Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education
Professor Malcolm Garrett RDI, who represents the RSA Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry on The Awards Committee, read the citation for Ravi Naidoo:
This is the third time in the four years or so I have been a member of the Sir Misha Black Awards Committee that I’ve had the honour of standing here to introduce an Award recipient.

Past recipients have included Professor Michael Twyman of Reading University, who I am delighted to see is in the audience today, and Professor David Crow, Dean of Manchester School of Art today represented in the audience by his colleague, Assistant Dean, Joe McCullagh.

Each time, I have been filled with awe, and with renewed inspiration, for their singular dedication to design education and to their achievements in creating new environments for learning. Today is no exception. No matter how appropriate the words you choose, summing up in a few short minutes what each has dedicated an entire professional lifetime to achieving, hardly seems adequate.

But here goes…

I was first introduced to tonight’s Medallist almost 15 years ago by the then Editor of Design week, Lynda Relph-Knight. She spoke of a magnificent design conference that she had recently attended – not in New York, or Tokyo, or Milan, or Paris, but in Cape Town in South Africa, a place known until then for its disgraceful political history, its recent liberation from Apartheid, and its heroic new leader Nelson Mandela.

Around the same time, many other people in the design industry were also beginning to speak in awed tones of a design conference that was simply the most inspiring of its kind – an annual conference which each year assembled a remarkable line up of the world’s finest designers, from the broadest variety of disciplines – products, fashion, furniture, books, new media, interiors, graphic design, film, animation…

In only 3 or 4 years there had appeared, “from nowhere”, an event that was not only pushing borders but was already attracting speakers and delegates of the highest calibre from the entire world. As it was called the Design Indaba or “meeting of design chiefs” as the rough translation goes, had rapidly become the most exciting design event on the International calendar.

But where had it originated from?  Who was behind it?

Up to that time Cape Town had a reputation for something else entirely, and not for being a major centre for world design. But that of course was the point. There was no precedent. There was no global design heritage. But one man had a vision. A man who saw a unique opportunity following the abolition of Apartheid in what was effectively a new country, to rebuild and educate a nation with the power of creative design thinking.

That man was Ravi Naidoo. His vision was simply to create a platform where the world’s finest designers could share their knowledge and expertise with one another, and with a new hungry and receptive audience, to inspire and be inspired. To rekindle forgotten talent in a forgotten country.

He believed that by natural osmosis that energy and passion would filter through to education, to government, to business and state clearly that a new South Africa was here and it is ready to play a major role on the world stage after years of isolation.

I’d like to try to illustrate the power that Design Indaba has generated to inspire people to deliver of their best. As well as assembling a fantastic team to run the event each year, Ravi Naidoo, spent countless days and weeks throughout the year travelling the world, meeting people, promoting the event, signing up new speakers and convincing them of the importance of his broader mission. But word was soon out and few needed too much convincing.

I met Ravi in London, I think at the annual Design Week Awards, to be honest I can’t specifically recall. He invited me to speak at Design Indaba 6 in February 2003, and of course I readily accepted, without fully comprehending what I was to let myself in for.

Also there in 2003 were Alan Fletcher, Irma Boom, Stefan Sagmeister, Naoto Fukasawa, Oswald Boateng, Jonathan Barnbrook, Tom Roope, and of course the Dean of Graphic Design here at the RCA Neville Brody. I think in total there were about 6 speakers each day.

I was scheduled to speak on the last morning so I had two full days to listen to, and inevitably compare myself to, these giants of design. I simply got more and more nervous and insecure about the quality of my own upcoming presentation – so nervous that on day two, I went off to lock myself in my hotel room and completely overhauled what I was to say. But every other speaker was feeling the same way. We all felt an undermining of confidence alongside our peers, which resulted in a spur to deliver better.

The acclaimed Spanish designer Javier Mariscal was the penultimate speaker on Friday afternoon, immediately before Sir Terence Conran, who was scheduled to close the event. Mariscal gave what can only be described as an Oscar deserving performance, reciting the ‘Story of Colour’ and performing with puppet silhouettes in front of an animated film, specially created for the occasion. I have never before, or since, seen a graphic designer given a standing ovation for a ‘lecture’ on design, by an audience of 1200 people.

Sir Terence was a brave man to follow that. But with true greatness he himself rose to the occasion, and then gave an inspired and impassioned talk, imploring the world not to go to war in Iraq, which was sadly imminent, and seemed inevitable, at that point.   

I’m not able to spend time going into details of how Design Indaba has grown in stature, how it is the biggest and most important event on the calendar, how it has become a focus point for education and economic renewal across the whole of South Africa. I know that Ravi Naidoo can, and will, speak much more eloquently and passionately about what has driven him and what Design Indaba has achieved over the years.

Design Indaba is so much more than a design conference. Never planned merely as a commercial exercise, or despite what I’ve been saying about the speakers, as a rarified platform for experts only. It has always had a genuine desire to democratise design, to educate through demonstration of design excellence and innovation, to bring design thinking not just to the rebuilding of a broken society, but to put the new South Africa back on the world map. It was instrumental in having Cape Town declared World Design Capital in 2014.

The old adage ‘it takes 20 years to become an overnight success’ is only partially true for Ravi Naidoo and Design Indaba. This year it does celebrate its 20th anniversary, but from where I’m standing it was an overnight success from the start.
It is with great pleasure that I now call on Mary Mullin to present the Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education to Mr Ravi Naidoo.

The 2015 Awards Ceremony