Interviews with Nik Roope, Troika & Mark Hauenstein

Most of the interviews we shot for COFA Online have now gone online. A few others with Jona Piehl from Land Design Studio and Nik’s brother, Tom Roope from The Rumpus Room will be released next year and they all explore working in the grey area of merging and emerging disciplines.

Nik Roope gives some great insights into the thinking behind many of Poke’s successful projects:

Sebastien Noel and Eva Rucki from Troika on their cross-disciplinary projects:

Here, Mark Hauenstein talks about his journey from studying fine art to being head of Research and Development at AllofUs:

Thanks to Rachel for the great camera and editing work.

Writing is Design


“Verbalizing design is another act of design. I realised this while writing this book,” writes Kenya Hara in the preface to his book, Designing Design. But writing itself is an act of design, whatever the subject.

Over the years I have done quite a bit of writing and recently my PhD is the largest block of words I have ever tackled. I have learned more about design and the creative process through writing than I have through designing.

The Guardian has a piece today titled Writing for a living: a joy or a chore? in which nine authors give their views on writing. There is the usual mix of tortured writers and those that love it and go into a “special place” in their heads, but it’s a good insight into the process because they are all pretty honest. My own feelings about writing are probably closest to Ronan Bennett’s.

I enjoy writing. I like it because it is a slower process than designing on the computer. It takes longer to make something polished because you need to write, edit and re-write several times.

One of the problems with working in applications like Photoshop or Illustrator is that it is easy to produce something glossy, but empty, very quickly. The finished-looking nature of the roughs can be a real handicap to generating new ideas or developing further iterations of an initial one. For this the sketchbook is king.

Tomato’s John Warwacker once said to me that he used to like the days when computers were slow because you could think about what you were doing whilst the progress bar was chugging along. Nowadays, we multitask. A quick Twitter or e-mail whilst Adobe applications crash around and update themselves in the background.

Thinking time is important and the slow, sometimes tortuous, pace of writing is perfect for thinking whilst creating.

Word processors make it easy enough to endlessly tweak, but I prefer keeping things simple with Mellel or Writeroom. Following John Cleese’s advice, writing is one of the few times when I happily ignore everyone. Even Twitter. No, really.

Natalie Goldberg’s advice in Writing Down the Bones is “allow yourself to write junk”. If you don’t, you never get to the good stuff and it is the imperfection of the written first draft that has taught me the most about design. I am happy to write a rubbish opening few paragraphs because I know that I will eventually find what it is I want to say by the time I reach the end. Then I can go in and re-write it.

Teaching students has taught me the value of the rough draft too, for students often hold their first idea as sacrosanct. They want to immediately make it, polish it, without realising the first idea is just a stepping stone to the next one and knowing where to stop is the real trick.

I find that much harder with visual design (and I’m not really a graphic designer, but an interaction and experience designer, so I cheat with graphic design). The tools are too distracting, there are too many possibilities and glossy options. I think it is why I prefer working out the concepts and wireframes – the bare bones are almost completely about the experience not the gloss. I’m thinking of downgrading to the earliest version of Adobe apps that will run on my machine. Perhaps I’ll even install Sheepshaver and run Photoshop 1.0 (which I remember using) and PageMaker 1.0.

If you are a designer I can recommend writing as a way to hone your creative process. You can even write about other designers’ writing if you want.

I suspect other people who are sporty have similar stories. Yoga has taught me a lot about slow, steady practice too, as has playing music.

What has been your greatest creative influence outside of your design life?

[Random shout out: Someone called Leigh got in touch with me from my contact page about my PhD. There was a bug in the form that meant I didn’t get the e-mail address. Leigh, can you mail me again – the form is fixed now or you can just use andy at this domain.]

John Cleese on Creativity

I hate being interrupted when I’m in the midst of writing a… sorry… hang on… Okay, I’m back. Now, what was I saying? Whatever, I forget.

If you Twitter or have other message checking tendencies and especially if you work from home, you’ll know what this is like.

For some tasks like entering my tax receipts, I can happily multitask, but for writing I find it terrible when I’m interrupted and get very grouchy towards whoever interrupts me.

This talk from John Cleese at the World Creativity Forum explains two simple rules for creativity: protected space and time. Don’t let yourself be interrupted in either sphere. It’s pretty simple.

There is more about the nature of creativity and people involved in making things. I noticed Lauren picked up on the same sentence that I did:

“Most people who have absolutely no idea what they are doing, have absolutely no idea they don’t know what they are doing.”

It explains many things, says Cleese, including Hollywood, social media ‘experts’ and bad service experiences.

Now it’s time to turn off Twitter and and get to work.

(Via Lauren at redjotter)

Orbit on Creative Insecurity

Teaching is an interesting process of projection. Much like any other relationship you project your own fears, bad habits and insecurities onto your students and implore them not to do the same. I tried to be honest about this to my students and is why I wrote some thoughts on life as a creative individual.

