On Thursday, I had the opportunity to ‘think aloud’ as one of the guests at a Good for Nothing Social along with Alex Clifton (Chester Performs) and Al Jones (BBC), the theme was ‘Culture in Chester – mediocre, risk-averse and suspicious or open, challenging & embracing?’
The turnout was great, all the better considering it was before payday in ‘Dry Jan’. Al and Alex’s talks were both fantastic about creativity techniques and the new Cultural Centre respectively. I had some thoughts on design and collaboration that stemmed from MA Design studies, here is an overview.
Designers should consider artistic and mathematical principles in projects, being a good designer is seeing the value in both. If designers just consider projects in terms of the measurability, then creativity will suffer, if projects are thought of only conceptually then it becomes an art project, depending on the project, a designer will have to float somewhere between these extremes. Brian Eno suggests that focusing on measurability in the arts can kill it in his John Peel Lecture.
“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” (attributed to Henry Ford but not verified).
Design can broadly be considered from two starting points, solving problems or breaking new ground. When solving problems, there is a measurability which is a more risk averse starting point to one that sets out to break new ground, the latter is more challenging with potential for greater innovation.
Although solving problems is a more risk-averse approach, it can have risks; Nokia engaged with customers and answered their perceived problems with handsets, customers could only conceive of small enhancements. Apple created the iPhone, breaking new ground through creating the App Store, this innovation took over a lot of Nokia’s market share.
We can learn from this in a cultural context in Chester by not focusing entirely on the white middle-class middle-age demographic. This group has measurability of spending power because of affluence but we could end up with a mediocre offering. If Chester becomes a cultural Nokia with small enhancements, then Liverpool and Manchester will undoubtedly be the iPhone and Android that everyone goes to for innovative culture, even the demographic being focused on.
The App store’s power is through the use of an emergent system, a bottom-up approach of allowing a community to be innovative, Apple isn’t prescribing what innovation is, they created a space for App developers to flourish with their own ideas. Encyclopedia Britannica is prescribing facts, Wikipedia facts emerge.
Emergence in culture
A community in Granby, Liverpool started fighting a cynical top-down regeneration plan when their homes were going to be demolished. They painted doors of empty houses, cleaned the streets and pulled together. Assemble, a collective of Architects, Designers and Artist assisted with their ideas and built on this community vision. The Turner Prize was awarded to Assemble for this collaboration.
Coworking, collaboration, innovation
We run a coworking studio INDUSTRY, an open collaborative environment, we want to expand on this idea; we’re about to take an empty shop on Watergate Row for a short time. There’s an opportunity to learn from Granby and explore what can be achieved in Chester having a space where the focus is collaboration and innovation. Can we grow something from the bottom up that doesn’t have a measurable main focus? Perhaps if we are lucky, may be part of something that’s challenging and embracing that adds to the cultural landscape of Chester.