating rural communities originally involved in the design workshop tested prototypes for functionality and social acceptability. A number of the design concepts created were then developed into prototypes under SABS management with funding provided by the National Department of Transport.

XYZ was commissioned to develop the modular bicycle idea. The design criteria were that the bicycle had to be easily built with simple, accessible components, and without gears, and easily maintained and repaired in an isolated rural environment. XYZ’s modular bicycle can be assembled in a variety of ways, depending on the user’s needs. For example, the bike can be a conventional two-wheeler, it can transform into a tricycle, a tandem, or even two side-by-side bicycles with a materials-carrying platform bolted between them. Many of the materials suggested by the bicycle’s designers are recycled. Another feature of the bicycle is that it can be built for both male and female cyclists.
According to Mulder, “The idea lends itself to a franchise operation geared towards rural entrepreneurial development. A franchisee could open a shop stocked with the bicycle’s components and assemble them to order.“With basic welding skills, the franchisee could repair the bicycles as well,” he adds. The bicycles must continue to be useable if factory-made components are unavailable,” says Mulder. He further adds that “. . . with our structured Western thinking we like to package everything but why can’t we leave creativity to be creative?” In keeping with the non-prescriptive approach of participatory and co-design methods,  the modular bicycle is not a polished solution but a solution that respects the ingenuity of the user, allowing the user to construct a bicycle that addresses his/her specific needs at that time. “We see these bicycles being used to carry water containers, building materials, or patients to clinics and goods to market. People’s livelihoods will depend on them so they cannot remain idle because a component is unavailable”. The Department of Transport is keen for successful prototypes to be commercialised, and has expressed a willingness to facilitate the process where needed. 
XYZ’s commitment to Africa’s design capability is manifest in its initiation and founding of Design With Africa (DWA) in 2009 as a platform for sharing, debate and cooperation among designers on the continent as well as DWA’s partners and designers all over the world, who have an interest in Africa. Its focus is on promoting design as a strategic tool for development in Africa and for showcasing African design talent and success stories. DWA favours a non-prescriptive approach which allows African problems to be solved in a uniquely African manner. 
Designers from Europe and the US are increasingly looking to Africa, South America and Asia for opportunities to design solutions for developing economies, as changing economic and ecological environments around the globe increasingly require socially responsive, responsible design. Africa’s development, as M’Rithaaattests, is a wonderful sandbox in which to discover and develop design solutions. But Africa needs to guard against being a sandbox in which its own designers do not get to play.
Against the prevailing negative perception of Africa, Africa’s advances are often overlooked. As M’Rithaa writes on Design With Africa, “Ours is arguably the richest continent in terms of natural resources with some of the world’s fastest growing economies located here. For example, Ghana is expected to lead the pack in actual GDP growth of about 20% in 2011 – a growth ostensibly driven by newly discovered oil finds. Not all of Africa’s economic growth is linked to the extraction of raw materials. For example, Ethiopia, which until recently was devastated by perennial drought and pervasive famine, is projected to increase its GDP on the strength of its agricultural sector. 
Interestingly, approximately half of the top 12 fastest growing economies this year are from our continent. Similarly, Africa has the fastest growing ICT and mobile telephony markets anywhere in the world with exciting Internet-based developments happening in cities like Nairobi.”Yet the perception of Africa’s weakness and failures persist.”
Being the custodians and channels of our own stories and ensuring that our design assets and successes are shared in the public domain, are critical to us assuming a leadership position in socially responsive, responsible design.

Becoming World Design Capital in 2014 needs to mean more than an increase in exposure and visitor numbers for Cape Town in that year. Public understanding of design and public sector recognition of design’s transformative potential can mean that we benefit from design thinking for decades to come.


…XYZ Design and Design With Africa (DWA)‘s bicycle and cart has just been chosen for this year’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s DESIGN WITH THE OTHER 90%: CITIES  exhibition. Read the Cape Argus today.

XYZ’s modular bicyle design included in Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibition
Lorelle Bell
Cape Town-based Industrial Design firm …XYZ Design has added another notch to its extensive international design accolade belt.

The company’s design of a modular bicycle and cart has been chosen for inclusion in an exhibition of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York to be held at the United Nations, in partnership with the UN’s Academic Impact global initiative, from 15 October 2011 to 9 January 2012.

The design, a bicycle that is easily and cost-effectively modified for use in remote areas where people have little access to motorised and public transport, will be part of Cooper-Hewitt’s  “Design with the Other 90%: CITIES” exhibition series.
Design with the Other 90% reflects a growing pre-occupation among designers with design’s capacity for solving social problems. Traditionally design served 10 % of the population; hence its hitherto elitist status. But this has changed in the 21st century – in tandem with the huge leap in growth of cities around the globe – as designers increasingly submit design to the service of development and seek to work with underserved communities to find effective, affordable and appropriate solutions to urban challenges.
The Cooper-Hewitt’s “Design with the Other 90%: CITIES” exhibition series aims to show how design “can address the world’s most critical issues.” The 5,000 square foot exhibition space will display projects and products that focus on designs informed by poor communities, and will address issues such as alternative housing, low-cost clean water, accessible education initiatives, sanitation and solid-waste management, transportation solutions, innovative systems and infrastructure, and urban design and planning.
Putting people at the centre of design is imperative in a Design with the Other 90% approach This includes communities in determining the design solutions through participatory or co-design processes.
Industrial designer Roelf Mulder (pictured top), XYZ’s managing director, led the design team who developed the bicycle and cart as part of a workshop on Sustainable Rural Transport – Technology for Developing Countries. The modular bicycle was designed for easy assembly and maintenance without requiring specialist skills or equipment.  The delivery of rural transport infrastructure and services could be a significant catalyst for sustainable economic development and improved social access and poverty alleviation in South Africa’s outlying areas. The national Department of Transport provided funding for the development of prototypes.
XYZ designs have featured in numerous other global design exhibitions including  the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Triennial in 2010, the EXD09 exhibition in Lisbon, Portugal in 2009, the New Africa design exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2007, the Universal Forum of Culture exhibition in Barcelona, Spain and the Romad+design piu exhibition in Rome, Italy in 2006.
Locally XYZ’s 4SECS condom applicator won the Design Indaba’s “most beautiful object” award in 2007, and its designs have been part of the permanent collections of the MOMA  since 2005 and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London since 1998.