The nature of our design profession is going through exciting changes – and nowhere is this change more pronounced in the way design engages with realities in industrially developing (or majority world) contexts. The role of designers is also evolving as they lean increasingly towards more socially conscious design activities as is evident in diverse contexts as Africa, Asia and South America. Prominent tertiary-level schools of design in Europe and North America have integrated co-design methodologies at various levels of study and encourage their students to travel to these majority world contexts to develop products relevant to the latter.
Design pedagogy in the developing world evolved out of the Bauhaus model, and leading trends from industrially developed contexts particularly in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the USA had a significant influence on the direction and focus of designerly aspirations globally. Encouragingly, design schools in developing countries (particularly those in India) adopted socially responsible design approaches from the outset. Such approaches patently acknowledge the wisdom of collaborating with local communities and tend to reinforce the positive value of design thinking amongst benefiting communities.
For the most part, design education in Africa followed similar trends to those set in Europe and in the USA. In South Africa, the efficacy of community-centred design approaches was demonstrated through the successful hosting of two ICSID-endorsed InterDesign workshops initiated by the SABS Design Institute focusing on Water (in 1999) and Sustainable Rural Transport (in 2005). These two-week workshops typically adopt participatory design methodologies in bringing together local and international designers on the one hand, and community members on the other to co-design solutions for use in very specific local contexts.
Another key legacy of the SABS Design Institute was the formation of the Network of Africa Designers (NAD) which regularly brings together designers on the continent in a peer-to-peer manner for dialogue around pertinent issues relating to our profession. NAD‘s core membership is made up of design educators from a number of schools and design practitioners from different regions of the continent and has resulted in a number of joint-projects relating to design for sustainability, among others. The growing interest in similar collaborative initiatives from international partners also meant that that the NAD platform had to be more inclusive and accessible to a much wider constituency than initially anticipated.
Design With Africa (DWA) builds upon the participative ethos of ubuntu and the spirit of NAD in inviting a robust dialogue between designers on the continent, design partners and friends of Africa the world over. DWA offers an interactive platform for those wishing to co-design a prosperous and progressive Africa in an open, inclusive and non-prescriptive manner. DWA further recognises the need for Africa to showcase its own design talent and tell the world of its success stories.
The growing interest in Africa is certainly justified. Ours is arguably the richest continent in terms of natural resources with some of the worlds fastest growing economies located here. For example, Ghana is expected to lead the pack in actual GDP growth of about 20% in 2011 – a growth ostensibly driven by newly discovered oil finds. Not all of Africa’s economic growth is linked to the extraction of raw materials. For example, Ethiopia, which until recently was devastated by perennial drought and pervasive famine, is projected to increase its GDP on the strength of its agricultural sector. Interestingly, approximately half of the top 12 fastest growing economies this year are from our continent.
Similarly, Africa has the fastest growing ICT and mobile telephony markets anywhere in the world with exciting Internet-based developments happening in cities like Nairobi. The successful hosting by South Africa of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ coupled with world-class infrastructure proved to the global community the efficacy of progressive policy, enlightened planning and good governance. Notwithstanding the vast natural and infrastructural potential, Africa’s greatest asset is in its people – its humanity. Consequently, socio-economic development on the continent should act as a catalyst to unleash the creative potential of our predominantly youthful population to aspire to an even brighter future.
DWA celebrates the collaborative, interactive, inclusive and participative expressions of our common humanity – “I am, because we are” and “I participate, therefore I am”. DWA is an invitation for like-minded individuals, organisations, institutions, initiatives and fora to build upon this dynamic platform in a robust designerly dialogue. In joining this exciting dialogue, we can all contribute to the realisation of the African Renaissance.