Richard Hart

Today marks our 50th interview here on DIY. To mark the occasion we chatted to Richard Hart, a man who many local designers look up to and who has been flying the flag high for Durban and putting this place on the creative map for years. Check it out.


DIY: How do you think your years travelling, and the time you arrived back in South Africa shaped you as a designer? Do you think because of the time period, 1994, and the fact that you were self taught you were happy to throw any rules out the window?

Richard: Okay, a couple of facts that need straightening out here… I’m not self-taught, I studied at Natal Technikon which is now DUT. Also I was abroad for a four-year period from 92 – 96, so sadly I missed the glorious days of the birth of the new South Africa. My time away did definitely shape me as a designer and as a human though. I guess I learned that there was a whole lot out there that I hadn’t been exposed to and I really lapped that up. I watched a lot of bands, went to a lot of festivals, hitch-hiked around the UK, Europe, Australia. I spent four months in Indonesia without a pair of shoes and developed a deep suspicion of men in suits, especially those older than 30. I suppose I bought into some notion of an alternative lifestyle that translated into a sort of irreverence in my work. I didn’t like the idea of things getting too corporate or serious and I think that has stayed pretty fundamental to what I do.

Truth is you make your own breaks or you’ll rot waiting for them to come your way.

DIY: What advice do you have for designers wanting to start their own thing, without the comfort of having a decorated CV with work experience? Do you recommend it?

Richard: We started Disturbance when I was 27 with no previous ad agency or design industry experience. We were incredibly naïve, which I think was a good thing. So yes, I’d recommend leaping in before you have enough suss to know that what you’re doing is risky and will probably fail.

DIY: When you look back on all the work you have done, are there any specific elements that you’ve carried throughout that influence the work you create now?

Richard: There has always been humour. And a deep love of words and letters. Actually I don’t think my work has changed much at all since I was a youngun. But I’ve also been lucky enough to have worked with many of Durban’s most talented young creatives, and they all bring something else to the table. And that influences me too, which is great.



DIY: In the book, Disturbance, released to mark your 10 year anniversary, These are a few of our favourite things, you state that the ethos of the studio’s work is, and will always remain, non-uniform and irregular. Have there been times when the company has had to compromise that ethos? How do you deal with that, or reach a solution that both parties are happy with?

Richard: I think you’ve misread the meaning of what I was saying. I’m pretty sure I meant that we have steered clear of a house style, preferring to let each project dictate it’s own approach and outcome. This isn’t an approach that really needs to be justified to clients… they’re after work that is relevant and suited to their specific project, not an extension of my own personal creative agenda.


DIY: Why do you think people are always trying to change or ‘better’ Durban? Do you think we need to change Durban? Is it that sleepy hollowness that makes this city and people in it?

Richard: We’re the poor second cousin, the underdog… so yes, we’re always looking to improve our standing. There are many things about Durban that are absolutely amazing, but the lax vibe isn’t one of them. Not when you want to get stuff done. Fortunately I’m seeing a lot of younger talents that are keen to hang around and make a go of it here rather than head to where the action is, which is historically how it’s gone down. The more hardworking talented people there are here, the easier it will get and the more seriously those people will be taken.



DIY: People often talk about a “big break”: that magical big job that gets your name out there and the work starts flooding in. From your experience, is that how it really happens?

Richard: I think it is for some. It has never been that way for us. We’ve had a few moments when something great has happened and we’ve gotten a lot of publicity or whatever, and thought, “okay, so here we go”… and it just never happens. Things just plod on the way they were. Truth is you make your own breaks or you’ll rot waiting for them to come your way.

DIY: Do you think designers are becoming too focused on the ‘art’ side of design than the practicality and functionality of it? Producing work that’s ‘cool’ rather than trying to deliver what the client wants?

Richard: I do think that the widespread move of designers into galleries is a little problematic. While I think it’s great for people to create their own magic, it really ups the ego factor of what we do and gets young designers believing their own hype and, as you say, trying too hard to be cool.


DIY: Do the internet and sites like flickr, tumblr, and various other blogs, encourage designers to create better work or just provide platforms that they can show off their latest projects to their various followers and friends?

Richard: Again, this just becomes another ego thing. It’s not about finding work from new clients, it’s about getting props from other designers, which I think is just an ugly side of things. The other dark side of all this online creative community thing, is that everything starts to look the same. What a guy is doing in Berlin is now instantly seen by a guy in Durban, who is talented enough to knock it off but not talented enough to see that it’s not a good idea. So you get hundreds of McBesses, hundreds of Paras, hundreds of Kronks and fucking millions of people drawing octopuses and monsters and creatures everywhere… oh, and triangles. At least they’ve finally given the birds and reindeers a break. Who of these people is actually thinking about what they’re putting out and what it says about them?


