Human-centered moments in Cape communities @CapeCraftDesign

Africans adopting global cultures to solve local problems always inspires me. Across sectors, people are taking responsibility, driving development and creatively making a difference.

June’s #FirstThursday began with a brief and engaging creative exchange hosted at the Cape Craft and Design Institute’s (CCDI) Barrack Street event space. Founder of True Story, a design studio, Danielle Ehrlich shared some of her experiences with the attendees as evening fell.


Cape Town’s infamous economic inequality has ripened the city for implementing a range of sustainability initiatives. Organisations like True Story are tapping into this movement energetically.

Danielle’s design challenges have given her the opportunity to innovate in award winning ways, from permaculture and eco-village design in rural environments to conference participation in developed communities. The different settings highlight the cultural awareness that designers have to embrace in this increasingly globalized, urban world we live in. Workshops, marketing campaigns, collaborative activities and other experience based strategies are some of the ways True Story contributes to Cape Town’s sustainable development.

Bridging the social divide

As much as diversity of culture is to be celebrated, the differences result in captivating challenges when it comes to sharing (and creating) innovation between communities. The key lies in identifying the mortar that binds the individuals that represent these communities. Primary ingredients for solutions are: A shared understanding, clear communication and trust.

“Find what holds us together then create spaces that amplify the act of connecting”, Danielle pointed out, before elaborating on three design tools (below) that True Story uses to develop satisfying intercultural experiences.

1. Active listening

Necessary for effective communication, this tool relies on the communicator’s self-expression and the recipient’s willingness to perceive new meaning, however its presented. This type of engagement allows the participants (community stakeholders) to develop long-term solutions to shared problems. True Story ran a workshop that was part of a larger program, dissecting and clearing the barriers that perpetuate some of Cape Town’s social divisions.

“Using low cost, low key materials, we were able to help stakeholders share their message. Wire avatars made this process less personal but the personal needs became clearer” – Danielle Ehrlich

Danielle recounted the experience of creating a safe environment for stakeholders to share grievances and build relationships that mitigate conflict. Business owners, community leaders, residents, government departments are just a few of the beneficiaries of workshops like these. Workshops that share knowledge between organisations and communities.

2. Public participation

Cape Town’s CBD has a lot of scantly used public spaces. Alleys, public squares and side-streets have fallen victim to passionless use, allowing the spaces to slowly degrade. Adopting Australian and German street culture, The Cape Town Laneway Project basically re-branded Barrack Lane. “We had yoga to the sounds of the morning bustle and street parties with local food and music”, said Danielle, expanding on the activities that helped Barrack Lane win the Design Indaba Your Street challenge back in 2013.

“This is a small scale example of what could happen on a much larger scale. It starts with a conversation and takes a lot of time to build public spaces in an organic, bottom-up way” – Steven Harris

For initiatives like this to gain traction, property/business owners have to recognise the value that their communities hold and these communities have to drive the daily practices that recreate the underutilised spaces. A sense of ownership (and the responsibility that comes with it) ties great ideas to real, lasting change.

3. Conscious moments

The present, brimming with opportunity, is an event in itself. Danielle describes how True Story teamed up with an organisation called Embrace (focused on social justice) to design a series of moments for 1000 kids. Brought from all corners of the city to the Company’s Garden, the kids connected to each other through various interactive games and working together on arts and crafts. The project leveraged those priceless moments to share equality.

Designing with emotional awareness has helped True Story create moving campaigns. “Surprise is an emotion that generates a neutrality that creates an opportunity for something new“, added Danielle, flipping through slides that showed snippets of #GoodSharkKarma (a campaign aimed at demystifying sharks’ murderous motives) and a giant shoe that spurred conversations about up-cycling. Stepping up to the task of environment awareness doesn’t have to be a humdrum routine!

My point

At the end of the talk, True Story invited all the guests to participate in a worldwide phenomenon that draws smiles from ear to ear with an extra set of eyes.

Known as #Eyebombing, this is a way of putting a more human face on our inanimate world. Humanizing the city’s streets, invoking a more empathetic response to our surroundings, googly eyes can be attached almost anywhere.

Try it out.

Design your world, one emotion at a time 🙂

For more information:

Save our Seas #GoodSharkKarma (twitter)

Cape Craft and Design Institute


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s