Design Indaba 09 || Day 1|| Keith Helfet

I must admit that, although I am ordinarily not very interested in cars, I cannot continue a conversation when a  Jaguar drives by.  Another speaker on day one of the Design Indaba was Keith Helfet who has worked for most of his life as an automotive designer for Jaguar.  One would expect him to come across as the ultimate arrogant designer, but no:


His presentation was thoughtful, wry and sincere.  He was just as happy to share his designs of MRI scanners, as of the F-type Jaguar.



He describes the old MRI scanners as looking like “a coffin in front of a washing machine”, and explained that he cant really work with rigid shapes.  The digital era is a new challenge.  Apparently his usual mode of working is to sculpt directly in clay.

Keith Helfet was approached by South African company  Optimal Energy to design the body of an electric car.  They include a number of people who were involved in the South African Large Telescope project, and the Rooivalk Attack Helicopter – which I found an impressive if unexpected combination.

This car was to become the Joule – Africa’s first electric car.

Finding a look for the Joule was an essential part of  the process of making it.  In order to be successful, it had to appeal to a large audience and break away from what one expects an electric car to look like.  Helfet stepped us through a number of designs – gradually less boxy and more fluid.


A theme that reoccurred throughout the talk was his admiration for the optimism and idealism of the Optimal Energy team.  This was what clinched the deal and attracted him to this project.

“You cannot imagine  anything more cynical than the automotive industry”.

This was another current running through many of the Indaba presentations – making that idealistic leap from the familiar, to  work for love.

And to finish off, I will indulge in another image of a lovely car – the iconic E type Jaguar:



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