Richard Perez is currently the Programme Director for World Design Capital 2014 at the City of Cape Town, which involves (amongst many other things) the responsibility to create awareness of design and embed design led thinking and innovation into city administration. With plenty of experience in design and business, he has been selected as one of the jury members who will choose the winner of the local Rado Star Prize Competition. This international design competition held by the Rado Watch Company is hosted in South Africa for the first time this year, and aims to solve local social challenges through design, offering young upcoming creatives the chance to win R100,000 and a kickstart to their design career while changing lives and leaving a lasting legacy. We talk to Richard about his work, the future of design in South Africa and the Rado Star Prize Competition:
When, why and how did you decide to pursue a career in the design industry?
My first interest in design came when I was at school as I was good at both Art and Maths and enjoyed making things that both worked but also looked great. After school I knew I needed to combine both these disciplines into a formal degree so I enrolled to study Mechanical Engineering as this would be a path that would give me a broad base foundation from which I could then specialise later (architecture by the way was my second choice). However, it was whilst I was studying Engineering that I was first introduced to a discipline of design known as Industrial Design Engineering and a Masters Level course that was offered at the Royal College of Art in London. I’ve always had a passion to design a telephone and this seemed to be the route to get there. So I applied for the course, was accepted and was catapulted into the world of new product design and innovation. I eventually did get to be part of a team that designed a telephone.
What is your background and how has this led you to where you are now?
After my engineering degree and graduation from my Master’s at the Royal College of Art, I wanted to align my career with organisations where design led innovation was at the heart of their DNA. I started my career as the Design Manager for Cape Gate, a Cape Town based company that focused on the design and manufacture of wire products. During my year there I managed their design office and developed a number of new products for the company including a kitchen system and new shopping trolley range, which to my delight is still being manufactured to this day.
From there I spent the next 5 years of my career working as a design consultant, initially for a consultancy and then for my own company. In 2001 I joined a young and up-and-coming design consultancy called …XYZ Design. As a director and partner to the organisation I spent 11 years helping to grow the organisation into an internationally recognised brand with clients from around the globe. However, it was 5 years ago when my design career took a very interesting turn. I decided to undertake an Executive MBA as I had identified that in order to understand and practice true design led innovation you needed to combine the world of business seamlessly with the world of design, two very different disciplines and languages but with so much to offer each other.
On completion of the business degree I found I was able to bring the conversation of design into board rooms and unlock innovation from within the heart of companies. Then with the opportunity of Cape Town’s designation as World Design Capital the local City Administration was seeking an individual that would oversee the overall program but would also be able to build an internal team that would unlock design led thinking from within the organisation. I saw (and still do see) this as the ultimate calling for a designer – to embed design led thinking into local government in order to foster innovative thinking and solutions to the vast complexity and challenges that a city administration faces.
What exactly does the job of a Programme Director of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 entail? What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I have two main roles as the Programme Director. Firstly the City of Cape Town is the signatory to the host city agreement with Icsid and my office is responsible for overseeing our contractual obligations and administration of both the funding and relationship that the City has with the implementation agency responsible to market and deliver the World Design Capital programme – Cape Town Design. My second focus is to build an internal team within the City Administration that is responsible for running the public sector programme for World Design Capital using the year to create an awareness of design and embed design led thinking and innovation into the City Administration. This has been a fantastic opportunity and a once in a life time experience to bring design tools and processes into pockets of local government that normally you would never have access to. Working and collaborating across the organisation from procurement to urban design.
Why did you join the Rado Star Prize jury? How does this competition’s design philosophy and approach complement your own?
It is important for me to align myself with organisations that truly understand the value and depth of design and I think Rado is one of these companies. I believe that the philosophy behind the Rado Star competition is completely aligned to my belief that design is inseparable from human behaviour and has a catalytic role to play in social transformation.
How and why do you think the Rado Star competition will/can affect design thinking in South Africa and how do you see this competition leaving a legacy of positive social change through design beyond 2014?
It is through competitions such as this that we can really expand our thinking and understanding of the value of design. In South Africa we generally understand design as a means to an aesthetic end and not so much for its application to understand and address complex challenges. Through the Rado Star Competition we are able to promote design way beyond the traditional aesthetic and show how the use of design thinking as a process and tool can become a true catalyst for addressing complex issues related to social change.
What are the key elements you will be looking for in the winning design?
I would like to see that a systemic understanding of the challenges has been addressed and that key design thinking principles such as creative thinking, user centricity and collaboration have been applied.
If you weren’t on the jury, what would you enter?
Coming from an Industrial Design background I think I would have focused on a product or solution that has a physical element to it but with some tech thrown in. A product that adds tremendous value to those living in urban environments, perhaps a product that bridges the hard and soft elements of a city. What that is I have no idea at this point but with some further engagements with citizens I am sure something very interesting would pop up.
How have you seen local design thinking evolve during Cape Town’s reign as World Design Capital, and how do you hope to see it grow even beyond 2014?
I believe World Design Capital has been a great platform and opportunity for creating an awareness that design spans beyond just the object and the aesthetic and that it can manifest itself into a wide range of projects and programs as a process and tool to deal with complex challenges. Furthermore, the year so far has shown that the value of design led thinking can benefit not only companies developing products and services but can add value to all sectors including the public sector. We must always remember that WDC is a year for us to create awareness – a catalyst and a spring board for the future. The real benefit to WDC will be seen in the years to come after 2014 when the value of using design led thinking is realized through the current projects and programme.
Find Richard on Twitter.