Can Cape Town be the 2014 World Design Capital?

Seoul, Korea is the 2010 World Design CapitalWith more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas, design has become an increasingly fundamental tool to make cities more competitive, attractive, liveable and efficient. The World Design Capital designation is a city promotion project that celebrates the accomplishments of cities that have used design as a tool to reinvent themselves and improve social, cultural and economic life.

The World Design Capital is an initiative of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design – an international non-governmental organisation that aims to protect and promote the profession of industrial design. The current (2010) World Design Capital is Seoul in Korea, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. The future (2012) World Design Capital is Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

The government of Seoul recognised the need for a master plan to help the city evolve into a cleaner, safer and more attractive place for businesses, citizens, and tourists. Seoul is a healthy ecological city with a splendid and lively natural landscape, as much as it is a refined city steeped in history and culture. As one of the most advanced cities in terms of IT infrastructure, it is also a knowledge-based city due to the recent profusion of high-tech Korean consumer products around the globe.  From brands such as LG Electronics Inc., Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo, Helio and Kia, Seoul has been redefining its international image in terms of its design capabilities. Seoul intends to be reborn as a “soft city” centred on diversity of culture and design.

In Helsinki, design is the enabler of building an open city, the booster of its social, economic and cultural development. This concept of Embedded Design ties design to innovation from its very beginning. Design oversees the realisation of the inhabitants’ needs and, in the final stages, ensures that the solution is desirable. This is how inventions, technologies and systems are developed into innovations suitable for everyday use.

Now Cape Town is bidding for the 2014 World Design Capital. The title would give Cape Town a chance to showcase its achievements and aspirations through a year-long programme of design-led events and activities.

Cape Town’s theme is ‘Live Design. Transform Life’, and the City of Cape Town has mandated the Cape Town Partnership to coordinate the City’s bid. A vital network of partners from local and provincial government, creative industry organisations and institutions, the media and leaders in local design has come together to lend support for the initiative.

Says Lorelle Bell, the Cape Town Partnership’s bid coordinator: “Cape Town may not have Bilbao’s design assets or Dublin’s locale or, for that matter, China’s financial resources, but what we do have as a City is a strong story to tell 20 years post-democracy of how design is being used to undo how the City was historically designed to divide people. ICSID is understood to be looking for a City from a developing country.”

The theme of the bid will broadly be connection and reconnection and focus on the way Cape Town has been using design to reconnect people through projects such as the IRT, the public spaces programme, the dark fibre network, research and design being conducted at educational institutions. Also included is their calendar of major public events that draws on the talents of designers, their networks and design programmes to incorporate as wide a citizen base as possible.  It will also look at public architecture, as well as art and memorialisation, in terms of their contribution to place-making. The bid allows the City, for example, to leverage the gains made during the 2010 FIFA World Cup which demonstrated the positive impact of people-centred design.

Cape Town will also use the bid process to promote City design assets and designers, and use this process to put design and the City’s design-led projects in the public domain, so that people generally can begin to understand the impact design can have on City development, how important designers are, and how critical design education is to the City if we are to create strategic-thinkers and innovative design entrepreneurs for the future.


The first step in the bidding process is the preparation of a bid book to specific guidelines laid out by the Icsid, and to be submitted by the end of March.

Says Bell: “We are therefore calling for all those involved in design, in whatever way, to look at submitting their projects and programmes for consideration for the bid book. We are also asking all those in the creative industries to lend support to the bid by displaying the ‘I support World Design Capital 2014’ logo on their own property – from websites and blogs to promotional material.”

Specifile calls on all designers out there to submit their project ideas, taking into account the broad theme of connection and re-connection. We have some amazing design people in this country, with initiative, imagination and vision – let’s show the rest of the world what we can really do. Follow this link to submit your project ideas

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