At six am on 26 October it was announced live from Tapei that Cape Town had beaten Bilboa and Dublin in the bid for World Design Capital. We spoke to director of Tsai Design Studio Tsai Y;
Coordinator of Creative Cape Town, Zayd Minty; and director of African Centre for Cities),Edgar Pieter
se. Read on to hear what they had to say….



Seoul in South Korea was World Design Capital in 2010 and Helsinki, Finland was WDC in 2012.The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (icsid) announces a new World Design Capital every two years, as a city project that celebrates the cities that have used design as a tool to reinvent themselves and improve social, cultural and economic life. Due to rapid urbanization over the world over the past few centuries, more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas.  As a result, design is becoming an increasingly important tool to make cities more competitive, attractive, liveable and efficient, according to icsid.

We have spoken to three experts in their fields (Y Tsai, Director of Tsai Design Studio, Zayd Minty,
Coordinator of Creative Cape Town, Edgar Pieterse,
Director of African Centre for Cities)  who all served on the bid committee for Cape Town World design Capital 2014. Here’s what they had to say:

What made Cape Town stand out from its Shortlisted competitor cities, Bilbao and Dublin?


According to ICSID “Cape Town’s focus on social transformation was the determining factor as the winning bid. Social transformation precedes economic transformation and CT put design in the centre of the solution for social transformation.” Cape Town’s story is about designing for the other 90%. The world doesn’t need another beautiful chair or sofa, it needs ideas that can make a real impact and transform lives. Cape Town’s designers are busy tackling real challenges; they discover solutions and turn them into projects that address our immediate context. This is how Cape Town is contributing to the design world, giving us an extra edge over the other two competing cities.

Will winning the design capital title affect only Cape Town or South Africa as a whole?


It is a designation that’s given to a city to help reinvent itself, so in most ways the impact is on Cape Town largely. Moreover since the designation supports a year long calendar of design related events and projects, it is very Cape Town based.  Remember though that so many of Cape Town’s creative come from places like Port Elizabeth, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Mafikeng amongst others – so in reality we are a reflection of the rest of the country. It will have an impact on South Africa broadly, by raising awareness of us as a creative nation rather than a sporting nation.  Moreover it will offer a more urban vision rather than one that is focused on nature. We hope to build partnerships with other cities – for example Durban is doing a major architectural conference during 2014 and we will link with them to attract architects to our city with an allied event.

I imagine there will be scope for a lot of exhibitions and expos that help share the work of designers based in other cities as well, so it’s a great opportunity for a city like Johannesburg, which claims to be the cultural capital of the country, to flex its muscle in Cape Town during the year.  Remember though, we are the first African and the first so called “developing nation” to win and we have a great opportunity to show our connections with the rest of Africa and the South – think exhibitions of design from Lusophone counties (Brazil, Mozambique, Angola) or an expo on some the exceptional design talent from South and South East Asia (which have strong connections with Cape Town as a result of migrations and slavery).

In 2014 South Africa will be celebrating 20 years of democracy, will this influence any of the projects? If yes, how will it affect it?


This is difficult to predict. However, I certainly hope so especially since the larger South African story is fundamentally about the design and continuous adaptation of one of the most important social-political experiments in the world. South Africa routinely proves the despite the depths of differences and antogonisms, it is still possible to mould a modern and vibrant society that may not always get things right but certainly stretch democratic systems to their limits in order to always rediscover endogenous ways of getting things done. There is no historical reason why the South African democracy, economy and cultural identity should be as vibrant as it is. Yet, it somehow continues to surprise all of us through the sheer force of normality. This achievement, in my view, should be an anchoring theme for what we get up to in 2014.

Below is a motivating video submitted to the judges pushing for Cape Town as the World Design Capital 2014.

In South Africa’s past, design was used to keep people apart, do you see the title as a way to bring people together?


Apartheid was designed to divide. The story of Cape Town since 1994 has been about learning to reconnect. The bid is aimed specifically at dealing with the vast imbalances that exist in our society and is organized into three broad themes:

Rebuild community cohesion,

Reconnect through infrastructural enhancement,

Reposition for the knowledge economy.

While the bid process highlighted these themes by cataloging design projects in a bid book, the title will allow these project to be celebrated, and in some cases, implemented everywhere.

What do you think we can learn from previous winners?


This is an interesting bid because its around reinvention.  That means we get what we put into it. Helsinki’s executive director of its World Design Capital year, Pekka Timone has said – “Ask not what your design capital can do for you, but what you can do for your design capital”.  We will only get what we put in and so its important we all pull together, work with a strong creative and collaborative approach to make the year work.  Think about it as the world’s eyes on us for the year – we can use it or waste it.  Seoul did some amazing stuff which really brought its ancient design heritage to the foreground.  It also addressed some of its very hard city challenges which made it the suicide capital of the globe and looked to a good environment for its citizens – one of the most amazing things it did was raise the River Han which had been buried under a massive highway and it created a landscape around the river that makes it an amazing place for citizens to gather.

Design capital 2014 collaborated with Design Indaba where people can be more hands on, make a difference on the ground and can see a change in the community.

Your street cape town is an initiative by design indaba in which people can submit ideas of how they will better Cape Town one street at a time, wave their creative magic wand and enhance what is right in front of them: Your Street. And, the four best ideas will be granted R50 000 to be implemented.

Working with Cape Town Design Capital 2014 the Your Street Challenge was guided by the city’s slogan: “Live design. Transform life.” Leading by example, the Your Street Challenge is the ideal opportunity to start thinking about how design can be used to transform lives, right here in your city, in your street.

The Urban Mosaic project, one the winners of the Your Street Cape Town Challenge, will be helping to prevent shack fires with a fire retardant paint. At the same time designers Y Tsai, Porky Hefer, Ashely Stemmet and Matthew Skade aim to beautify the townships with paintings of cultural icons and symbols. Check out Cape Town’s winning video, which was premiered at the IDA Congress in Taipei.

Soon to feature on is a selection of Design-related articles that have been showcased over the last six years in one small seed magazine as well as our three online platforms:, and We take a look at other initiatives, brands, schools, individuals and collaborations who have played a role in Cape Town’s journey to being awarded as Design Captial for 2014.