Ogilvy at #designindaba 2014 – Day 2 Recap

By Michelle Mckenna

At the outset of Day 2, the Inspiration Truck raced towards us with ferocious speed, all audience members firmly in the tractor-beams of awe, steered with the precision and grace you’d expect from one of Van Damme’s Volvos. (Watch this if you haven’t seen it).

This continued happily for some time, after which the truck was tragically hijacked by a learner driver who spent the rest of the day flicking the lights onto bright, over-correcting and switching them off completely and then switching on the windscreen wipers before ploughing through a herd of dozing cattle, before finding the brights again. Sorry audience, I just referred to you as livestock.

But that said, those bright moments were again pretty darn dazzling, and I am proud to present a few more accolades under the broad category of My-Opinion-Only-and-What Do-I-Know-Anyway.

I’ll kick off with the prize for BEST ORIGINAL SCORE for an AV presentation, which goes to opening speaker, DJ Stout. This may seem like an obvious award, until I point out that DJ Stout is a stetson-wearing Texan, who is as much like a DJ as Margaret Thatcher. What he is like, however, is a graphic designer and art director at Pentagram (the world’s biggest stand-alone design consultancy) who seems to have lugged a piano across the Atlantic for the occasion.

From said piano came some of the most poignant, soul-stirring piano music I have ever heard (and that’s saying a lot because usually I find piano music-bowel stirring only), played by a mysterious long-haired fella called Graham Reynolds.

This soundtrack, (created at times by pulling at the keys from the INSIDE of the open piano and at others by drumming hoofbeats on the piano’s exterior), formed the aural backdrop for the haunting imagery of 350 000 acres of prime Texas ranchland ablaze in the wake of the devastating Rockhouse Fire of 2011.

I forget the actual relevance of this but it was a spectacularly mesmerising intro, and when my brain switched on again, DJ Stout was introducing the audience to the very offbeat phenomenon of the Cowboy Poet, which bears a little google-lookey-into-ing, off you go.

Of course he had some pretty cool work to show as well, but his main point, which became a common thread for the day was: be from somewhere, (him: Texas, obviously) and make your work like you’re proud to be from that somewhere.

Picking up that theme, (and along with it, the drumsticks idly lying on the stage for the lunchtime performers) was the winner of the IMPROMPTU DRUM SESSION AWARD: Michel Rojkind. This cool Mexican Architect gave an interesting talk about overcoming (brilliantly) the challenges of building amazing things in a country where, from one election to the next, presidents seem to abandon the previous guy-in-charge’s sanctioned projects, causing architects and everyone in general, much pain and anguish. Rojkind’s technique for finishing pyramidal-proportion projects before the next presidential election-rejection? “You have to be creative enough to deliver on time.” Which for me is a refreshing spin on the usual “there wasn’t time to be creative” technique in much more common general usage.

Rojkind is incidentally also the recipient of my INTERESTING BEARD OF THE DAY AWARD. Find some of his quirkily interesting work at rojkindarquitectos.com. But sadly, you’ll find no beard there. The Hashim AmIa style creation sports two silver-grey stripes down either side (all natural, I believe) – and a varietal perhaps grown only for the occasion.

The OPEN-MOUTH-EXCHANGE-FOOT Award goes to David Higgs, chef at the Saxon Hotel’s Five Hundred restaurant, for using the word ‘cowboy’ to describe bad chefs who take shortcuts. And who then, (after catching DJ Stouts’s raised eyebrow) good-naturedly tried to back out of it, in much the same way as you might back away from a bully into the crossed arms of his much-bigger brother. But despite his amusing blunder and slight Tourettes tendency (his co-speaker, chef Margot Janse, seemed to be keeping tally in a virtual swearing jar), his shared talk eloquently conveyed the message that staying true to your passion with dogged determination can ultimately overcome any lack of education, formal training or financial obstacle.

The ‘FROM-YOUR-PICTURE-AND-QUOTE-I-THOUGHT-YOU-MIGHT-BE-A-WANKER-BUT-ACTUALLY-YOU’RE-A-REALLY-AMICABLE-DEMIGOD’ Award, ah yes. This goes to Brazilian-born Marcello Serpa, partner and creative director of AlmapBBDO, whose work is of the type that every self-respecting ad person knows and wishes they had made. Like all things Havaianas, the VW ‘double checked’ TV ad, and one of my faves, the VW Spacefox “Whatever you can imagine, fits” dog-fish TV ad. Serpa had an awful many worthwhile things to say, but I’ll highlight just one very pertinent piece of advice for South African Design-Problem-Solvers, who are often faced with the challenge of communicating to a very broad and often lesser educated and unsophisticated audience.

  1. Be simple. BUT, (and here’s the thing)
  2. Be unpredictable.

Or, put another way: Be obvious. But be obvious for the first time. Fancy that.

Some HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

• Clive Wilkinson (LA  architect and strategist), for his “Barbarian Group” workspace design amongst others. See the video here.

• Zanele Muholi (South African photographer), for her passion in championing anti-violence, respect and tolerance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals.

Then, the TRUCK-DRIVING-WITH-THE-LIGHTS-OFF-AWARD must be shared between:

Athi-Patra Ruga and Nandipha Mntambo – to be fair, maybe this type of performance and conceptual art is just not my thing and I’m too simple-minded to get all of that higher-purpose meaning. But I think I’m okay with please not seeing that again.

And for the closing speaker: Lauren Beukes. Although I highly respect the lady’s literary genius, and found her talk very slick, polished and deliberately unconventional, I couldn’t help feeling the joy sucked out of the day by her violence of potential talk.

Excellent. Now if you’ll excuse me, all this award bestowing business is exhausting and I need some intensive zedding to prep for that one last glorious dash into the floodlit brilliance that is Design Indaba Day 3.


About Michelle Mckenna
Senior Copywriter and Art Director at Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg