08 November 2006
Report on Sappi World Design Convergence by Nicole Cunningham and Stella Viljoen
Report on Sappi World Design Convergence
Nicole Cunningham and Stella Viljoen

Nicole Cunningham and Stella Viljoen were granted an Icograda Foundation sponsorship to attend the Icograda Continental Shift Congress and the Sappi World Design Convergence. They report on their perception of the event and on the role of such a scholarship.

Amidst the frenetic activities of everyday life, it is strange to think that a mere six weeks ago representatives from every sector of the design industry around the globe came together for the Sappi World Design Convergence. Yet simultaneously, the effects of this convergence are ever-present. Particularly in the educational sphere, where what we teach is but an extension of what we know, the influence of this experience is very apparent. It is impossible, for instance, to impart to students a sense of the power inherent in font design, without relating Jonathan Barnbrook's always enigmatic relationship to typeface. Or to convey the problematic of capturing cultural identity without referring to Garth Walker. Further, the game of table-tennis has gained new signification (although one would be hard-pressed to define them) thanks to the irreverent offerings of Katsumi Asaba.

From a scholarly perspective it is a moot task to measure precisely the impact that a gathering such as this might have. Prior to this event neither of us had attended an international design congress of this size and caliber. From our dealings with our fellow recipients we know this is largely true of them too. Hence, the scholarship afforded a small, very fortunate handful of young designers and budding design researchers a unique opportunity to participate in a global design event. The congress literally yielded an unequalled feast for the eyes and for the intellect.

The sentiment of the scholarship offering is well founded in the identification of the need to foster design research and develop a meaningful design discourse in Southern Africa. Particularly relevant to South Africa, is the need to grow post-graduate numbers in the design disciplines. Scholarships of this nature, although not exclusively for the aims of encouraging researchers, do necessarily present the broader objectives of design research.

Speakers such as Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, Richard Buchanan and Max Bruinsma, themselves embracing design research, are important role models for those aspiring to develop the theoretical underpinnings of the design profession. Reflection upon the social value of the design artefact as a worthy research and discourse topic was acknowledged by all three speakers. The social role of the designer in terms of facilitating knowledge exchange and broadening social experience is a particularly worthy and inevitable area of design research in South Africa.

Further to this social and cultural theme, the congress provided an occasion for South African designers to sample diverse international visual identities, and to better understand the design dilemmas of other countries. In some cases the social and cultural scenarios presented were very similar to our own, and in this way we discovered the value of "sameness" in our fellow designers worldwide. The overriding spirit of the congress, as experienced in this context, was therefore one of connectivity, building of relationships and collaboration across the continents.

On a more personal level, the Sappi World Design Convergence will always hold a mysterious pathos because of its untimely position on the historical calendar. As South Africans we are not strangers to national tragedy or mourning, but the events of September the 11th struck even the most hardened nations with raw horror. Yet, what the media deceptively presents as very near, in fact still remain quite far. The Sappi World Design Convergence lent us the opportunity to in some way feel closer to those directly in the line of fire. The image of the Japanese delegate sinking to his knees on stage, as he returned from New York, is one of many etched into our minds. It reminded us again of a sentiment that had been a kind of grand narrative or theme throughout the many speakers, that design is after all a human endeavour aimed at a very human audience.