Design Indaba 2015: Celebrating the continual incubation of ideas

Design Indaba

“Whatever the hell this thing is, it’s amazing. I never even heard of it until this guy sent me this weird fake film […] And now I’m here. How did I get into this?”

It was the last day of Design Indaba and Dan Wieden, the man who coined the term “just do it”, suddenly made us sit up and realise this is a pretty special conference. Every year Interactive Africa invites some of the world’s most creative thinkers to share their creative process with South Africans (and a growing international group) over three days at the CTICC. And every year you walk away inspired, enlightened, ready to create the next best thing.

Having missed the conference for the last two years — in search of new ideas elsewhere in the world — I agreed full-heartedly with Wieden. This year an impeccable line up of speakers shared that child-like excitement around new ideas incubating somewhere in their minds or studios. They told us to be patient and to play. That you should do what you love and do it well.

Emily Oberman showed us how she made the new Saturday Night Live opening sequence, a show that she was unsure we knew about (The story behind it is fascinating – read more about it here). William Kentridge took us inside his studio to show the “unpinnable gap between what we see and the world outside” and made us realise why he is arguably one of the greatest living South African artists today.

Casey Neistat: YouTube extraordinaire

Another filmmaker hero of mine, Casey Neistat, came to remind us there really are no rules even if you want to be a grownup. Neistat became a YouTube and Snapchat celebrity by snowboarding through New York City and exposing iPhone black markets.

Walking barefoot on stage (because the shoes he bought from Woolworths cut into the back of his feet), Neistat did not however share all his most amazing projects that brought him fame and respect the world over. Instead he shared the videos he’s made of his South African wife: surprising her in Camps Bay on New Year’s Eve; getting married at The Grand; rushing to get to her after her water broke.

“Why share such intimacy?” asks Neistat. “I don’t know how to write a romantic comedy. What I know are these experiences from my life and the stories that I know how to tell.”

His videos are the result of what Neistat calls “the virtues of ignorance” — the value of not knowing how to do the right thing. That is something that should be nurtured and not corrected. Neistat dropped out of school in 10th grade and was never taught how to use a camera or make a film. But he fell in love with the process of sharing ideas through video.

“The nature of creativity is our brains trying to figure out something that there’s no instruction manual for. That’s a scary place to be. If there is something there that has been taught to you, that is immediately what you’ll default to.”

As a grownup, Neistat says he has the opportunity to lean on all the understanding that has been afforded to him through the years. At this point in his life it’s all about rejecting those ideas and teaching himself to think new.

Although he’s done feature films and work for agencies Neistat says it’s a “nice place to visit but a better place to rob” (to quote the Beastie Boys). So he left the constraints of Cannes and HBO to use YouTube to its full potential.

“I don’t know how to sell cars but I know how to sell an experience. Its only by nurturing that ignorance and lack of understanding that I’ve been able to do what I do.”



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