While the talks I saw on day 1 of the Design Indaba were all engaging with the ethics of design in the real world, the talks I saw on Thursday were all situated right on the needlesharp tip of the high end, where fantasy, imagination, excellence and large budgets meet.

The people I heard speak are so ridiculously famous that it would be silly of me to do a rundown of their work here. However, each one impressed me with one or other thing, possibly worth relating here:

Barber Osgerby – Excellence in process and product
First, I caught the tail end of design duo Barber Osgerby speaking. They were describing the incredibly process-intensive process of making a prototype of this table, involving milling and anodizing hundreds of individual aluminium units that eventually bolt together, partially using magnets. It really was amazing to hear designers talking about the nitty gritty of the process, illustrating how much very hard, hard work goes into realising a high-end product such as this.

Patricia Urquiola – Where flamboyance and simplicity meet
It’s something that also arose in Patricia Urquiola’s incredibly jam-packed talk, delivered with breathtaking speed and charm: these high-end products often are years in production. The impression, especially with someone as prolific as Urquiola, could be that her designs are churned out, while in fact there’s an extensive behind-the-scenes process that takes a lot of time, passion and hard work.

Talking of passion, I liked the way Urquiola paused in her breakneck delivery to tell us how this or that piece carried a lot of emotion for her. And talking of emotion, I’m passionately in love with her Flo Easy Chair (above) and the Tropicalia chair (below).

Ferran Adria – Rigour and honesty
Another Spaniard was up after this – the very charismatic Ferran Adria – the genius behind ElBulli. His committment to exploration in his innovation in a design field as ephemeral as food is quite astonishing, particularly for a non-foodie like me. I couldn’t help feeling some sympathy for whoever the Design Indaba had appointed to find lunch for Ferran Adria. What a frightening job description!

Black sesame sponge cake with miso (image from Chubby Hubby)

Marcel Wanders – Fabulous and fun
Lastl up was Marcel Wanders, who says “fabulous” and “fun” a lot. He’s clearly a flamboyant and playful personality, and this comes across in his work. There’s a sense that, perched as he is on the tip top of the high end, he feels the freedom to do pretty much whatever he likes. And sometimes he does just that, as with his Airborne Snotty vase series, based on high tech analysis of the flying droplets of a sneeze.

But also, he uses his freedom to makes sublimely lovely and rare things, like the Fishnet Chair, only available in a limited edition of 20.

So that’s my impressions of the high end so far at the Design Indaba this year. I’ll be back again with Expo news soon.