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In Conversation with the Speakers of DesignTalk: Spaces to Play
On Tuesday March 24th, we’re hosting our third Percolate Design event – DesignTalk: Spaces to Play at the Bowery Electric. We’ve lined up a group of accomplished designers and artists who are sure to inspire us with their stories of the spaces that help them do their best work. They are:
Sougwen Chung – Artist
Sougwen is an interdisciplinary artist working across technology, sculpture, performance and drawing. Her thought provoking work explores transitional edges; the contrasts between human and machine and technology and emotion.
Sveinung Skaalnes – Hyper Island
Sveinung is Program Director at 30 Weeks, the new incubator for design founders created by Hyper Island, Google and NYC design schools. Prior to 30 Weeks, he led teams and built things across education, digital, fashion, photography and advertising.
Tom Harman – Project Florida
Tom is a Designer at Project Florida, where he is in stealth mode working on products that will bring preventative healthcare to the masses. Tom is a SVA MFA Interaction Design Alum, and previously worked with clients like Speedo, Benetton and BBC.
Lee Simpson – Ustwo
Lee is a Designer at digital product studio ustwo, and mentor on the Ignite100 startup accelerator. Before arriving in New York he was at The Guardian in London where he worked on content production tools for the newspaper’s next generation website.
Kemp Attwood – Area 17
Kemp is the Managing Director at Area 17, an interactive agency partnering with global technology and media clients to challenge the status quo. Previous to Area 17, Kemp worked at Second Story Interactive Studios creating websites and museum installations.
Melissa Mandelbaum – Percolate
Melissa is a Product Designer at Percolate where she leads design across Streams and Analytics. By night she is learning front-end development at General Assembly. Before entering the world of start-ups, she studied and practiced architecture.
Because of the PechaKucha 20×20 format of the event, each speaker only has about seven minutes to present. And while that format makes for some very entertaining presentations, it does mean we can only hear so much from them. That’s why before our DesignTalk events we sit down with our speakers to get to know them a little bit better. Here’s some of what they had to say this time:
1. How did you first become interested in design?
Sougwen Chung: Via the web, hands down. The internet as a medium was transformative for me at a young age; I hand coded and pixel-crafted my first website when I was 10 or something. My conception of design, interface, and the screen are all intertwined as a result… I certainly still have a fondness for that era of the internet.
Kemp Attwood: In grade school I didn’t know what graphic design was, but I was intrinsically drawn to certain aesthetics, such as minimal fashion advertising and surf, skate and snowboard graphics. I suppose it was odd that as a teenager I collected Mirabella and Thrasher magazines at the same time.
Later on, I was drawn to visual design as a vocation, but it seemed very remote—especially as I had never taken a single art class. I was in university around the time the internet really took off, and design became so much more accessible—anyone could have the tools to play around and make things, so I did. And I somehow managed to turn that play into work.
Lee Simpson: Back in 2000, I started photographing graffiti in my local city in the UK. We have an overground metro system so the area had a bit of a New York vibe with the tunnel systems and sometimes the trains covered in spray paint. I got to the point where I wanted to do something more creative than just take photos but I wasn’t any good at art.
A few years later I got a loan and started a fashion label, printing t-shirts with graphics created by the graffiti artists that I’d met in UK and Europe. I taught myself how to use Illustrator so I could design my own branding and promotional print and it kind of went from there. Initially it was print and fashion design that really interested me but as time went on I began to draw inspiration from everywhere.
Through the fashion label I became friends with a designer in the UK called Gavin Strange and he was a huge inspiration for me. He has always focused on design as a craft and his ability to apply that to almost anything is mind blowing — I’d like to think I’m trying to follow that same path.
Tom Harman: I started playing in bands at 15 so needing design for records, shirts and websites was a natural extension of this. Playing music in a DIY punk rock music scene gave me a lot of talented and motivated friends to learn from; one day that might be booking a tour, another it was designing a website. It didn’t need to be perfect, it just needed to exist.
2. Describe one of your favorite work spaces. What about it makes it special?
Sougwen Chung: I love making work on-the-road — inviting spontaneity in the process. Lately, I’ve been traveling more for various projects, exhibitions, and artist talks so being able to prototype ideas and develop creatively while in-transit has been essential. I made the drawings that became Chiaroscuro over years in different cities and sketchbooks and the sculptural prototypes for Ecdysis on trains and at various airports. I’m slowly refining my mobile studio setup so that I can work anyplace, but its been a rewarding challenge.
