Doing good through design – #DesignIndaba at a glance


Last week brought a flurry of creative inspiration to Cape Town as Design Indaba hit the Mother City once more. The stellar three-day conference line-up included an array of speakers hailing from all corners of the vast realm of creativity, covering topics that ranged from the annoying copy cats to the transposition of personal data into sheet music.

A common thread that seemed to weave itself through all the talks, however, was the rapt desire most of these designers and creatives have for changing the world for the better.

Here are a few that stood out:

Books To Prisoners – Bo-Won Keum


A graphic designer and storyteller from The Rhode Island School of Design, Keum’s work has a strong focus on testing familiar systems, deconstructing them and identifying the working parts.

In 2015 and 2016 she spent two years investigating various non-profit organisations that receive and respond to letters from prison inmates across the US through this prism in an attempt to see if there were ways to streamline the process. Most correctional facilities in the US do not allow books – or any form of media – to be sent directly to inmates from friends and family, leaving those with an appetite for stories (in whatever form) only a handful of (mostly unsatisfactory) choices: either ordering through a pre-approved vendor (who are often too expensive), the prison library (of which most are in a deplorable condition) or a charity that provides books to prisoners (of which many are sadly understocked and also struggling to make ends meet themselves).

In the summer of 2016, Keum dedicated her time and energy to creating a publication for one of these NGOs, Books to Prisoners in Seattle, containing letters from inmates who wrote thank you messages to the organisation. What makes this project so great is the fact that it allows these voices, otherwise muffled behind the walls of the US prison system, to be recognised and heard with dignity. It will also, no doubt, help raise awareness about this great cause and get people to donate books and/or money, which will further encourage a culture of reading, learning and self-improvement among inmates.

Find out more about the project on the Books to Prisoners website or in this blog post on the Marham Steam Fellows website.     

Neonatal chair – Rhys Jones


Rhys Jones is an industrial designer who recently graduated from Carleton University and is now based in New York City.

With a passion for creating excellent products that are sustainable and socially responsible, Jones undertook to design a chair specifically for Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) that would allow mothers to comfortably breastfeed, bottle-feed and bond with their newborns. The project was inspired by the fact that the chairs currently being used in NICU are bulky, difficult to move and made from materials that easily retain dirt/grime, which could put patients at risk of contracting infections.

After conducting interviews with nurses and mothers in the  Ottawa Hospital NICU, Jones designed a chair that ensures maximum comfort while a caregiver is nurturing a newborn – easily adjustable waist width, height and recline mechanism. It also has wheels at the back and the front for increased mobility, as well as an auto break mechanism, which only unlocks the wheels once the break is released. Importantly, he also made use of materials that don’t crease easily and colours that show high-touch areas to ensure easy cleaning and minimise the opportunity for infections.

Find out more about Rhys Jones’ chair on the Design Indaba website

Inclusive fashion – Grace Jun


Fashion designer and self-taught coder, Grace Jun is the executive director of Open Style Lab, a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating innovative garment solutions for people of all abilities. Jun’s work focuses on the creation and production of functional garments with the aim to anchor wearable tech to the human experience.

While the Open Style Lab’s work may be considered revolutionary by many, much of it comes down to just paying closer attention to the needs of those who slip under the radar of other fashion houses and clothing companies. The ergonomic and waterproof Rayn Jacket is one of their flagship garments and offers full coverage for wheelchair users, but can be worn by people of all abilities. The jacket was inspired by Ryan DeRoche, a wheelchair user who found that he could simply not find a garment that protected his lap from the rain. Working closely with Ryan, the team designed an attractive jacket that looks like a hoodie with one difference: the hoodie pouch doubles as a lap cover that is easily deployed in the rain through a simple 2-step folding mechanism.

Although the Rayn Jacket may have been Open Style Lab’s first garment, it’s definitely not where the scope of their work ends. The team continues to work alongside people of all different abilities to create garments that are stylish, comfortable, durable and technologically advanced.

Find out more about Grace and her team’s work on the Open Style Lab website.   

5000 times – Isabel Mager


When last did you actually think about the origins of your smart device (s)? Probably, if you’re quite honest, never… right?

Well, when you first delve into Isabel Mager’s 5000times project, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll never look at your iPhone quite the same again. Investigating and reenacting the extensive, repetitive and even absurd human labour that is essential to the creation of our smart devices, 5000times asks the question: “why am I so unfamiliar with the making of this device with which I am so intimately familiar?”

