Interviewing Renée from Renée Roussouw Studio
Renée Rossouw drew our attention with her Liquorice patterns and creative ideas at 2014’s Design Indaba.
We met up with this young designer for a quick cup of coffee and asked her about design, life, world design capital 2014 and working in Cape Town’s creative industry.
Q: Tell us what type of designer you are?
I consider myself an architect, designing isn’t my main job. Because of this, I don’t have any pressure to make a living from design alone, so I have some fun and choose projects that I am interested in.
I often have little secret cartoons in my patterns,
and experiment with new ideas.
As a designer I’m more graphic orientated. I work with shapes and colours and because I mostly work from drawings, I always first work in 2D before I go in 3 dimension.
I never really plan the end result and always allow the process to dictate what’s going to happen. I believe a lot of value comes from trusting the process.
So many people categorize me as a pattern designer because I design patterns, but I’m more interested in creating
a pattern identity for South Africa.
I want to create patterns for South African products that can then be used by the South African public to create a new identity for our country- it is after all the new South Africa and we have a hybrid of cultures, colours and patterns.
Q: Tell us about your latest project.
There are a couple of latest projects. One project is a furniture collaboration with a company called De Steyl. They have a range called The Play-Play Range which is modular furniture for children and great for sorting out their toys.
As a toy collector, I sometimes fantasize of being a toy-designer myself, so I was really excited to work on a range for children. Because my work is also super colourful, I believe it is easily accepted by the youth.
Deanne Viljoen [who is also an architect] is the designer of the furniture and we ended up combining my liquorice pattern series with her designs. The response on our end result has been really amazing and I think it’s also due to it being a niche product. I don’t think there’s really so many of that kind readily available in South Africa. It’s almost like an Ikea product really.
The other product I’m working on is a range of limited ceramics that are some of my artworks on the ceramics, and I have a blanket coming out with Mr Price Home in the next two months which I’m really excited about.
Q: How long have you been a designer?
From a young age I’ve loved to invent weird things and weird buildings.
I still don’t consider myself 100% designer and think that I work more in the realm where art meets design because design itself is usually very functional whereas a lot of the things that I design are more decorative.
But after I studied architecture, I immediately went to Madrid to study product design. So in 2010 and in 2011 I started working as a designer. The year in Madrid really helped me to summarize my last 7 years of studying into what my identity is and what my work looks like. I also became a more confident designer in 2011, so that year was very important for me.
Q: So you’re an architect-slash-designer?
Yes, but architecture takes up 90% of my time.
Q: What is the first thing that you designed?
In my second year studying architecture, we had to design toys and I realized that I absolutely loved thinking in small scale about products and how it could be used.
Besides the toy I designed, one of the first objects that I designed also included a world that you could take apart. In high school I also made my own clothing range with toy soldier designs.
Q: What is your favourite thing that you have ever designed?
I once drew this little sketch that I remember so vividly. It was a table that just turned into a little house for children to play in.
You design many things that never gets made, but that is something that I want to make for my own children one day.
Another object that I designed was a table that had circles in it for place mats. After everyone has eaten and the food has been taken off, the circles actually reveal to be African drums and everyone can just go ahead and bang some rhythm. That also never got made, but I would still like to make that one day.
Q: How do you feel about Cape Town being world design capital 2014?
Obviously very excited of how it has been a catalyst for Cape Town, the designers and the creative industry. It has almost made those three elements come together and work together.
Personally it is an incentive for me to be proactive.
There has been a lot of support from the community as designers are often misunderstood by the general public and designing is sometimes seen as a niche thing. So it’s been really good to take design to the streets.
Q: World design capital 2014 is a city promotion project that celebrates the merits of Design, do you see your projects as tools to improve the social, cultural or economic life of the city?
I definitely don’t work within the Capetonian context. I’m much more interested in the future of South Africa’s creative industry; strengthening the creative industry, the economy and anything that will help South Africa.
I feel very responsible to be a representative of the slogan
Proudly South African.
A couple of friends and I have a project called Yenza in which we try to take township maker’s art and designs from an unknown platform to a larger conversation like the Design Indaba and promoting their businesses there. Cape Town has a huge township community and there’s a lot of creative potential that is unsupported. There is a lot of work that can be done to boost small entrepreneurs that usually create out of necessity but are extremely inventive and talented.
Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Cape Town and spent most of my childhood growing up in Durbanville. We had a property next to horses and a field with a derelict house.
My sister and I played outside after school every single day. We didn’t even want to play with other children; we just wanted to play together.
We made little houses, played Pocahontas and then we’d play Lego for hours. I think I just played until I was probably 16, and then I obviously started dating… which was just as fun. [We laugh]
I also went to Jan van Riebeeck High School in Cape Town.
Q: Who are some of the people that had the biggest influence on you while growing up?
I’ve had quite a lot of teachers that were always very interested and supportive of my art and creative ideas. My Grade 3 teacher encouraged me to do my orals on Lego and my Grade 4 teacher put some of my drawings on the classroom wall. It was just small gestures like that which gave me the approval and helped me to become a more confident designer.
I also have immense respect for my Mathematics teacher in high school; Savas Couvaras. He was just an amazing teacher and I really enjoyed the subject.
My sister was probably my favourite person growing up. I always had someone to play with and she didn’t mind playing Lego for hours or playing puppy-in-my-pocket and making little worlds for them.
Also my mother; who is involved in the magazine industry. I was always being exposed to spaces and design and she would often bring home Ikea or Muji catalogues to look at. I would end up lying behind the couch and fantasizing about houses and designing them.
Q: Your favourite childhood memory?
My favourite memories are with my sister Laura.
I remember once my sister and I picked up about 50 sticks and went into a part of our garden which we found to be very scary.
We then built this house from twigs and anything we could find in the garden and were so impressed by ourselves that we went into this dark, gloomy part of the garden- which we thought was magical because it was so eerie.
My mom was so impressed that she even took photos of the house that we built. It stayed there for a couple of months until the weather later deteriorated it.
Q: Describe yourself with 5 words.
- Quirky. No, don’t say quirky… that’s what other people call me.
- I’ve been called Tenacious, but I really don’t know what that means.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I don’t think of the future like that anymore.
It sounds corny, but I definitely just ride the wave. I’m not one of those people that don’t think about the future at all, but I think I’ve realized the last ten years that things happen all the time and I usually jump on an opportunity when it presents itself as appropriate.
I take some risks.
I am excited about the next 5 years, but I feel that I still have much to learn in the architectural profession so I definitely see myself very much still working in architecture, learning all that I can.
Future-wise, I would like to work for myself one day. I would also like to have children so that I can make toys for them, but I’m just hopeful. I just hope it happens… otherwise I’ll adopt 1000 little babies.
Q: What would your advice be to young aspiring designers?
This is actually something that is very serious to me. Design education in the country is very limited. I think that there is a big gap not necessarily in architectural schools but in creative design disciplines.
If you are a designer, please don’t look to other designers
as inspiration all the time.
Rather focus initially on who you are, focus on what is important to you and on your personal favourite things. Use yourself as a map to uncover your creative identity so that you can be a real contribution.
If I had to use a one liner, it would be something like this:
“Spend a lot of time discovering your own identity. You need to be local to be global.”
See more of Renée’s work on her website.
Content | Ed Beukes