Sveinung Skaalnes: In my experience a good culture is the recipe to creating good, relevant, valuable and innovative work. So my favorite workspace is more of a mental space than a physical one. And the culture comes down to people. I strive to surround myself with creative, empathetic, brave people that can bring their particular craft to the table in a generous way. Then, we figure out the physical space together. I believe it is about people, culture, process and space – in that order.
Melissa Mandelbaum: Although I’m a Product Designer now, I studied architecture in college at the University of Maryland. The architecture building was designed some time ago by students, and is one of my all time favorite places to design. The core of the building is a two story great space. Surrounding the great space on the first floor, each architecture student had a drafting desk. Surrounding the great space on the 2nd floor are the classrooms. The centralized great space is a place for collaboration, reviews and hanging with classmates. From what I can remember, it was a wonderful space, that fueled a lot of great design.
3. DesignTalk began as a weekly meeting in which our design team shared inspirational work from a variety of disciplines. What’s a recent piece of work that you found inspirational or striking?
Sveinung Skaalnes: These days open, distributed, disruptive ways to learn gets me going in a big way! Some approaches to innovative learning design to check out include:
IDEO U: An online school where leaders can unlock their creative potential and build their problem-solving skills.
Ananas: A kid-to-kid educational platform enabling children around the world to communicate, teach and experience each other’s language and culture. It’s still in beta.
Hyper Island Toolbox: Methods and tools for team development, innovation, self-leadership and creativity curated by Hyper Island)
Lee Simpson: It’s really difficult to focus on just one piece of design because I see so much stuff every week that I love — I get inspiration from magazines, architecture, film, music, games, the list goes on. I’ve always been into designers who really hustle. Aaron Draplin, Benny Gold, Ollie Munden, Chuck Anderson — those guys who are out there working their asses off to do what they love. For me, there is nothing more inspiring than that. There is so much amazing talent out there but that just isn’t enough anymore — you’ve got to put the time in and lot of young designers coming into the industry don’t realize that.
Tom Harman: Hmm, good question. A project that continuously inspires me is called Unti-tled; It’s essentially a mailing list that once-a-month sends a walking tour itinerary of all the new gallery shows (along with the occasional coffee shop / restaurant) in NYC. I love the focus on content and quality that the format creates, not to mention Jake & Jacob‘s excellent emoji and curation skills.
Melissa Mandelbaum: As an architect / product designer, I’m blown away by the design work in Monument Valley. I find the buildings in the game to be architecturally fascinating and visually stunning. The storyline is also wonderful. I’m not that into games, but I’ve spent many hours playing with Monument Valley.
4. At Percolate, we’re pretty into coffee. What’s your favorite coffee shop in the city (or any city, we have expanded to other cities after all) and why?
Sougwen Chung: Oh, hmm — places and culinary sensations I found striking over the past little while… espresso and dessert at Omotesando in Shibuya, Tokyo, a Lebanese cardamom coffee at Ard Bia Cafe in Galway, and tea and snacks at Cha An in New York is a staple. I suppose some combinations of well crafted tastes and atmosphere just linger in the memory, y’know?
Kemp Attwood: Bakeri is at the top of my list for great coffee, amazing baked goods and a cozy atmosphere (there is a quiet garden in the back that is perfect for reading in warmer weather). Lately my colleagues have brought me back coffee from Re:union, and though I’ve never actually been there, the americano is perfect according to my palate.
Sveinung Skaalnes: My favorite coffee spot at the moment would be Charlotte Patisserie in Greenpoint. I don’t drink coffee but the pastries create a sugar, butter and cream party in my mouth every time.
Lee Simpson: As much as coffee is my lifeblood right now, I spend a lot less time in coffee shops these days. You’re more likely to find me in a hotel bar — somewhere quiet that has good cocktails. The bar at the Pierre Hotel is really good and the bartender there, Paul who makes the best Old Fashioned I’ve had in the city. Whenever I’m in London I go to The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy— the martinis are next level.
Tom Harman: I don’t drink a lot of coffee so I’m not the best person to ask, but while at SVA, Joe, across the street was always the best treat when I needed to get through a ton of work, the cookies there are great too.
Melissa Mandelbaum: I really love Everyman Espresso. There’s a location in SoHo and one by Union Square. The iced coffee is simply wonderful.
Join us Tuesday, March 24th from 7:00pm to 10:00pm at Bowery Electric, we will host DesignTalk: Spaces to Play. True to Percolate form, there will be drinks, music, and great company. Don’t miss out: RSVP here.