Unfortunately, locally, design has come to be associated almost exclusively with its aesthetic qualities and is often equated with elitist, consumerist and expensive, irrelevant things. Instead, it should be understood in terms of its solution-finding, problem-solving, transformative potential, and therein lies the heart of Cape Town’s bid. In an emerging society like ours, this potential is critical. Design understanding and skills can help Cape Town to address challenges created by its past and enhance the standard of living for everyone into the future. Design begins with a problem, the interrogation and understanding of this problem, and then proceeds to the development of ideas and processes, as well as evaluation of these, with a view to solving the problem. Take for example some design innovations in the health sector. In South Africa, where cervical cancer is responsible for 25% of cancer deaths among black South African women, Pap smears are expensive. There is also no public Pap smear programme. Professor Lynn Denny, head of the Gynaecological Oncology unit at the University of Cape Town, has designed a cheap, low-tech alternative used to screen for cervical cancer at clinics in under-resourced communities. Nurses use acetic acid swabs, which cause abnormalities in the cervix to show up white, and abnormalities are then treated by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. The alternative is no treatment at all. With a vaccine still several years away, this method saves lives. Another example that draws from knowhow developed in under-resourced communities derives from the high incidence of diseases like TB and HIV in these neighbourhoods. The IT department in CPUT’s Faculty of Informatics and Design has been working with community- and home-based health carers to develop a programme of support for health care workers. Using cell phone technology, the students have developed and tested a programme that helps health practitioners to access support and information to assist them in their work. There is a lesson in this for all forward thinking Capetonians interested in living in a better-designed future. Design is not necessarily an activity confined to the “lifestyle design” disciplines. It is about more than sleek, tactile home products or cleverly conceived buildings. Design is fundamentally about identifying the most effective, efficient, appropriate, and broadly applicable solutions, whether they are products, systems or services. The message is simple: a commitment to design, and design knowledge and training, which the award of World Design Capital offers, will benefit us all.
Lorelle Bell is the World Design Capital Coordinator at Cape Town Partnership