Design Education and 4IR within an African context

Hosted by University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Inscape Education Group, the 16th Design Education Forum of Southern Africa (DEFSA) conference titled DE+AFRIKA+4IR+ (Design Education/Afrika/4th Industrial Revolution) took place from 6-7 October 2021.

Presented by UJ Arts and Culture, this was the first virtual design education conference.

The keynote address was given by renowned international scholar, Saki Mafundikwa – Visual Communicator, Design Educator, Author and Filmmaker.

Prof Mafundikwa helps designers create a new visual language by understanding their own culture.

Speaking at the conference on Wednesday, Prof Mafundikwa said it was important for Africans to lead in the design space.

He said initiatives like the Pan African Design Institute (PADI) were making it easier for African creatives to connect and share their work. Through PADI a network of architects, photographers, fashion and interior designers, visual communicators, filmmakers and the like are part of the initiative giving Africa it’s footprint around the globe.

When asked about the African renaissance by host of the conference, writer and performance poet Lebo Mashile, Mafundiwka said there was indeed a cultural renaissance happening.

“We should own it and stop looking outside. As long as we don’t recognise our achievements, as long as we think that design, technology, innovation and all these things are western constructs, as long as we stay in that, we will never ever leave a mark on the design scene. We should take ownership of the things we have and recognise them for what they are as design.”

Outgoing DEFSA president Herman Botes recalled how three years ago the design space was grappling with issues like the massification of higher education, continued calls for ethical and sustainable design practices, the emergence of new fields in design and increasing workloads of lecturers that have to do more with less. He added that the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified all these issues and brought the fractures of society into sharp focus. In addition to this, South African design educators experienced the fallout of social unrest that can be directly attributed to the inequality of society, he said.

“As design educators we must continually ask what contribution we are making in our society. Can we be the conscience of our communities by asking the difficult questions and pointing out the injustices that are now even more apparent. In the past two years we experienced first-hand the personal divide created by the socioeconomic circumstances of our students. It is evident that in our online world, access to higher education is determined by your location and economic status.”

The two-day conference saw presentations from South African academics engaging with the theme of the conference, Design Education and 4IR within an African context. The papers span the design disciplines offered by a range of higher education institutions in South Africa.

“The 36 papers were presented by design educators from various tertiary education institutions in South Africa and Kenya representing all design disciplines. The papers were largely themed around design teaching strategies in digital pedagogies and design ethics, disrupted spaces in the Afrikan [online] university, and, thinking through 4IR by reflecting on teaching in a digital space. Authors shared their views on the realities of on-line teaching, the challenges and opportunities of 4IR and design education, and exploring the role of DEFSA in building on African design knowledge,” said DEFSA president-elect Prof Desiree Smal who is the Vice-Dean for Teaching & Learning, at UJ’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA).

Prof Smal, is currently the incoming president of the Design Education Forum of Southern Africa (DEFSA).

The proceedings from the conference will be published in December.

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