The whole point of me going to South Africa was for the “Design with the Other 90%” conference. The conference was hosted by the University of Johannesburg School of Design and the Greenside Design Center. I had submitted a paper and was going to speak about my work in Uganda. When we first arrived there were singers and drummers. On the last day of conference it happened to be “Heritage Day” in South Africa, but the holiday is mostly about people hanging out with their family, so we just got face painting.
The conference was a mix of super casual (with some presenters pulling up tables in the middle of the room and taking turns – almost like poetry) and others being super serious (like one lady in a workshop telling us about her experience during the apartheid).
There was lots of food. It ranged from delicious and plentiful (the morning tea had fruit, pastries, desserts, meat, spring rolls… you name it!) to kind of disgusting (yes I tried the worm thing, it was the weirdest texture ever – crunchy with a liquid center – I would not recommend it!).
There was even a photo booth on campus! At the beginning I went by myself (lame) but in the end I made 3 friends who were my age to hang out with (you can see their presentations below)!
The very first morning I was scheduled to present. My supervisor had decided to come (only a few weeks before), so we split the time. He summarized our school, partners, and the general project. I focused on my research and the key findings. I was pretty nervous but was glad to get it out of the way on the first day so I didn’t have to think about it anymore!
Our time slot was only 20 minutes (with 5 for questions), so I got about 7 of the 15 minutes to talk. Thankfully we had done a similar presentation before at a conference in Ottawa in July, so it went well. I was afraid I would forget everything but it all came back to me, thankfully. People seemed to enjoy the presentation and some even took notes on things they learned, which was cool. The questions were panel style (so not necessarily directed at us specifically, though some did apply). Overall, I was really happy I attended and presented. Some people came up to us after to ask us more about our project, so that was a really neat aspect of the experience.
The presentations covered a wide variety of topics, and ranged from super interesting to super boring… but I did learn a great deal. My favourite presentations were about International Development, and how design can be a positive force to change the world. It was really inspiring.
Here are two of my friends presenting. Daniela talked about designing pants for the African body type, and Abhishek was releasing their new graphic novel about South African culture that was pretty interesting. They launched it in Cape Coast a few days later but unfortunately I couldn’t attend.
Lucero talked about design activism, which I think was a neat idea. The conference was mostly older people, a lot of educators, But there were a few of us students to keep it interesting, and we all banded together to make sure a fun time was had by all!
On the last night of the conference there was a big gala night. We hopped in a bus and they took us to this old converted building, it was pretty cool. It used to be a power station, but now it has a bar and hosts events. I wish Ottawa had more cool converted spaces like this!
The inside was also interesting. There was modern art of the walls, big cement pillars with little nooks inside, and a great band.
We had drinks, a fancy dinner, speeches, dancers, and then the party really started! There as a live band which was really great, but unfortunately they stopped after about 5 songs. Then the DJ was pretty cool until they started playing slow songs only. Everyone got up and danced at one point so it was nice to see the serious people let their hair down for once. Our table was a good crowd, and the daughter of one lady drew us all pictures on the napkins, super cute!
It was sad to say goodbye to my new friends, but the conference was a great experience. I’m really glad I went – It’s always nice to meet with like-minded people and be exposed to new ideas!
If you want to know more about this trip, check out my other blogs about South Africa (which will all be posted at some point this week):
- South Africa – Part 1: Sometimes Everyone Needs a Bit of Pampering
- South Africa – Part 3: Soweto and the Apartheid Museum
- South Africa – Part 4: Safari Adventure!