Design capital

So the announcement has finally been made: Cape Town is World Design Capital for 2014, ahead of Dublin and Bilbao. This is great news for creativity in South Africa. Cape Town has long focused on positioning itself as a creative hub — film, advertising, design — and this is paying off. It’s the kind of development that ties in with what I was writing about in this opinion piece in Monday’s Business Day.

Earlier this year I blogged here about why Joburg should value its hipsters. I talked about the work of Richard Florida, who argues that there is a direct correlation between economic performance and a city’s ability to attract the so-called “creative class”. Subsequently Florida released an updated version of his Global Creativity Index, which ranks countries according to the three Ts of creativity: Technology, Talent and Tolerance. Sweden is at the top, followed by the US and Finland. South Africa was listed at 45, just ahead of Brazil and India. China ranked 58th. Florida argues that there is strong correlation between creativity, prosperity and the happiness of citizens, and in most cases high levels of equality (exceptions being the US and the UK).

The role of creativity as a driver of innovation and economic activity is something that has long interested me — I work in a creative industry after all — but it was my experience at the Loeries in September and my conversations with outgoing Loeries chief executive Andrew Human that focused my thinking about the business value of creativity.

Since then I’ve researched the issue further and met people who exemplify a creative, innovative approach to the challenges that face us on all side. Take Brian Steinhobel, who visited Y&R last week to talk to us about his work. His company Steinhobel Design is also based in Austria, with a portfolio that stretches from pool cleaners and sex toys, to Sebastian Vettel’s helmet, to ballistic missiles for Smith & Wesson. Some of the products he has developed have achieved incredible results — a desk that cost R5 million to develop recently recorded a billion rand in sales. Steinhobel’s argument is that good design sells — and presumably the more that South Africa produces, the better for the economy.

Justin Arenstein, one of my fellow speakers here at the Forum Medien und Entwicklung, came up with a very different way of developing and distributing news content back in the 1990s. He now works with Google and the World Bank, focusing on innovation relevant to Africa and the Middle East. One point he emphasised during his talk was the importance of finding sustainable business models for journalism.

Arenstein’s point is a good one. Creativity for its own sake is wonderful, but it also has to put forward a sound economic case. It’s not just a matter of rands and cents — that’s old style thinking — it’s also about creating the kind of world we’d all rather live in. In many ways that’s the gist of Florida’s argument. Creativity makes the world a better place: more stimulating, more energising, more inspiring — a place where we all have a better chance of making the most of what potential we have. We’re a long way from making that a reality in many respects. But if we get creative about it, we can make a good start.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.


Sarah Britten

During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.

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