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WDC2014 Cape Town
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Message from the Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille

Rapid urbanisation poses real challenges to cities all over the world. We all need to think creatively about our response. And so, in Cape Town’s WDC year, the City interrogated, from a design-thinking perspective, the way we do our business and the outcomes we are working towards. At the same time, WDC 2014 focused the minds of the citizens of Cape Town on what is extraordinary about this beautiful city we all live in.
We know that the span of creativity across platforms acts as an enabler for economic growth and a distinguishing factor for niche competition. And so we complemented the investment in WDC with practical investments in the tools that make creative enablers possible, such as becoming a truly digital city, one of the game-changers that will help unlock growth.
Please browse this site for an overview of the City’s own WDC programme, and what WDC meant. I’m pleased to say that though the spotlight has moved on, the work started during 2014, the thinking it initiated, and the collaborations that arose in 2014 will continue. Watch this space.

Mayor Patricia de Lille

World Design Capital 2014

Now that Cape Town’s year in the world’s design spotlight has ended, it is time to reflect. What did World Design Capital (WDC) 2014 ultimately mean for Cape Town, for its citizens, for its design communities?

To get an independent perspective, the City of Cape Town has commissioned an impact assessment. Researchers have been hard at work since the last weeks of 2014, interviewing the broadest range of stakeholders, and synthesising their feedback. We’ll be able to share the insights of that independent assessment on this website by the end of April, so come back and visit these pages then.

In the meantime, it’s good to know that although the yellow is down, the work continues. A service design initiative, for instance, is revolutionising the conversation about what is possible in the context of community clinics; the Open Data initiative, one exciting aspect of the City’s drive for Cape Town to become Africa’s most connected city, is continuing apace; the co-creation methodology refined during the ward projects aspect of WDC represents a different and powerful new paradigm of citizen engagement.

What do these have to do with design? As a reminder, we saw WDC 2014 as our chance to focus on how design currently contributes to the way Cape Town works, and what it potentially could add. WDC promotes appreciation for the transformative role of design. Winning the WDC 2014 title was an affirmation of the City’s commitment to using design as a tool of social, cultural and economic transformation.

And so, when Cape Town won the title of World Design Capital 2014, the Executive Mayor appointed an inward-looking team whose mandate was to investigate the ways in which design and design-led thinking manifests in the City, and to further embed it where appropriate. Previous holders of the WDC title – Turin in 2008, Seoul in 2010 and Helsinki in 2012 – did not use their terms to turn the design lens upon themselves. But at the gritty level of city management in a developing country, design-led thinking offers tantalising promise.

What is design-led thinking?
Unlike Cape Town’s WDC predecessor, Helsinki, design is not part of our daily discourse.

Therefore, to start the discourse, it was critical to agree on a definition of what design-led thinking means in a municipality.

Through a process, that involved a search of the literature and several rounds of appreciative inquiry among a broad range of City officials, what emerged was a robust triangular definition:

  • Design-led thinking is user-centric

Design-led thinking is often referred to as human-centred design for good reason. At all times, it asks: “Who is the end-user?” and “Is this solution one that the end-user would choose?”

  • Design-led thinking is collaborative

How do we know what is best for a community? We talk to that community, ask their input and share perspectives to the greatest effect. That’s the second pillar of design-thinking as defined by the City - acknowledging the role that every stakeholder plays in developing a solution.

  • Design-led thinking follows a creative process

The final element of design thinking is the creative process, in which we take the information gathered from consulting residents, and use that to meet the challenge. It involves being able to make linkages between ideas that otherwise may not have been connected, experimenting with prototypes and learning from these experiments.

Did we crack it? In patches, yes, but there is a way to go before the City of Cape Town can claim to be a deeply design-led organisation. WDC 2014 was the first stop on an exciting journey of change.

Click here for our current thoughts on the legacy of Cape Town WDC 2014. We know that things will shift as the year progresses, so watch this space.