Slow Design (Into Eyilwe Ngokwendeleyo): The Potential for a Decolonized Space Through Graphic Design



Graphic Design & Visual Art


  • slow design, South African design, graphic design, design culture, decolonisation



In the context of contemporary, ephemeral, fast-paced and often disingenuous qualities of commercial graphic design in South Africa, Slow Design provides a moral antithesis. Slow Design focuses on a sense of place and culture, and is radical in its reassessment of human–centred values derived from the intimacy and integrity of local communities and resources (Clarke 2008, p. 427; Fuad-Luke 2005, para. 14).  In its intention, it inevitably questions the abstracted, sometimes oblivious quality of graphic design that invites global consumerism unthinkingly.  Designing is never innocent.  Racialised stereotypes from the Global North have permeated design, marginalising the Global South and reflecting moral apathy — “the death of the heart” (Baldwin in Benjamin 2017, para. 3). Slow Design as a concept, in its alertness to local heritage, in its potentially authentic expression of varied African experiences, invites a more complex, less over-determined understanding of culture, particularly in the South African context. 

As an emerging concept, much of the writing about the Slow Movement is politically neutral and simply encourages local sustainability while opposing design that is complicit in the production of desire and its consequences. This paper suggests that Slow Design utterly involves people, productive conflict and the complexity of local environments and thus has a socio-cultural and political context – which is not necessarily involving new ideas and which in some senses is a renewing of post-colonial thought – but which radically alters graphic design’s existing reach. 

“Colonialism” is defined as “the control over one territory and its peoples by another, and the ideologies of superiority and racism often associated with such domination (Dictionary of Human Geography, 2009). Specifically, it involves “policies, problems, and legacies of European colonial rule in Africa”.  Grosse-Hering (2014, p. 8) asserts that Slow Design is motivated by three intentions – social, cultural and environmental, sustainable design. It accentuates critical questioning and a conscious, productive “unknowing” when facing design challenges. Slow Design intersects time, it is aware of a past, present and future, that plunges contemporary designe*rs not only into a quality aesthetic, but also into contemporary struggles and the historic, lingering, social injustices of colonisation that form part of South Africa’s sense of place. With a human-centred holistic approach, and a locally generated ethos, Slow Design naturally questions and disrupts existing conventions. The research methodology of this paper involves a literature review, integrating graphic design into the insights of post-colonial thought and the Slow Movement with the intention of encouraging education and agency.  Slow Design is explored here as a potential influence in graphic design that is vital for the challenging, necessarily uncertain journey into a future decolonised space, in practice, in South Africa.

“We should return to a belief in a radical spirit—the idea that design is something that can help improve society and people’s condition”. Dan Friedman, graphic designer. (Friedman in Heller 2017, para. 1).

“Africa doesn’t have to catch up. Africa can create its own.” Rendani Nemakhavhani, graphic designer (Nemakhavhani 2017, para. 3).


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