Mager started her research off by taking apart her personal laptop and searching for any signs of where a human hand may have participated in the production of the device. The first tell-tale signs were the 54 pieces of Kapton tape Isabel managed to gather from the innards of her Macbook Pro. These thin strips of insulation could only have been placed in their specific positions by hands and as Isabel points out “seem almost like secret notes left behind by the person who manufactured the item.”

Moving on to the study and analysis of factory tour footage shot by ABC-news at the controversial Foxconn factory in 2012, Mager found that a single device will be touched by more than 300 pairs of hands during its trip through the assembly line and that the tasks completed could be divided into nine categories – from attaching a frame for electronic components and screwing parts to the frame to testing image quality by snapping shots of co-workers and wrapping the items.

Some of these tasks will be repeated several times along the assembly line and thousands of times a day by the same employee. The next step was for Isabel to reenact the assembly line tasks performed in a single day, which gave insights into the treatment of bodies within contemporary manufacturing processes.

In Mager’s presentation abstract for the Decolonising Design Symposium, she writes: “5000times argues that the appreciation given to design ‘work’ is in contrast to the appreciation of those bodies who this ‘work’ is relying on.”

Ultimately, 5000times critiques large tech companies who profess that design is their method for success but abuse the human rights of their workers in offshore factories and encourages designers to be more mindful in their use of these products.

Find out more about the project and the designer herself on Isabel Mager’s website.  

Data-based designs that help change perceptions – Ekene Ijeoma


As a socially focused interdisciplinary artist and designer, Ekene Ijeoma works with data to translate overlooked facts into informed feelings through websites, apps, installations, and performances. 

At the centre of Ijeoma’s craft lies a simple idea that he put into words succinctly during his Design Indaba presentation: “Let’s make conversation pieces, not just masterpieces.”

For instance, his Wage Islands project offers a visceral insight into how exclusive New York’s inner-city housing really is and was sparked by the question: can those who build and serve the city afford to live in it? After collecting extensive data, Ijeoma created a 3D topographic map submerged in water of the Big Apple’s monthly housing costs to show where one could afford to live on hourly wages. While it may not fix anything about the situation in the city, it certainly does help highlight the often unspoken challenges of city-living.

The same can be said for the Look Up app he developed, which encourages people to look up from their smartphones at certain intersections in the city and connect with what’s happening around them, instead. By simply prompting people to lift their heads, it helped tear down self-imposed digital walls and engineered moments of serendipitous connection, placing new value on the city streets and the diverse people who inhabit them.

Find out more about these fascinating projects and more on Ekene Ijeoma’s website

Swimming In It – Carina Bonse


Cape Town is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and clear blue oceans. However, something sinister and rather stinky lurks beneath.

It’s poo.

When Carina Bonse and her fellow Red & Yellow School students were asked to create a campaign that spreads awareness about any NGO or a cause, she decided to focus on the massive problem of raw sewage being pumped into the ocean surrounding the Mother City. While researching, she and her team discovered that over 55 million litres of raw sewage is dumped just a kilometre away from  Table Bay and False Bay’s coast on a daily basis. The bacteria in this water can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, hepatitis, ear infections and other diseases.

So, they came up with Swimming In It, SII for short. The multi-platform campaign includes a smartphone app for surfers, swimmers, divers and water-lovers of all kinds to get information about waste daily waste conditions and make informed decisions based on this; a litmus paper arm band measuring how dirty the water is and a mobile information desk where people can educate themselves about this dirty little secret and its awful effects.

While it hasn’t been rolled out fully yet, the campaign was considered so successful that it won both a Pendoring and Loerie Award.

Find out more about SII on Bonse’s Behance profile.  

Recyclable bicycle helmet – Isis Shiffer


Inspired by her passion for travelling to foreign cities and cycling, industrial designer Isis Shiffer has come up with a folding, recyclable helmet aimed specifically at bike sharing.

During her research she found that 90% of bike share users do not wear helmets, purely because it’s considered an inconvenience, yet they find themselves feeling unsafe on the roads. To combat this she developed the EcoHelmet, which is basically waterproofed recycled paper folded into a radial honeycomb pattern to absorb blows from any direction as effectively as traditional polystyrene. Light-weight, easy-on-the eye and extremely affordable, these helmets seem to solve all the problems posed by their traditional counterparts and – best of all – can be chucked away after use with a clear conscience. 

Find out more about the EcoHelmet on Shiffer’s website

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