University of Pretoria: UP named top design institution in Africa and Middle East

The Information Design division at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) School of the Arts has been ranked the number one design education institution in Africa and the Middle East by the Loeries. The ranking is based on the 2020 Loerie Awards, the winners of which were recently announced.

The Loerie Awards and its rankings are an independent measure of the most innovative brands, agencies, organisations and individuals in Africa and the Middle East in the brand communication space.

Apart from clinching the Top Educational Institution award, UP made an impressive showing in various other categories, with Information Design lecturer Kyle Rath being named Best Lecturer and design students Dian Labuschagne and Tumi Mamabolo taking the top spots in the Student category. “The Loeries are arguably the most prestigious design body in Africa, and of the Middle East more recently, and is comparable to the Oscars of design in Africa,” Rath says. “This win is particularly rewarding as it comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Faculty of Humanities is delighted that our Information Design programme is ranked as the Loeries’ top design institution for 2020,” says Humanities Faculty Dean Professor Vasu Reddy. “We are especially thrilled to have the year’s top lecturer, Kyle Rath, as part of our formidable team of designers. He and his colleagues have helped the programme produce some of the country’s top talent for many years. These are well-deserved honours, and congratulations to Kyle, his colleagues and our award-winning students!”

UP design student Dian Labuschagne took the top spot in the Loeries’ Student category. His work includes this poster, which he designed for UP to create awareness around addiction and the assistance that Student Counselling Services can provide.

In addition, several UP alumni featured in the rankings. These successes are largely attributed to the design of UP’s course itself. “UP is well regarded in the design industry and so our students tend to find work quite easily,” Rath explains. “We get industry leaders to teach many of the projects. This way, our students receive first-hand, top-quality experience. Our students are also required to complete at least six weeks of internship during their third and fourth years, where they are able to suss out the industry.”

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe applauded the Division and Faculty for furthering UP’s reputation for excellence in a wide variety of fields. “UP’s ranking as the top design institution is a clear sign that the University is excelling in all fields, beyond that of being the number one institution for Law and Veterinary Science in Africa,” Prof Kupe said. “The Loeries ranking has positioned UP as a leader in the Humanities, especially in fields like design, which employs creative problem-solving tools to effect greater meaningful change. This win affirms UP’s vision of producing socially engaged graduates who help change the world through a variety of efforts, including design work that inspires others to greater heights.”

For Rath, research is what distinguishes UP’s Information Design course from others. “Many see design as a ‘creative’ field and thus somehow less substantial than some of the sciences,” he says. “Research in creative fields is often viewed as superficial or not useful.” In a diverse country like South Africa, it is all the more vital, yet “woefully underrepresented and under-funded”. “Without research, design as a comprehensive problem-solving tool cannot exist. Research informs every decision taken at every stage of the design process. How do we figure out the best application that most appropriately suits the needs of the user? It’s tricky to know what should be done – that’s why research and constant, adaptive learning is important.”



A packaging solution that Labuschagne created that positions the product as luxurious.

The design lecturer is illuminating in explaining the far-reaching implications of design – and, by extension, the recognition of design achievements – for society at large. “Design is not just about creating exciting graphics. At its core, it is a fundamental understanding of human behaviour and how to engage one another other. It is a tool for commenting politically, bringing awareness and compassion to social concerns, and evoking empathy.”

He adds that among more economically “stable” countries, there is a common understanding that design is crucial to stimulating creative thinking and tackling complex problems such as climate change and inequality at macro and micro levels. “Most of these countries – South Korea, Australia, Japan, Denmark and Sweden – have legislated design into their schools, tertiary institutions, national policies and government cabinets. Rewarding design means we are actively engaging in solving these global issues.”

Owing to the pandemic, in 2020, entry into the Loeries was made free. “We’ve always entered the Loeries, but we only ever entered two to three projects each year owing to the steep student entry fee – at R600 a project; 45 students per year, with eight projects each. We could never really compete with private design schools that tend to attract wealthy families. Once this particular barrier to entry was removed, however, UP swept the Loeries.”

Mamabolo designed this installation called ‘The Numbers Behind Depression’. It’s aim was to establish a clear understanding of how numbers give meaning to the world around us, specifically within the context of COVID-19.

Another thing that COVID-19 has brought to the fore was the division’s resourcefulness in carrying out a practice-based degree online during lockdown. “We had to introduce several new ways of teaching that go beyond merely conveying course information, but that stimulate participation, practice-based learning, group thinking and other touchpoints that we’ve refined over years through our in-person-based curricula,” Rath explains. “And we excelled – design is about problem-solving, after all.”

He is particularly proud of how they have managed to share their work digitally with the public. Apart from the division’s YouTube and social media platforms, it has also developed a design-related podcast, launching in April, and set up a Patreon page as a form of third-stream income for the division. “Any funds we receive through it (and YouTube) will be used to help fund students, purchase data and invest in cutting-edge design software and tech,” says Rath.

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