|Curated By is an event organised by Sheffield Hallam Universities Graphic Design Department. They bring together a small group of people in the design field and give them 30-40 minutes to entertain and inform the crowd of mainly horrifically young students and to a lesser extent middle aged people like me. I went to the first one earlier this year where Jack Schulze of Berg stole the show.
The second event was inspired by one of Jack’s slides from his talk. It showed Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in front of the model of the mountain. The quote on the slide read ‘He had to make it because he had no other means of communicating what it was’. The day was about making things, the makers of things and the materials for making.
There were five speakers. Joe Malia of Berg did an amalgamation of stories about Berg creations, their ways of working and more interestingly (I have seen the excellent Berg stuff quite a lot) a history of computing taking in the Lincoln Lab at MIT, The tech model railroad club, the donation of a computer to said club and how they hacked away at it to see what it could become. People like Ivan Sutherland who were pioneers at creating the first computing interfaces such as light pens, Doug Engelbart and his infamous mother of all demos where he showed word processing, the mouse and keyboard, video conferencing, the internet and collaborative editing in 1968 way before most people had even seen a computer. He talked of how these hackers had brought about the home computing revolution, showing a clip from the Jobs biopic showing Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak having a heated debate about if normal people would ever use computers. Of course if you make them less like computers and more capable for normal people to use them to make things it turned out they would certainly use them.
Patrick Bergel of Animal Systems and one of the creators of Chirp talked about our interest in the visual over the audio, people would love to understand the great painters rather than the complexity of birdsong. Chirp allows data to be passed over the air via a series of beeps and chirps inspired by birdsong.
Max Whitby of Touchpress showed off some very beautiful iPad apps that visualised the periodic table, the films of Disney, the sonnets of Shakespeare etc. but his talk lacked much explanation into how they were built more just ‘here is a series of beautiful things look at them and marvel’. Well worth checking out the apps but as a talk I did not find I that engaging.
The best two talks of the day by some distance came from Brendan Dawes and Kate Moross
Brendan is someone I saw talk a few years ago and he was hilarious and inspiring. He has not got any less funny in the last few years and his work is still brilliant. He spoke of his history with computers and the day his dad brought home a Mac. His amazement at Photoshop and this machine that had basically pushed all the computer stuff backwards and allowed the creativity and capability of the deice come forwards.
He talked of his sadness that Photoshop had gone from a simple and powerful beauty to this bloated beast of today ‘Like if you only knew Elvis during his fat phase’. This failing of tools made by others lead him to make things that made things. Digital tools that helped him solve specific problems that he had. He had progressed beyond Paintshop and making things with the likes of Processing and using data as his main material.
He was scathing of creativity courses that sent middle managers off to axe sharpening courses when they should be learning to code and make using the machines of today. Nostalgia is fine to a point but we should only be slightly influenced by the past not bullied by it. Looking back fondly to a time when making things with metal and wood was the norm, yearning for the physicality of Polaroid cameras when you have these new amazing machines in front of us that we have only scratched the surface of their capability.
He also spoke of how the tools he made and the materials he used were inspired by nature, the mathematical patterns found in things such as sunflowers and what is known as Fermat’s Spiral or as Brendan called it Vodel Spiral. Using data to form similar patterns but in a controlled way, he called it randomness but within constraints.
One example shown was a series of concert posters that had a simple pattern that represented cities. They were created by algorithms and the digital forms were then printed in analogue methods which added a uniqueness to them as the screen printing process added the effects of ink on paper. Other examples shown included weaving Shakespeare quotations with news stories of today, the beautiful digital city portraits produced for EE, A data visualisationon the number of kills each James Bond made, A move into the physical realm with his 3D printed work around algorithmic shapes to represent musical forms, and making simple machines fed by data such as his weather machine and his happiness machine.
Brendan was a big advocate of putting your work out there, especially the stuff he had created that was just him playing around, the stuff that most people might say ‘but yeah what is the point?’ Because that is what he has found has led to more commercial work, things that people want him to try. That ability to just play and experiment and publish is something I think is what holds back most companies from truly innovating.
He ended with a great quote he had heard someone else say ‘If no one is getting hurt then it is not cutting edge’ which I loved and he also said that for all computers brilliance they still have no taste and it is up to us humans to make beautiful, inspiring and challenging things.
I had never heard of Kate Moross and I have to be honest as it was the last talk of the day and as Kate was dressed in bright yellow trousers, a bright red sweatshirt with a maze on it, an orange beanie hat and dyed pink hair I was making some judgements about the type of talk it would be and my assumed enjoyment levels. I could not have been more wrong or more of an idiot.
Like Brendan, Kate talked of creative freedoms in digital spaces, her start was not Photoshop and Macs but MySpace. Kate had learnt a bit about coding and designed her own portfolio page on the site but as this was several years ago before the proliferation of digital cameras and easy to use digital tools lot of people could not easily add creative designs. Kate ended up designing logos for bands and record labels to use on their MySpace pages. She published her drawings and art there. Her work got noticed and she ended up doing quite a bit of commercial work while still in her second year of university, the culmination of this was she ended up doing a fairly well known campaign for Cadbury’s at the age of 19.
With the money earned she decided to start her own record label, Isomorph, because she wanted to design record sleeves. This did not turn out to be the best idea commercially but actually lead her to realise what it is she was good at and what she wanted to do, ‘Make music look good’.
Isomorph closed after 5 records were released, Kate built on what she had learnt and started Studio Moross with a view to building what she had done with the record label but concentrating on making music look good. She designed CD promo sleeves and packaging that would be sent to radio stations in the hope of airplay, this has progressed to more video related creations. Moross work a lot with independent labels and when songs are released they don’t have videos but they do need to be published on YouTube so they create looping animations and videos for these songs to represent them online. They have worked with one of my favourite beat combos, Simian Mobile Disco, and they produced a very trippy video where they bought £30 worth of insects, got a cheap SLR mount and macro lens, filmed said insects then added a load of digital effects after. Whole thing cost them a few hundred quid and looked great. Kate said it is about getting across the thing in your head in as creative a way as your budget allows.
Kate has a bewildering array of work in this space and her studio was progressing into making full on music videos such as the recent Jessie Ware track which has had over 16 million views on YouTube. She still illustrates though and had also had the chance to turn her illustrations into a more physical form in the shape of a club / party night for Ray Ban.
He talk ended with some sage advice from this very young and very talented lady as she barracked the students (and others in attendance) to not be lazy, to get your work out there, to learn about the commercials realities of design, have no fear, learn how to improvise, make stuff even if you know your first attempts will be awful, make your own luck (the title of her book). A great talk, with a thumping soundtrack to end the day.
As someone rubbish at making stuff it was inspiring to hear from those who had done it and the lessons they had learnt. There were many parallels with the corporate world and lessons to learn especially around the restrictions it places on making and creativity both from a tools point of view but also more importantly a cultural one. That being said I think these maybe more of an excuse or just a symptom of fear. It was a good way to spend an afternoon and I look forward to more curated by events.