Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor

‘The hard part is getting the idea’

Small white dots, each with a single letter from the words “Issey Miyake”, reconfigure themselves on a black background, transforming unmistakably into a model marching down the catwalk. They multiply, alter and seemingly simple changes in position turns them into other figures and forms. The drumbeat of the soundtrack stopped our hearts and the cleverness of the animation took our breaths away.

Dai Fujiwara, creative director for Issey Miyake, gave the audience at this year’s Design Indaba in Cape Town the gift of goosebumps. First screened at Fujiwara’s debut show as creative director of Issey Miyake in February 7 in Paris, the animation short is titled A-Poc Inside. (Incidentally, A-Poc, or “a piece of cloth”, was established in 1970 by Miyake and the two have been collaborating on it since 1997.)

Fujiwara’s passion carried him and his entire team to the Amazon jungle on a “colour hunt”, where designers painstakingly matched swatches to the greens found in nature. The final selection of the palette of 3 000 greens will be seen in Paris when Fujiwara launches his new collection. That is passion. That is obsession. That is what I like.

There were quite a few other heart-stopping moments on day two, with the speakers once again being drawn together by an unspoken thread of commonality. If yesterday was all about reality and humanity, today it was collaboration and co-operation. It was clear from each speaker that at the heart of success is some form of working together, whether with a partner or a team — something which struck English designer Edward Barber of BarberOsgerby in his introduction to the display of the sublime, created with his partner Jan Osgerby.

The special slot for South African animators was opened by Wixed Pixels director Craig Wessels, who paid meaningful tribute to “his team” as he walked us through some of the studio’s impressive and ambitious works, including the stunning work for this year’s Design Indaba. Masters and Savant Worldwide co-founder Roger Smythe pressed play on a beautiful and clever presentation, giving the platform over to his employees, who, in turn, credited their “peer review” process as the idea breaker or the “consciousness you don’t really know you have”.

Awesome (and a little ridiculous first thing in the morning) Jannes Hendrikz and Markus Smit are two of the threesome that make up the Blackheart Gang. (If you haven’t watched The Tale of How before, do it now!) Even in the short time these guys were on stage, it was clear that they need each other in a symbiotic and crucial way. And I was very disappointed that the gang’s illustrator, Ree Treweek, didn’t make it.

Her work is delicate, surreal, over the top and absolutely fantastic. She should have been there for a standing ovation. (By the way, Smythe co-founded the studio in 2002 with Reto Reolon, another woman missing from the stage today.) In fact, their absences, and the quirky and passionate presentation by Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola, reminded me why I am always disappointed by the poor representation of female designers at the Indaba. A swift count puts this year’s speakers at 26, with only eight of these being women (numbers exclude the Pecha Kucha line-up). That’s less than a third and this is made even more baffling by the fact that the auditorium is overwhelmingly female.

Urquiola, described as an architect who is more proud of designing a teaspoon than a building, spoke of love, children, messiness, practicality, pregnancy and the passion of the artisan. In describing the glorious Fjord armchair designed for Moroso in 2002, she explains how the use of armchairs has changed. “They are not for someone sitting with a pipe and his feet up. It is a chair for you, the cat and the baby. You need the back, half an arm … and, voila! there you are!” Practical, beautiful and organic. The feminine presence is clearly present and celebrated in her work.

No matter. Male. Female. We need each other. And, in a display of how the internet can enable the power of thousands of people for good, InnoCentive chief executive Dwayne Spradlin showed off his “open innovation” platform, which matches R&D problems from almost every discipline — medicine, construction, engineering, etc — to its community of 170 000 so-called solvers. (Frankly, I’m hoping there was a designer in the audience who will help Spradlin solve the aesthetic problems of his rather awful-looking PowerPoint presentation…)

Though there’s a cash incentive for solving problems, Spradlin insists research shows that the number one reason why people innovate is because “they want to work on the things that matter”. Despite the “poster child of crowdsourcing” being a for-profit company, I think it’s true enough to say that InnoCentive is changing the world by this global approach. And as Spradlin asked, “What if we all worked together, with common, connected, meaningful purpose? What if the world was powered by 7-billion people?”

What would it take to feed 7-billion people? That’s a question Ferran Adriá wouldn’t even attempt to answer. The world’s best chef brought the audience to its feet with his humility and humanness. His brow knotted as he spoke of the pain of creating food — kitchen cuisine — that is ahead of its time: once-off design pieces, of which only 10 to 40 can be produced each at a time. This is art, a painfully joyous process that ends with the destruction of what has been created.

Chef at El Bulli, where the eight-hour eating experience costs 300 euro, Adriá and his team have occupied themselves for the past 25 years with the “why of things”. “In the mornings, for breakfast, we have coffee and fried eggs. For lunch, we have fried eggs and then the coffee. This may be a simple reflection, but why do we do it that way?”

Describing himself as a cook above all else, Adriá said that making something is relatively simple: “You have an idea, you develop it and, if it works, we start doing it.” What is not simple is the idea. “How do you get an idea? This you cannot explain. It is part of the soul. And you can’t explain the soul.”

The day closed with Dutch product designer Marcel Wanders, who brought us back to the beginning, to the self: “You have to trust yourself and what you believe is right. And that is fucking dangerous.”