UPenn IPD Cape Town Summer 2011

Welcome! We're 5 Integrated Product Design (IPD) graduate students at UPenn given an ethics grant to work at product design firms in Cape Town. Eric, Evan, Lea and Jon are working at XYZ, while Ding is working at Skeg.

The IPD Masters in Science in Engineering is a recently established interdisciplinary program, based in the engineering, design and business schools. We come from architecture, engineering and liberal arts undergrads.

Eric, Evan and Jon are from the Northeast US; Lea's from Florida; and Ding's from California/China. This is all of our first times in South Africa, and so far we're having an excellent experience.
Ask me anything

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science
Foundation under Grant Number 1033014

Brigitte Bardot. The French owner said I was the first to guess the photograph on the first try. Pretty proud of that because I’m usually not that person. Jon and I found this place around the corner from Field Office. Just another example of how East meets West in Cape Town.

Sitting down for an egg and cheese crepe, the owner spoke to us briefly about his life as a filmmaker, who travels back and forth from France for work and pleasure (tangential note: Cape Tonians switch out “your welcome” for “pleasure,” which I’ve come to like). Cape Town has been encouraging business in this part of Cape Town to prepare for its bid as the 2014 Design Capital. We’ve been growing fond of these artist inspired pop-up cafe/shop hybrids.

Grill = Braai

Passion Fruit = Granadilla

I’ve just finished reading Do Good Design by David Berman, a prominent Canadian graphic designer. Berman calls on designers to turn down projects that do not align with their own ethical morals. If taken with a grain of salt, and not as simply some anti-corporate manifesto, it’s interesting to read the statistics and case studies on design. One example Berman was keen on is Shelves for Life, a shelving system that dissembles into a coffin. 

Cool = Lekker

In South Africa there are a few slang terms we don’t hear in the US.

It’s also impossible to order iced tea.

Return of Foreign Investments in Africa is higher than in any other developing region —McKinsey & Co.

Here is an interesting TEDx presentation by Yusef Randera-Rees on his business strategy to seek out top entrepreneurial abilities from South African townships.

some random highlights culled from my camera


Juvenile Gangs. Tik (Meth). HIV/AIDS. Those tend to be the top characteristics of life in the townships, with the latter not being regularly monitored or discussed in the community.

But this morning we were greeted by Mario, the founder of the GCU Academy, at his house in the township of Heideveld to see the other side of the media’s projection of South African “slums”. A former street gang member himself (who admittedly organized murders, but never killed a man), Mario has turned his lifestyle around to engage the youth, by taking them off the streets and bringing them to the soccer field. To help us better understand what he deals with on a regular basis, he popped in a journalist’s documentary on life in the township. Not really knowing what to expect of the day ahead, we would eventually meet several of the kids that were interviewed. With kids as young as 8 being fed Tik by their parents to stave off hunger to other youngsters surviving repeated stab wounds, the street violence is an unending battle. Mario is trying to address this vicious cycle by recruiting his own soccer “gang,” which gives the kids discipline that they would otherwise not receive from their own parents. But with limited funding, the sustainability of GCU is daily struggle. 

The day was haphazardly organized. At one moment we were reading to 5th graders and helping them with their assignments. The next moment we were driving teenage gang members to the police station to help safeguard them from their death warrant speculated from their counterparts. Nonetheless, we left feeling very inspired by Mario’s work and are looking forward to volunteering to teach some after school lessons next week.

Leaving the township was an adventure in itself. Jumping into one of the death defying minivans, we headed back to the city center for just 10 Rand (~$1.25) compared to our 200 Rand taxi ride in. With the driver pumping Busta Rymes, conversing with passengers of other moving vehicles and insisting on lighting his cigarette while steering with his forearms, we made managed to make it home safely. 

Today Eric and I went into Heideveld to meet with Mario Van Niekerk, founder of Great Commission United, to learn about and possibly volunteer with his organization (planning on helping out with an after school program on monday and wednesday). Turned out to be a rather disorganized affair, and soon we found ourselves tutoring a few 5th graders in English. Jenny, a girl from the UK, is putting together an educational program to try to make use of volunteers to bring lagging students up to speed. Above is a picture of Eric helping out two of the students write out ‘differences’ and ‘similarities’ between two different breeds of dogs.

The other day we interviewed the highly influential designer and academic, Mugendi M’Rithaa, co-founder of Design With Africa. He addressed at length our interests in the craft industry and his general opinions of the politics of Cape Town and Africa. We’ll be posting the interview on a separate research website at a later time, but here is a great interview with him by John Thackara, author of In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. Mugendi ended the interview saying how important it is to “engage the youth!” because as we’re noticing, they are certainly shaking up the design world, becoming global artists and trend-setters instead of solely holding close to Western cultural influences. 

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