Changing ‘narrative around design’

Sune Stassen, one of the co-founders of the Open Design Festival, says design is a crucial part of society.

Now five years old, the Open Design Festival started out as a way to re-imagine society and to change the way people look at design.

Sune Stassen, one of the co-founders of the festival, said there was a massive gap in terms of how the public understood the importance and impact of design.

“During those years people saw it as a ‘nice to have’, ‘something for the elite’ and more about aesthetics. The main focus was that there was a lot of education needed to understand what was the real value of design and how it can impact on basic human needs.”

Some of these needs, she said, include basic education, transport, health-care and building communities. “Part of that was to change the narrative around design. A lot of the design-related events were very expensive to attend which means that a big percentage of society was left out of the conversation.”

Ms Stassen said the core reasons for the existence of design was to improve people’s lives.

“We wanted to make the festival as accessible as possible to the man in the street, which is why most of the events are free.”

She added that the three pillars of the festival were education, innovation and building communities.

She said the festival was a challenge in the first year because they weren’t sure what support they would get.

“We had a lot of support from the creative industries because I think people are keen, eager and ready to participate and add value themselves and not just attend an event in a passive capacity. Open Design is very much a community festival where participation from everyone is really important.”

Ms Stassen said another interesting aspect of the festival over the years was the city activation programme.

“This is where we invite the public to support start-ups, entrepreneurs, small business. We put all our attention in the second week on these small businesses.”

She said the festival used to focus a lot in the City Bowl before moving to places like Woodstock and Salt River, Observatory. Then it also sprawled out to Langa and Khayelitsha with Lavender Hill, Bonteheuwel and Mitchell’s Plain also playing a big role in the festival this year.

“People are used to buying tickets and passively attending something. Because Open Design is so collaborative we are inviting people to actively participate. Now people are starting to understand that they can be part of this and add value. This has been a massive change. The core pillars of Open Design is education and empowering people to be changemakers.”

Ms Stassen said that one of the exciting projects that was being included in the festival this year was called Made In Everywhere, which is based in Mitchell’s Plain.

The business was started by two sisters, Michelle and Natasha Talliard who have also been invited to speak at the festival. The idea behind Made In Everywhere, said Ms Stassen, was to change the negative perception of the Cape Flats.

“They live and grew up in Mitchell’s Plain and are great examples of how people take change making into their own hands. They decided that it was time to rebrand the Cape Flats. Because of the perception out there that it is always about crime, gangsterism and poverty. They started looking at the positive stories, the heroes, the entrepreneurs that are doing incredible work. They started an online business where they promote these smaller businesses. We are really excited to host them this year.”

Natasha Talliard said she was looking forward to taking part in the festival.

She said they started Made In Everywhere because they wanted to show the positive side of Mitchell’s Plain and the Cape Flats. “We are really excited, we will also be having our first pop-up shop. The general reaction so far has been positive.

“The only thing you ever read is negative stories and there are many positive stories,” she said.

Ms Talliard said she thought design was very important and should be taught more from an early age. She said Made In Everywhere was about telling people’s stories. “It is more than just a market place,” she added.

Ms Stassen said other events to look forward to were Dine With Khayelitsha as well as screenings in Lavender Hill. The one film, says Ms Stassen is called Misrepresentation and is about how women are positioned in the media. The screenings would also include discussions on how we look at women and treat them. The other movie is called The Mask I Live In, which, according to Ms Stassen, looked at how pressure was put on men to be macho.

Another focus of the Open Design Festival is the Black Filmmakers Festival which will take place at the Labia Theatre on Sunday August 20.

One of the key events for the festival this year, she said, is the first international STEAM Symposium in Africa. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engeneering, Arts and Maths. She said the symposium will explore how value gets added when art and design are integrated with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, and how this will help lay the foundation for, and develop a new generation of problem solvers, change makers and successful African social entrepreneurs. Globally the education is still stuck in the STEAM education system so STEAM is about integrating art and creativity as a core subject across all of the learning area, she says.

“We are starting a very important discussion and it is vital for us to drive this new agenda so that we can prepare the future generation.”

Tickets for the Open Design International STEAM Symposium on Monday August 14 are on sale through

The symposium will be held at the main auditorium of the Cape Town City Hall on Darling Street from 10am to 4pm. For details visit www.