The era of the great pretenders

Fjord Family

Courtesy of It’s Nice That’s – ‘Here 2013’

In last week’s design meeting, we started out talking about the role of visual designers in service design, but ended up with a debate about the need for such definition at all.

This year’s ‘Here’ from It’s Nice That surfaced a similar theme around definitions and what it means to be a creator today.

One thing that struck me after a day of pure delight listening to some of the world’s most innovative creators talk about their lives, was that almost without exception each one of them had simply had a dream and just got on and made it happen. Yes, they were all brilliantly talented and self-motivated, but most of them also admitted to ‘making it up as they went along’. The clear manifesto that rang out was: ’there are no barriers – so do it yourself’.

The internet came through as the enabler in this brave new world, in creating connections and giving rise to tools for all. Anyone with a good idea can now try and bring it life.

If this is the case, the delineation between interaction designer, visual designer, kinetic designer, coder etc suddenly starts to blur. But so too does that of set designer, architect, digital artist, advertiser, musician, fashion designer, sculptor and so on.

Perhaps summing this theme up most strongly were Kate MorossWayne Hemingway and Erik Kessels, each of whom spoke directly to the idea that  we are all creatiors now, As Seth Godin strongly insists in his recent book‘The Icarus Deception’, the industrial age is no longer a relevant reference for us. The connected era we find ourselves in gives rise to the artist – and that artist is each and every one of us.

Wayne Hemingway kicked off proceedings hilariously setting a ridiculously high standard for those who followed. His sentiment, apart from the instantly quotable: “I’d advise you to do this whenever you get the chance, ring your mum”, was that now is the time for action.

He continued to remind us all what a significant role we designers play in society and the economy and urged us to be political, take a stance: “Designers need to be political, because they do make a difference.”

He backed this up by reminding us of his sometimes more controversial moments, getting banned from Swindon for example for his comments about Wimpey housing. But then putting his money where his mouth is with his own housing project in Gateshead – a project in the mid 2000s which saw him embracing design challenges he’d never faced before – not least architecture, landscape design and joys of working with a cynical local council.

With neither training, nor experience in these areas, he used his own ideas and instincts combined with the knowledge available and accessible via the internet to make this happen. His sentiments echoed those we’re currently debating in our studio: “Have no fear…use design across disciplines to make things better”.

Equally, context is everything when designing for people: “When designing houses, you don’t start with the house itself, but the enviroment that it’s in. Is there space for kids to play? Will serendipity be supported?”

Kate Moross took Hemingway’s theme and maxed it out with a good mix of expletives and DIY punk ethos. She showed us behind the scenes of some of her brilliant music videos including the absolute zero budget making of Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘The Audacity of Huge’.

As with Hemingway, Moross doesn’t believe in limiting herself to defined disciplines. She takes on projects in a multitude of fields with the attitude that anything she can’t already do is just an internet tutorial away.

Amongst the many soundbites Moross gifted us, those that will continue to resonate with me were: “If you can’t do it, learn how…there is no barrier, there is no wall.” and in summing up the enabling power of the internet into a neat little manifesto she explained: “The internet + bootleg software + forums and tutorials = DIY utopia”.

As the day progressed, we were treated to Adam Buxton composing a song live on stage using existing samples from Garage Band and ending his session with an amazing animated tribute to David Bowie.

Es Devlin took us on a journey through ideas fortified by Google search to her stage design for some of the most awe inspiring spectacles the world has ever seen including the 2012 closing ceremony.

Sarah Illenberger refused to be limited by the definition of ‘what you do’, seeing the power of her ideas come to life by: “Outsourcing the expertise you don’t have yourself”.

Almost everyone commended pursuing non-commercial projects in order to be able to enrich and fortify your personal voice and beliefs. Andy Rementergave great examples of how he’d found his own style in this way which then fed back into his commissioned work.

An extreme example of chasing a dream wtih unfailing and almost zealous belief was personified by the work of Nelly Ben Hayoun, who encouraged us as designers to: “Embrace bringing strange and unconnected things together.” Which she did with great gusto, in one instance almost setting fire to her apartment in the process.

Erik Kessels concluded the day with his own take on creating, with a focus on the power of ideas to outlive the medium.


He really hit the message home, insisting that there is no need for us to concentrate on one discipline – a great idea will allow you to blur between:

  • High budget and low budget
  • Strong design and non-design
  • On and offline
  • Autonomous and commissioned

He believes that we are much richer when we have multiple hobbies through which to inspire each other.

As often as we start from a brief, we should also create our own, an example being the ‘Unofficial Royal Wedding Plates’ that his agency Kessels Kramer did for their own enjoyment and which were hugely successful.

But the message I will take back into my own life and work, is that those two things are no longer separated into creating and not creating. Doing and being are one and the same. Everything we do feeds into what we create, so we’d better make all of it count. The internet is the phenomenal enabler forcing us all to take action and breathe life into our ideas.

Fjord Family

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