DIY: Is design that doesn’t have a price on its head somehow more virtuous, more creative, purer or, for lack of a better word, better?

Richard: Depends if it’s just design wankery or if it has substance and meaning. There is plenty of work with a price on its head that is amazing and all the more so because it has to go through a process of client review and ultimately has to perform a task. And there is plenty of absolute useless shit that has no price on its head… read octopuses, monsters and creatures. I guess it all boils down to having something to say and how you say it.



DIY: You recently curated the Where It’s At publication, a first in a series of limited editions inspired by Design Indaba magazine. In an introduction you pose this question to the readers: “Do we produce design that satisfies the First World’s idea of Africa or do we have the confidence to define and stand by Africa’s idea of Africa”? In a city, and country like ours, what do you think is Africa’s idea of Africa? How does a country with such a euro-centric and euro-focused design and advertising industry actually go about gathering the confidence to produce what you are asking?

Richard: Wow, that’s a big and very good question. Personally I think that in terms of graphic design and illustration, things are looking a bit grim right now… too many young designers who just can’t shake the influence of Behance and all the other creative web addictions. But in other areas of creative endeavour we’re really getting there… Spoek Mathambo, Xander Blom, Gazelle, Gregor Jenkin, Pieter Hugo, Haldane Martin, Laduma Ngxokolo… these guys are all shaking off the shackles of the west. And doing it in a thoughtful and really authentic way. They’re the vanguard… I think we’ll all follow in time. The trick is the authentic part… it has to come from a deep personal place, not just be an attempt at skinning something in the right look.

DIY: Lastly, where to from now?

Richard: If I knew I’d kill myself. The fun is in the not knowing, right?


18 Responses to “Richard Hart”
  1. Craig Scott says:


  2. Greg says:

    A true inspiration

  3. Richard Hart was one of those guys that really inspired me as a student..we need more creatives like him in Durban. What is more important is that those that leave Durban for “greener pastures” need to take note of someone like him. You dont have to move to New York or Cape Town to make it happen. Keep rocking Hart.

  4. Mike says:

    Yeah I totally agree, the magic is happening all around us and its time people realised that.
    Awesome interview! Keep it up DIY

  5. N says:

    Interesting stuff. Investigating Eurocentrism in local design is especially pertinent; more of that, please.

  6. Jolling! says:

    How does this only have 5 comments? Richard is an absolute inspiration and this is probably one of the best interviews this site has seen. Shame on you Durban.

  7. Kevin Parry says:

    Nice. Richard always seems to be able to cut through the clutter and give a good ‘klap’ about why we do what we do. Very nice Rich, and thank you.

  8. Azzerotica says:

    Let’s all blow smoke up one anothers asses.

  9. Bee says:

    I’ve always appreciated the role Disturbance have had in Durban.
    Not many other studios have helped grow so many artists through their work and self initiated projects.
    Big ups to Richard, Roger and the rest of the team.

  10. @Azzerotica “Let’s all blow smoke up one anothers asses.”…….for real?
    Barring a bit of misinformation which was corrected early, it’s actually a good interview with a top designer.
    Can you not be proud/motivated/inspired/(insert mushy words of choice) of the fact we have this level of work in our country and that it’s working?

    Hatters gonna hat.

  11. Matt_Theknight says:

    great interview gents.

  12. luke says:

    regarding the misinformation. between the multiple edits, reworks, etc we sometimes lose track of the original questions and information at hand. i take full blame for it this time round. cheers to richard hart for being so accommodating and gracious about it.

  13. Mik says:

    Great to see more positive thinking from Durbanites. The youth in the city need inspirational people to show that going to Cape Town is not going to make you. The more that stay and develop the Durban market, the more others will arrive or return. Keep the good work up this site is doing.

  14. Richard is Durban’s design daddy.

  15. stretch says:

    Big Inspiration!

  16. Amy says:

    I enjoyed reading that, and before reading this I had no idea who this guy was. I read it because I liked the cover picture. Thank you Durban Is Yours for yet again introducing me to rad Durbanites.

  17. Craig says:

    Great article. What a legend!

  18. Trev says:

    The work featured above doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface (body of work / contribution made). The latest issue of DI is the best one yet that’s for sure… does SA proud…

Leave A Comment