WDC 2014: The Legacy of World Design Capital


In February 2014 we had the pleasure of having guest bloggers from Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 write for the PIVOT Dublin blog. We invited them to write about their city and the impact World Design Capital has had on promoting appreciation for the transformative role of design. This blog looks at the legacy of World Design Capital 2014 and the city’s aim to embed design into the administration and put it on a more sustainable track.

A big award like World Design Capital requires a serious investment of time, energy, creativity and money. What’s the legacy of the investment?

Viewers of the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve will remember the thin-lipped tussles between the head of sustainability and the head of legacy, about what fell into whose space. Nobody could really define what either concept covered. Life is a little easier for the head of legacy in the City of Cape Town’s inward-looking World Design Capital (WDC) 2014 team. That’s because there is no head of sustainability to arm-wrestle with. But that doesn’t mean that legacy becomes easier to define.

The overall goal of the City’s team is to leverage the WDC opportunity to embed design and design-led thinking into the administration. At the highest level, therefore, that will be the legacy of 2014’s efforts. But unpacking that idea shows up the complexity.

  • What, for instance, is legacy all about?
  • Is it simply protective (to deflect assertions that design is frivolous, for example), or does it genuinely serve the higher purpose of putting the administration on a more robust and sustainable track?
  • What are the deliverables, and what sort of timeline is useful?
  • How does one measure and report on how well design and design-led thinking have been embedded into the organisation?
  • What are the metrics one would use, and the manifestations the City would want to see?
  • What, in the end, is the acceptable return on investment?

Using the user-centred and collaborative principles that are at the heart of design-led thinking, the team consulted a broad spectrum of people about their expectations and hopes for WDC outcomes. Ultimately, hundreds of people fed in their ideas, through direct interviews or some other mechanism. Out of that wealth of opinion and research have emerged three broad areas of legacy focus which all help to embed design into the administration.

Organisational self-perception

Self-knowledge is empowering. A team that understands its own strengths and capacities, is better at using them. The City of Cape Town has, over years, manifested many instances of successful design and design-led approach. It hasn’t, perhaps, used the language of design. Through this focus, we’re setting out to correct that. There are a number of programmes that feed into this, from an initiative to identify and highlight examples of design excellence, to a publicity campaign aimed at making the City’s employees comfortable and confident with the City as a design-led organisation.

Systems and processes

A primary requirement of building trust in government is transparency and accountability. The downside of that is red tape: every “i” must be dotted and every “t” must be crossed. It’s both the safety net and the scourge of civil service globally. We’re arguing that through design-led thinking, we could reinvent selected systems and processes, making certain red tape redundant, and opening up the City to new opportunities. One specific initiative, a service-design initiative, is spearheading this. We are collaborating with one of the clinics serving an impoverished area of the metro. The challenges there are many, relating to lengthy and time-consuming queues, with all the ills associated with those. If this initiative is as successful as we hope, we’ll be able to engage with clinics across the metro, and introduce service design in different ways and contexts. As a team we’re also deeply engaged in an initiative within the City to establish a corporate-wide innovation platform tasked with making the City a more innovation-friendly environment.

Objects and infrastructure

Through the Co-Creation Projects and through the WDC-focused efforts of many of the City’s line departments, we are looking forward to seeing some concrete developments in the City. The difference between these and all the improvements any city routinely effects, is that these ones are driven by design. And we believe that the communities who benefit will enjoy the difference. It’s impossible to know with certainty in advance what impact something will have. But we know there will be impact, and that it will be positive. And we know this is just the beginning of a journey. Note: this concludes the blog series from Cape Town, World Design Capital 2014. Thank you for reading, and we’d love to see you before the year is out.


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