SABS Design Institute interview with Claire Reid

Claire Reid:
How does your garden grow?

Design thinking does not have an age limit. This much is true for Claire Reid who gave the “What if?” thought process a try at the tender age of 16 when she wanted to plant a vegetable garden but were hindered in her endeavour by the huge quantities of seed and fertiliser she had to buy.
Now part of the Design Institute’s 43 Challenge, Claire shares her design journey to create Reel Gardening. To overcome barriers of language, cost, literacy level and math skill, Reel Gardening offers a special paper strip, pre-packaged with organic open pollinated seeds and organic fertilizer for growing vegetables. The proof of the pudding is that more than 200 community gardens have already been planted using the Reel Gardening concept, saving 80% of water in comparison to traditional gardening methods. By using simple pictures, Reel Gardening can overcome language and literacy barriers.

Through the 43 Challenge the Design Institute has helped her redesign her packaging and her brand to be ready to enter the UK market.

Here are some questions for Claire (CR):
DI: On a personal level: Why and how did you become a designer?

CR: I have always been creative and Art was my favourite subject at school. I studied to become an architect at the University of Pretoria and I graduated with my Masters in 2010.

DI: Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?

CR: My grandmother was an artist and one of the first female architects in Northern Ireland, so I suppose I can say it was in my genes.

DI: Who is/was your mentor?

CR: My previous mentor from 2009 till 2014 was my first boss when I worked as an architect - Guy Steenekamp, managing director of LYT architecture in Melrose Johannesburg. My mentor at the moment is Tracey Webster, director of the African Leadership Institute.

DI: What part of the design process excites you the most?

CR: The problem-solving aspect, and then the thrill when your creation actually works and people like it.

DI: You have taken part in the Design Institute’s 43 Challenge. Could you share your experiences of this programme?

CR: It has been an amazing opportunity to be involved in a think tank-type experience with so many like-minded creative thinkers. I arrived at the Design Institute with a great product but the way it was packaged didn’t speak of our brand, and didn’t get the consumer excited.
I was fortunate to be placed with a really creative team who figured out my vision for my brand identity and packaging before I even had, we then redesigned it all and I am happy to say that I just came back from the UK where I unveiled the new packaging for the first time and the buyers could not believe the change and how great it looked. I will now be selling the product in the UK. The packaging and new logo have helped with this.

DI: What do you regard as your greatest success in your career to date?

CR: Starting up Reel Gardening in 2009.

DI: About design in SA: What are the unique qualities of the SA design industry?

CR: The ability for us to pool ideas from many different countries and styles and bring them together into a cohesive image that is South African.

DI: What are the greatest challenges for the design industry in SA?

CR: Keeping true to what is South African - it is often easy to fall into designing something that is distinctly American, Scandinavian or Asian – our strength is the diversity of our country and we need to echo this in all of our designs, creating a brand for South Africa, which I feel we don’t yet have.

DI: And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?

CR: Just get started, you will learn what you need to as you go along. Be prepared to make lots of mistakes, however, you need to be open enough to the fact that they are mistakes and take the positives from them and learn what not to do the next time. Always challenge yourself, if it’s not challenging then it’s probably not your best work.