Open Work is a design collective based in the Netherlands and founded in September 2014 by Susana Carvalho, Kai Bernau, Elisabeth Malcolm, and Daniel Powers. Amongst other projects, they were involved in The Mac Photographic Archive to document the building for posterity after the fire. Here, they talk about the concepts behind some of their more recent projects.
With backgrounds in graphic design, interactive design, and type design we work in collaboration with people and organisations to develop design projects across various media. We view our clients as collaborators and seek opportunities to work with those involved in their own creative pursuits, where we can learn from each other, and extend and complement each other’s domain knowledge with a shared investment in the quality of the work produced.
In times where the conventions of communication are constantly in flux, we are interested in exploring the boundaries of, and relationships between media. Critical thinking, systems thinking, focus on content, and dedication to craft are central. We view digital and analog not as a schism, but as a continuum in which we can speculate on ways of reading, methods of interaction, forms of graphic design, and how these can be manipulated, challenged, reverse engineered, and re-purposed.
We also want to use the collective to work on self-initiated, playful research projects that explore how we shape our media, and how they shape society in return, from post-Gutenberg to post-internet. One example of this is Indygraph, an online barometer that captures Twitter users’ feelings about the Scottish independence referendum that took place in 2014:
From Sunday 31 August until the result was decided, Indygraph tallied 3,970,038 tweets that contained the hashtags #yesScotland, #voteYes, #betterTogether or #noThanks in 30-minute intervals. It correlated them to news stories matching the search terms “independence,” “referendum” and “Scotland” on Google News.
More recently, we have launched Predominant.ly, which simply put, is a web application to discover music by colour. The idea arose partly as an antidote to the ‘spreadsheet looking’ apps like iTunes and Spotify that we use to manage our music, and partly out of curiosity. The interfaces we use to interact with our music make it unlikely that we find something that falls outside of our normal musical tastes, something that lets us broaden our horizons, or expand our musical base.
We like to spend time making projects like Predominant.ly because the oft-recited idea that design is only about “solving problems” sets the bar rather low, requiring a problem as a prerequisite for a designer to make something. We want to design things that can elevate an experience beyond completing a task or solving a problem, to a memorable encounter that has a positive or fulfilling effect, in even the smallest of ways.
Our electronic displays are the portals through which an increasing number of our interactions take place. You use the same glowing rectangle to speak to your mother as you do to submit your taxes, making our experiences less distinct. In the age of the screen, where we risk a tendency to rely on a familiar visual language, design that is specific to its content is becoming increasingly important.
By treating experiences as separate and unique, we can avoid repeatedly applying the same solution, however well it may function. In the case of Predominant.ly, we want to bring an element of serendipity back into the search for music, making the experience as personal and delightful as stumbling across a long-forgotten favourite in a second-hand record store.
Alongside studio work, all four members of Open Work teach. Lizzie and Susana both teach in the Graphic Design department at KABK (Royal Academy of Art) in The Hague, Dan at ArtEZ in Arnhem and Kai at Écal in Lausanne and HfbK in Hamburg.