Design Indaba Interview South Africa

Will graphic designers evolve design? #DesignIndaba

Harley-Davidson, IBM, General Electric, Coca-Cola and Nike. How is this for a client list? Delegates to the annual Design Indaba, which kicks off tomorrow (it runs from 23-25 February 2011) at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), will find out when Dana Arnett, a founding principal and CEO of VSA Partners, takes to the stage. [view twitterfall]
Dana Arnett
As everybody's attention shifts to social media and its impact on business, including the design business, and society, Arnett argues that the term is already becoming dated and asks "Will graphic designers evolve design?"

Bizcommunity: You've said design is playing an important role in bringing "clarity and authenticity" to a "media rich world." A lot of brands are betting on design and I'm wondering how long design, in a world with lots of fantastic design, will manage to remain a key differentiator?
Dana Arnett: I think it was Oscar Wilde who once said, "The imagination imitates. It is the spirit that creates." If you subscribe to his thinking, as I do, original design will be around for a long time, and hopefully appreciated forever. Differentiation most often is judged by what the public believes to be meaningful, unique and fresh at any given time. Certainly, the pervasiveness of media and visual matter will keep getting more robust, but I believe great design will always have an ability to break through and create a unique sense of worth and importance.

Biz: Do you believe people still view corporations and brands, even those who put a premium on design, as authentic, in this brand cynical day and age?
Arnett: We're living in the age of transparency and the consumer also has the ability to decide who they wish to do business with. And because we have more access to information about products and the companies who make them, we're setting a higher bar for everything we buy (including high priced goods). Corporations have always been a vital organ of society, and with cynicism running high, we're now simply asking for more accountability, truth and better business behaviour. These dynamics lead me to believe that people will always pay a premium, especially if the company and their products stand for truth and authenticity.

Biz: How do you think social media is impacting on graphic design? In the newspaper world info graphics seem to be on the up as newspapers try to condense information (as social media often does).
Arnett: Your question, while relevant, reminds me a similar question I was asked years ago... "Will the Macintosh computer kill graphic design?" In my experience, medias and mediums have, and will, always evolve. Just as the Mac has become an indispensable part of design, so too will many forms of social media. Afterall, the use of the "social" proceeding "media" is already becoming dated. There will be plenty of bigger and better opportunities for graphic design as the digital age progresses...the question is, "Will graphic designers evolve design?".

Biz: I'm interested in your views on the relevance of American pop culture on the global design stage - do think it's diminishing in importance again now that the world/Obama honeymoon is over?
Arnett: Design is becoming more global by the minute, regardless of who is president of the United States. And while many of us are relieved that Bush is gone, the United States isn't the centre of influence it once was. The US will always be a centre for design and creativity but we're now competing on a larger stage. You'll always still see pop cultural trends emerge from our part of the world, but other countries can now dominate the stage as well.

Biz: How big is South Africa's design reputation in the States? How can we improve it?
Arnett: I would have to say that very few American people are aware of South Africa's design reputation. Sadly, Americans tend to isolate themselves when it comes to an appreciation for who's setting industry trends and creating design awareness. Design Indaba is truly your launching pad. Creating awareness through professional and public events of this scale and quality will undoubtedly enhance your profile as a global force for design. I also know that your government is working closely with the US to build awareness for Design Indaba. And that's something you have the American government beat at!

For more:

Get a daily news update via WhatsApp or sign up to our newsletters.

About Herman Manson: @marklives

The inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011, Herman Manson (@marklives) is a business journalist and media commentator who edits industry news site His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines locally and abroad, including He also co-founded Brand magazine.