Reflections on Afrika Design Day 2020

Dr.Vikki Eriksson

Interim Board Member 2020
Design Theory and History Lecturer,
Cape Peninsula University of Technology

iFDesignFoundation_Vikki_SA2020

In today’s world we do not often have time to pause. To pause, listen, think and discuss that which is most dear to us. For me, that would be seeing how design can play a part in shaping inclusive and responsive policies, systems and civic services. I believe that we have a responsibility to those around us to ensure that the frameworks that support their development and govern their access to needed services are accessible and appropriate. Design, as a process, is less and less concerned with the triviality of novel products and frivolous aesthetic pursuits. Instead, design offers an opportunity to find contextually appropriate solutions to complex problems – that acknowledge and celebrate the human element. The 2019 Afrika Design day filled me with both optimism and joy. Optimism – because I was privileged to hear the opinions and thoughts of a new generation of Afrikan designers – and joy because I could share in the reflection and wisdom of my own design generation.

As I listened to young panel members at the Johannesburg Afrika Design Day celebrations, I felt a growing sense of excitement. These were thinkers, designers, makers and academics, who not only saw the potential of design in Afrika, but they were actively pursuing it and forging a new Afrikan design identity through their actions. This Afrikan design identity is not grounded in pattern, colour or shape.

 

This identity speaks to a spirit of innovation across the continent, and an authentic understanding that all Afrikans must work together to ensure a prosperous future. The ingenuity that comes from working with limited resources and within a complex context, and the spirit of community which permeates Afrikan innovation are contributing factors to what I believe could be the principles of our Afrikan design identity:

Design which celebrates humanity, not ego.
Design which includes authentic communities, not just stakeholders.
Design which is inspired by tradition and indigenous knowledge, not only trends.
Design which thrives in complexity, not in conformity.
Design which praises relevance, not merely uniqueness.
Design which works in harmony with nature, not in opposition to nature.
Design which leverages the potential of technology, not the limitations thereof.
Design from Afrika, not for Afrika.

As I see it, the biggest challenge is to inspire Afrikan designers and makers to apply their creative thinking to the challenges being experienced on the continent. Professional designers have the ability to share their knowledge with local communities, thus empowering change-agents within these communities to explore their own ideas and solutions. The battle against hunger, poverty, inequality and disease is one such contextual challenge. But this battle can only be won if affected individuals and communities are part of the process. Creative confidence can be ignited through collaboration and engagement, and the fear of failure can be replaced with the courage to experiment creatively, to learn and to flourish. A safe, nurturing environment is where creative experiments are encouraged, and there trusted leaders can be catalysts to set the creative spark in all Afrikans ablaze. The speakers at DD2019 provided me with the assurance of being trusted design guardians – who will nurture Afrika into its vivid future.

 

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