Better Living Challenge


Getting to Know our Selection Panel: Paul Duncan

Jul 17, 2014

As part of an ongoing series, we will be interviewing members of our Selector Panel to get their views on the Challenge and see what they’re looking for from the entries. We also hope to find out more about them and their own work…

Comfortable Home Selector Paul Duncan is media and design expert. A former head of design for homeware at Woolworths, and launch editor of House & Garden South Africa, Paul is ideal for the Better Living Challenge Selection Panel because of his extensive experience in product design.

Paul was educated in Cape Town and at Edinburgh University, where he received an MA (Hons) in Fine Art. His career highlights include a stint as a speechwriter and researcher to the chairman of the London-based Royal Fine Art Commission, being editorial director at Conde Nast Independent Magazines and most recently, his role as curator convener for World Design Capital Cape Town 2014. Paul has published three books: Hidden Cape Town and two collections of South African interiors: Down South and Down South Two. His latest book, South African Artists at Home will be published in 2015.

The Better Living Challenge caught up with Paul to discuss his experience on the BLC Selection Panel…

What sparked your interest in the Better Living Challenge?

My work with World Design Capital Cape Town 2014, as curator of the various projects submitted for inclusion in the 2014 programme, and as an editorial director channelling the right stories to the international media, alerted me to the amount of work that the private sector has to do to affect any kind of change in South Africa. I’ve benefitted in tremendous ways from the kind of life I’ve been able to lead and I want to be part of sustainable change going forward.

Why is the Better Living Challenge so valid?

It identifies pockets of talent where you might not otherwise notice them. It also alerted me to the fact that while there may be extraordinary talent hidden in plain view in our midst, much of that talent will go nowhere unless it’s able to reckon with, and understand, market requirements, business principles and all the pitfalls of a retail agenda.

What are some of the exciting aspects of being part of the Selection Panel?

I appreciate being part of a diverse team – some of them unlikely colleagues – brought together in an effort to pool resources. As a selector, I am looking for something really innovative that ‘delights’ as well as simply provides a worthy solution.

What skills are you having to call on in your role as BLC Selector?

As an editor in a variety of fields from magazine publishing to product selection, I am assessing intrinsic value, looking at context, the skills involved and the ultimate worth of the solution presented. I am also looking for stories to tell that in themselves inspire readers or customers.

What would you like to see the Better Living Challenge achieve in the long run?

I think the Better Living Challenge needs a more prominent platform. Why couldn’t it be the go-to space for innovative solutions from around the world – or Africa at least? Much of what we are looking at is about African solutions to African problems. Could this be the event that showcases African solutions to African problems in the way that Design Indaba showcases international design?

What green product/s do you use in your own home?

I don’t use any green products at all. However at my farm we recycle all our water. We cultivate vegetables for the community and so on. It’s more about sustainable processes than actual ‘green’ product.