08 November 2006
Kurt Campbell
Reflections on the SAPPI World Design Convergence
Kurt Campbell

The ICOGRADA Continental Shift Convergence was certainly an event I was exceptionally fortunate to have the opportunity to attend, thanks to the ICOGRADA scholarship [for which I am truly thankful] that was awarded to me and a few other designers from the African continent, who I am sure I will continue to be in contact with.

Reflecting on that week, I cannot help but to see it in a very heroic frame of reference, considering the events that occurred a few moments before the conference got underway. With the twin towers in ruins, and many of the speakers thinking of their loved ones who could possibly have been affected in America, the tone of the conference was sombre, yet heroic in the attitude taken by all involved to continue bravely and deliver some remarkable papers.

Dr Lee Burger opened the conference, with the theme of humane design , that set the most appropriate tone for the days activities. In the opening address he talked about the unique ability humans have in being able to help each other for mutual benefit It was this same ability that was responsible for our successful competing and domination of other species as we worked together to hunt and defend. One could not help but wonder how the modern man would engage with his fellow man as he faced challenges of a different kind in a world that is fundamentally different, yet fundamentally the same as the one where man first came to be so many years ago. His address had many implications for designers, all of whom have the ability to use their advanced discipline to assist fellow man and ensure mutual benefit and future development.

Many speakers of great note followed, some talking about the visual aesthetic of the continent of Africa, others talking of the typographical cultural heritage they were engaging with, and still others about the new global community and its rules of engagement Yet the underlying theme of all these speakers could not be divorced from the weighty responsibility we all felt toward our fellow man to make sure that our efforts were not spent on merely using design as a visual tool of communication, but indeed focusing what we as designers were communicating.

Dr Buchannan, Jonathan Barnbrook and Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl were among those who felt most strongly that the message had to be human centered and be for the benefit of all, not only those corporates who could seek to limit the voice of the designer.

As humans, we cannot under estimate the agency we have to use design or whatever other advanced ability we have to improve our lives and that of others. Designers make choices at every level of their practice, from choosing the colour for a font, down to choosing the materials from which design will be constructed. Good design, therefore involves choosing the rejection of lesser facts in acceptance of greater ones. This was the main impression I came away with from the conference, the main thrust that I absorbed from all the speakers who postulated this theory directly or indirectly.

But what does this statement mean?

As designers, we reject the lesser facts that serve to hinder us. These lesser facts could include poorly resourced environments, lack of funding and unsympathetic government or economy. We must instead embrace the greater facts, such as the fact that we can produce work that is both meaningful and effective in meeting the needs of humanity, the fact that we do have the ability to collectively achieve whatever goals we set, the fact that although there will always be those who are only interested in personal or political gains, the majority of designers as witnessed at the conference, are interested in co operating, sharing knowledge and improving life for all. This was clearly evident in the many collaborations and friendships that developed so rapidly and so warmly at the conference.

Many chose to believe in the greater fact- that humans have the ability to work together and develop human potential through design, rather than focusing on the facts that they had just witnessed on the news of the destruction and evil humans are capable of.

Beyond aesthetics, and into the heart and the mind Design has been clearly marked by all at the conference as a significant discipline that has the ability to develop and heal, acknowledge and create, affirm and automate. But design alone cannot accomplish this. We all use technology to open and close text and image documents, yet at the conference we used our mouths and hands to open friendships and close prejudices. A process that must continue, a parallel technology.

The ICOGRADA convergence in Santon Johannesburg, will always be remembered by all those involved, as a space in time, when we were all forced to look seriously and urgently at not only the ability design has in relating to individuals, but also in unifying humanity as a whole and using the discipline to ensure that in our every practice the respect for human dignity and human life inform us.

Crossing international borders and cultural identities, all at the conference agreed that we are at a unique point in time when we are no longer able to innocently say we are only designers, for we all are designing for destiny. The highest form of consciousness is the awareness that our actions have consequences not only for ourselves, but for everyone else. Morality in design as articulated so eloquently by all the speakers at the conference is directly related to the way we engage with this realisation. This is at once a liberating and scary realisation, but it is very empowering. We are all designing for destiny and have to choose the greater facts over the lesser ones. The primacy of choice was displayed by the brave speakers who fought back tears to deliver papers as they thought about the twin tower attack . They chose to dwell on the greater facts for the greater good, let us all do the same, and discuss the results at the next ICOGRADA conference!

About the Author

Currently a Post Graduate Student at the University of Cape Town , Kurt Campbell has a BA in Art in Fine Art [Design], which he attained at University of Cape Town in 2000. He was South african representative in International Hungarian design conference and was elected Chairman of Michaelis Art School Student Council. He was awarded a second place in National Design Achievers Award, made Deans Merit list member in 2000 and is a member of the Golden Key National Honour Society.
Kurt Campbell is Design South Africa student member and winner of ICOGRADA international design conference scholarship. He describes hinself as a motivated, creative problem solver.