There is a piece on William Orbit in the Guardian today that was really revealing. Orbit’s Strange Cargo was pretty much the soundtrack to many hours of working in front of the computer in my final year at university.

The Guardian piece is about him moving into composing a symphony and leaving behind his electronica roots. It’s a bold move and one fraught with personal demons I should imagine. But what is most refreshing is to hear someone who is arguably at the top of their game being totally honest about how scary it all is:

“I had thought of taking a tranquiliser before that first rehearsal, and I wished I had because I just felt so amateurish; I was sure that when they started playing, everybody would be laughing at me. But then Alexander picked the order of the pieces and we got going, and by the time we got to the last movement, I realised there was something happening there. I knew what I was doing was valid.”

Anyone who decides to work creatively on anything and who really puts their neck out deserves some praise. Even if it ends up being rubbish. That’s the point. So, huge respect to Mr. Orbit and it should make the rest of use feel a bit bolder.

Re-imagining Higher Education

Recently I have been giving much thought to the structure and issues that most of us in Higher Education have been struggling with for several years. There are three areas of thought that come together when re-imagining education, particularly within Art and Design education. The theory of the Long Tail, the Play Ethic and Cradle to Cradle sustainability. Each of these requires a radical turn-around in current ways of thinking. Tweaking the edges won’t do.

What if we thought about education the same way we thought about our other precious resources or the same way that we think about the changing face of the media? The full post after the jump is quite long, but covers a lot of thought. If you would prefer to read off-line, you can download a PDF version (with references) here.

Continue reading “Re-imagining Higher Education”

The Play Ethic and Sustainability

For a very long time now (since 2005 in fact), Pat Kane’s book, The Play Ethic has been on my Amazon Wishlist (hint, hint) along with several other books on Play for my PhD research into interactivity and play.

The Play Ethic by Pat Kane   Cradle to Cradle - by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Having persuaded my brother that I really like books as birthday presents he sent me three at once, two of which were co-incidentally The Play Ethic and Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (those two are the links to Amazon’s catalogue by the way – I couldn’t recommend two purchases more). This led me to read them back-to-back and I realised what a set of connections there are between the two ways of thinking.

Kane’s Play-Ethic is a fascinating and well-researched literature review, Protestant work-ethic critique and manifesto for a new way of thinking and living. Cradle to Cradle is equally so – a manifesto for a new way of thinking and living as well as a rejection of the past 250 years or so of the industrial society. Both require an enormous about-turn in thinking as the only possible way to combat the ever growing stresses and strains on society and the planet. Both speak of abundance – Kane in terms of the ‘player’ always finding joy and energy in life (and work when need be) and McDonough and Braungart in terms of thinking like nature. They use the example of a cherry tree which produces more blossoms and fruit that it ‘needs’ but that contributes more to local ecosystem than it uses.

Wase = Food = Sustainability.

It’s exactly this sustainability which is also required from our working (read: waking) lives. The current trend towards ever-increasing work hours and less ‘play time’ is unstainable and we’re already seeing the cracks in the system and experiences them personally. I know that ‘downtime’ (and by that I don’t just mean leisure time) is crucial to allowing the space to create connections between ideas and come up with new ones. In short, ‘creativity’ – to invoke that over-used word.

The drive for ‘efficiency’ (a product of the Industrial Revolution) that McDonough and Braungart speak against would have that downtime labeled as ‘inefficient’. They describe the difference between eco-efficient systems (things that are ‘less bad’) and eco-effective (things that actually add to their environment positively – think cars that clean the air as you drive, buildings that generate more energy than they use or products that benefit the environment when you throw them away). An ‘efficient’ cherry tree would have just one blossom and one fruit (that of course would hopefully turn into another tree). There’s not much fun or play in that for starters, nor would the resources used to grow the tree be very well returned to the local environment.

Now think of the ‘efficiencies’ of the modern workplace – do more with less. Work harder, make it cheaper, make it more efficient. Never mind the quality. I’m sure the stresses that places on people are quite well know to most of you. Yet think of a time (maybe not in paid work) when you worked on something because you really loved doing it, because you felt nurtured and fulfilled. For a start it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the way that we have come to know it (i.e., stuff we don’t like doing and that people have to pay us off to do). It feels more like play and it has a whole load of positive knock-on effects in your life, society and culture that efficiency rubs out. Basically it’s a sustainable way of living your life instead of one that sucks all your energy dry and spits you out the other end of the factory.

Both books have made me radically re-think the shape and (dis)organization of my own institution, in what shape universities might be in five, ten or fifty years and re-thinking education (in particular design education). I also found it inspiring that the two areas I’m interested and involved in (play and interactivity, sustainable design and ethics ) have so many connections. I’ll post more about that soon.