By Dr Michelina Andreucci
DESIGN is the forebearer of manufacture.
Through design, employment can be created.
Industrial design is a somewhat unknown field of discourse in Zimbabwean academic circles.
When Dr Tony Monda mentioned to the panel on the ongoing curriculum development exercise that: “Industrial design should be an essential component for the overall socio-economic development of the country and the revival of industry in Zimbabwe,” many educationalists present looked at him suspiciously.
The Industrial Designers Society of America defines Industrial Design as: “The professional service of creating and developing concepts and specifications that optimise the function, value and appearance of products and systems for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer.”
While various components of industrial design are extracted and taught at some local polytechnics, a full understanding of the strength of industrial design has not been fully embraced in Zimbabwean tertiary and higher educational systems.
The unfortunate down-turn in industrial capacity in Zimbabwe can be partly attributed to the lack of scholarship and innovation of both traditional and Western industrial design, innovation and development.
For us in Zimbabwe, Cecil John Rhodes was one of the chief architects of modern industrial design in colonial Rhodesia.
He brought in some of the most skilled and versatile industrial artisans from England.
However, industrial design is not purely a Western discipline and has been practiced by our forefathers and mothers from time immemorial.
It is on the roots of traditional Zimbabwean industry that Rhodes and others built upon.
Where ancient mineral ore mining took place became some of the sites that Rhodes and his cohorts built their extensive industries and mining activities.
Having chosen 196 from more than
2 000 applications to join the Pioneer Corps, the column comprised miners, hunters, builders, farmers, cartographers, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, tailors and butchers.
In other words, Rhodes was careful to choose a complete nucleus for a self-contained civil population, each with his own profession, prepared to industrialise the new colony.
On November 4 1893, after the Matabele War, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) troops and white settlers occupied Bulawayo and established it as a centre of industry in the then Southern Rhodesia, on the site of King Lobengula’s kraal (the Place of Killing).
Bulawayo for long was known as the industrial hub of Zimbabwe.
It was home to over 2 000 commercial and industrial establishments.
The industries established in Bulawayo included light and heavy engineering, metal foundry, furniture and electrical goods manufacture, tyres and other rubber goods, printing, packaging, leather, cotton, garment-making, radios, jewellery, food, beverages and wines.
Companies such as Merlin Textiles, Zimbabwe Engineering Company (ZECO), Hubert Davies, Radar Metal Industries, National Blankets, G & D Shoes, Merlin, Tregers Group, Stewarts and Lloyds, Hunyani Holdings, Dunlop Tyres, WRS and the Cold Storage Commission etc, were headquartered in Bulawayo.
By 1897, with the rapid growth of industry, the town was soon declared a municipality.
During the same year, on November 4, the railway line linking Bulawayo to Cape Town was established.
In 1943, on its 50th birthday, Bulawayo was given city status.
The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), headquartered in Bulawayo, was an important transport hub, providing rail links between Botswana, South Africa and Zambia and promoting the city’s development as a major industrial centre.
Industrial design often evolves out of necessity; the scope for design in our country is immeasurable.
Zimbabwe needs to develop creative skills, industry and education through artisanal programmes.
Traditional designs in Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, were interactive in our society; design embodied the basic synergy of aesthetics and functionality.
Our traditional notions of identity were, and still are, deeply embedded in our beliefs and roots.
Our designs communicated and served a socio-cultural purpose.
Design should be understood to have a formative power in society.
Design promotes a culture of sustainability and craftsmanship.
It creates and builds an awareness of things beyond the mundane levels of our existence.
We would have better quality products on offer across the board if we understood and valued design more.
We need therefore, to reconnect our memory by using pre-industrial designs and forms of production.
In India, realising the increasing importance of design in economic, industrial and societal development, the Indian Government initiated a ‘National Design Policy’ in order to have a ‘design-enabled Indian industry’ which would impact positively on the national economy and the quality of life for the people.
The convergence of art and design is a traditional Zimbabwean philosophy. Hence this ethos has the potential to communicate an exclusive cultural perspective to industrial design in order to create better standards of living
The assumption of industrial design is that the product will be machine-made. There is a tendency to assume that ‘Industrial Design’ refers to the industry and what we know as ‘mechanisation’.
Industrial Design often alludes to machinery when it does not (in actual fact).
The product becomes machine-made when it is ‘Mass Produced’.
Industrial design means the product of the creative/functional labour of a given group of people.
In its fundamental state, design deals with implements, equipment, trappings, apparatus (call them what you will), tools and products that deal with the convenience and fundamentality of the human being.
It deals with applied art, design (for living), functional living and consumer needs.
While design originality may be a merit, design goes beyond simply making something original; its greater value will be in its durability and relevance overtime.
Most African cultural materials are classic in their design, because of the thought concepts, detail, conceptualisation, time and perfection that went into the making.
The strength of African design lies in its embodiment of the history of our progenitors.
It clearly illustrates an attachment and commitment to the land, the people and to Africa
There is an urgent need for awareness and understanding concerning the competitive advantage of original designs among educators, manufacturers and service providers, including for Small to Medium Enterprises and cottage industries.
For design to impact positively on the economy, Zimbabwe needs to breathe new life into industrial design education.
The revival of industries in Zimbabwe will require the impetus of education of which industrial design cannot be ignored.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian Researcher, Industrial Design Consultant and Specialist Hospitality Interior Decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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