How long have you been working as a product designer in Cape Town?
At the end of 2011, 20 years!
Who do you work for and what are you currently working on?
I’m part of Formula D interactive, currently refining our multi-touch table and pattern recognition table designs for full scale production. I am also working on a few other systems to standardise and make them “plug and play”.
What is a multi-touch table and how does it work?
The UBIZO multi-touch platform is a sleek 42”, self-contained unit which can run various multi-touch / multi-user applications. It allows for multiple simultaneous touch points and gestural control.
The unit is equally at home in corporate, retail and exhibition / educational environments. It is supplied as a knock-down assembly, which makes it easy to re-locate. The unit is set up to simply plug in and use. Apart from the stainless steel legs supplied, various alternative stand and mounting options can be developed for it. The entire product is developed and built in Cape Town.
What do you think are the main challenges of product design in Cape Town?
Design is not seen as a key element of developing a successful product, early enough in the process. There seems to be an imbalance in the amount of budget allowed for design in relation to other aspects of the business. On a purely superficial level, the person selling the product will sell a well designed product better. Product designers are seen as 1 of 2 things, the “artist” who improves the looks of the product or the “engineer” who has to push somebody else’s idea through production.
So what is then the real role of the product designer?
All projects have to start with a clear goal followed by an executable plan and relevant budget. Designers should be involved at this early stage to make sure that the goal is in fact targeting the actual need. The early planning stages of a project are critical to ensuring a positive outcome, and can avoid a lot of back tracking later. Design is an open ended exercise at the best of times, but early involvement narrows the target area. The different design disciplines involved in a project should also work as a team, to align efforts. Branding, communication and product designers often work in isolation from each other leading to an incoherent result.
What do you think are the chances Cape Town can grow its product design sector?
The current publicity and buy in from officials is doing a great deal to promote the cause of design in various sectors.
In my opinion, the SMME sector is the place where we will see the highest growth in the product design services and as it grows and we learn from each other, both sectors will benefit. Small collaborative efforts with a shared knowledge base are the future. New areas like public service delivery will also provide exciting opportunities to make a positive difference, with the public (ourselves included) as the eventual client.
What can you say about manufacturing in Cape Town regarding quality and reliability?
It is good. We are privileged to have a large range a skills concentrated in one geographic area. As with all things, it is about building good, honest relationships, and not always taking things at face value.
Since you are working in the high-tech sector, are you satisfied that Cape Town manufacturers and suppliers are supportive of cutting edge technical developments?
Anything can be sourced from anywhere. I have found suppliers to be really interested in the work we do and keen to get involved so we can learn from each other.
How do you think Cape Town product design can position itself in the world?
We are a nation of inventors, we are capable and willing to do everything from sweeping the floor, to writing the business plan. In a world of specialists, we are the flexible “generalists” willing to tackle any challenge. Lines in the design industry are becoming blurred, but that has been the case in SA for years, so we may be 1 step ahead already.
What do you think the World design Capital 2014 can do for the product design industry?
The awareness of design as more than pretty things and bottom line has the potential to really change our industry and our city.
I hope for opportunities to open up in the real design problems of service delivery, and design playing a more integral role in business strategy, resulting in a solid design culture, which will attract exciting projects from all over the world.
Product design in Cape Town: an interview with Johan du Toit
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