Tech meets design at Design Indaba 2020

Read time 3min 20sec
Manu Prakash
Manu Prakash

From innovative space suits and low-cost microscopes, to tech-enabled art and human-centred design, incredible digital innovations, and simpler low-tech solutions, were on show at the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town last week.

Celebrating its 25th year in 2020, the annual conference brings together a wide range of creative and design industry bigwigs to present various talks, master-classes, live music and exhibitions over three days at the Artscape Theatre Complex.

Some of the tech-enabled highlights from this year’s event included:

Robert Wong: A creative director at Google Creative Lab. While it may have been expected that his presentation would be about the latest and greatest technology, this was not the case. Instead, he highlighted that technology is nothing without people, and needs to be designed to touch someone’s life. He stressed that technology may play an important role in advancing innovation but it is the human imagination, and the human heart, that ultimately invents the future. “Designers are the best people on the planet to build the world we all want to live in,” he said.

Anna Talvi: With humans exploring the possibilities of living on other planets, Anna Talvi has created a range of micro-gravity wear to make these space missions more comfortable. In zero gravity environments, humans often suffer muscle atrophy and bone degradation because their bodies aren’t bearing any weight. Talvi’s smart space suits combine science and technology to help people handle prolonged stays in these new environments.

Anna Talvi
Anna Talvi

Manu Prakash: A champion of frugal science created to meet the needs of low-resource communities, this scientist, engineer and biologist showcased some of the extraordinary inventions he has created at his Stanford lab. One such invention is the Foldscope, a $1 origami microscope that is made from a single sheet of thick paper, weighs just nine grams and can magnify slide contents more than 2 000 times thanks to a small built-in lens. His work embraces “simple science” to make it possible to take typically high-tech scientific capabilities into the field, enabling what he dubs “diagnostics under the tree”. For Prakash, the problem is that there just aren’t enough scientists. “We need to create an inclusive environment where amateur scientists and professional scientists can collaborate to create new knowledge.”

Kinya Tagawa: This award-winning Japanese design engineer runs international design agency Takram. He personalises data to solve real-world problems. His work has already inspired governments to make more informed decisions and change policies.

Natsai Audrey Chieza: The dyeing of textiles in the fashion industry is one of the greatest global pollutants. This Zimbabwean-born bio-designer and researcher is tackling the issue though her multidisciplinary design agency, Faber Futures. Chieza discussed how she it working to better understand pigment-producing bacteria, called streptomyces coelicolor, which may hold the key to finding more sustainable ways of dyeing textiles.

Architecture Social Club: A design collective working at the intersection of architecture, engineering, digital and art. Satyajit Das, the brand’s founder and creative lead, explained that the Architecture Social Club aims to tell stories and develop experiences in different ways. One such project, called Cloud Ensemble, was created in partnership with Microsoft and SAP. The art instillation is a cloud-based digital orchestra that reacts to human proximity, meaning that people can interact with the exhibition in real-time to illustrate the automation we use every day without even realising it.

To find out more about the 2020 conference and watch some of the presentations that have taken place over the last 25 years, head to the Design Indaba Web site here.

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