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From pixels to experiences: How Angus Muir’s playful design comes to life

For award-winning designer Angus Muir, success is measured in giving people something to enjoy. It just so happens that what he gives people is often big, colourful and interactive.

At 13 years old, Angus Muir was helping out with stage lighting at The Court Theatre in Christchurch when he saw how lights could change moods and transform a space.

It was a seemingly insignificant moment, but one which sparked a curiosity that would lead him on a creative journey toward having his name pasted to the front of what would become the award-winning design studio, Angus Muir Design.

Today, Muir and his team spend their time working on myriad projects, designing, creating and curating spaces, objects and experiences. While his background is in architecture, he’s never really identified as an architect, and neither have any members of his staff.  

“We’re unique – we’re designers, fabricators and installers.”

When talking about his staff, he mentions a spatial designer, a musician, “all sorts, I mean one of our builders has a fashion label.”  

Muir’s interest in the creative design of installations, whether temporary or permanent, emerged prominently while working on his university thesis focused on Silo Park.

“It got me really excited about public spaces, about activation, and events. I like a challenge, something a little bit different. It’s the challenge of getting there, of working with different engineers, pushing the boundaries."

A travelling man

The range and breadth of Muir’s projects is immense; from light festivals in Amsterdam and Sweden, to Viaduct Light, a permanent installation at the Auckland waterfront, to having had work at the popular Vivid Sydney four times.

“We’re pretty unique in that we cover a lot of different areas, different fabrication techniques, different places and materials. We’re going to Dunedin next week, we’ve just been in Melbourne, we do things in Europe, we’ve been in Asia doing interesting things,” Muir says.

A recent project was the Extrude installation, made of 16 Perspex columns rising up to around to 10 metres, part of the Luma Southern Light Project in the Queenstown Gardens in June.

“It was an amazing festival, 10 days setting up in such a beautiful environment,” he says.  

Muir and the team is currently working on a metro station in China, will be involved in the Auckland Arts Festival in March and has six large-scale works going into a new co-working space at Smales Farm.  

While Muir find himself on the road and in planes frequently these days, the vast majority of the design process still happens on-site at the Avondale-based studio.  

“We design here, we prototype, we build, we install, we manage, so we’re sort of like a one-stop shop, even though I don’t like that phrase,” Muir says.

“We’re able to evolve with a project right from its design through to conception which is unique, it means we can have attention to detail and follow everything through.”

Knowing your limits

Muir says he doesn’t pretend to be an expert on everything.

“It’s working with experts that you get to create the magic whether that’s a glassblower or a steel fabricator.”

This also extends to technology. There are things that machines can simply do faster and better than human hands.

Pointing to the Microsoft Surface Studio product he recently trialled, Muir points out how even simple features can help to augment the experience of working on a project.    

“The touchscreen capability really adds another layer to what we’re doing, it makes the work flow a lot quicker, a lot more intuitive…it’s definitely going to change the way we do things.”

So, does this mean he now sees himself more as a pixel or a paper guy? Well, for Muir, it’s a bit of both.

“When I went to architecture school it had shifted from the drawing board to the computer…you can’t escape a sketch pad and a pen by any means but definitely we’re more at home with a computer than people a little bit older.”

He says the computer is an integral part of their process.

“It’s using the computer to think to conceptualise, then taking it thorough to visuals through to digital fabrication, to getting it off to the lazer cutters, back to us and then we can assemble it, then lights and programming – the computer is always involved.”

Giving people something to enjoy

While some artists and designers – think Ai Weiwei, Bansky and Tracey Emin - ask the big questions of politics, of society, of life with their works, Muir is happy to create for creation’s sake. 

“Our core belief is that we’re creating something that is just what it is. It’s big and it’s colourful, and it’s interactive.”

To him, art and installation is something that should be accessible to everyone.

“It sounds simple but it doesn’t have to be driven by politics or the bigger picture, a kid can enjoy it, an older person can enjoy it. We do work in different countries and people don’t speak English, have got different religions and it’s the same beautiful thing to everyone,” Muir says.

With mirrors, colour and light drawing crowds, Muir says their work, due to being photogenic, turns observers into artists.

“It’s really cool to have an event and then the next day to see the photos online that people have taken of your work, it’s all about getting cool photos.”

Muir says he draws inspiration from travelling, having recently gone to Melbourne to check out the Arts Festival and visiting Japan - Tokyo for a week and art island Naoshima for three days - but says any type of trip is good, even if it’s just getting out of Auckland.

And while he may never have imagined at 13 years old the unique niche he would carve out for himself years later, Muir says people should follow their passions.

“If you love what you’re doing you’ll get there, I strongly believe that. I love what I do and I’ve gone down a really different path and ended up with a business and doing what I love and having fun every day.”

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