SP09: A message from All of Us

Sanky, founder of AllOfUs an innovative interactive design firm in London,  explains how a 10-year-old can get inside Einstein’s head.

The plan to blog Semi-Permanent 09 has gone the way of so many good intentions—to hell in a hand basket. It has been a full on day, long sessions and a lot of fantastic material. I’ll do my best to keep up, but it will be delayed coverage.

The third session: Sanky from the interactive firm AllOfUs began with a peculiar demonstration. Sanky asked the assembly to hum. Personally I hate audience participation. I dread the moment when a comedian or a hypnotist makes eye contact from the stage. Pick someone else. I wondered what the corny outcome of the humming shtick would be. It’s a design conference after all. Slide one revealed that audiences would once hum, rather than clap to show their appreciation. The slightly tenuous connection was that interactive design work doesn’t have to shout.

After getting some personal credentials out of the way; a passion for graffiti (…doing it—arrested seven times as a teen) through to nomination for President of D&AD—which is a very big deal in the world of design, especially in the UK, Sanky took us through some of the work from AllOfUs. He referred to the company’s involvement with—which is notorious for being the biggest failure on the web, or perhaps the most successful at burning hundreds of millions of pounds in venture capital (remember the charming term ‘Burn Rate’—i.e. how fast a company spent its investors funds?). It was funny to hear him talk frankly about the fundamental flaw in his company’s association with the brand—the site they constructed was made in Macromedia Director, which didn’t work in the most commonly used browser of the day: Internet Explorer. Oops. Still, live and learn…

Themes emerged from the discussion of AllOfUs’ work that were a common thread during the day, in particular the significance of collaboration and learning through trial and error. I wondered if the work of design firms, the process of research through design is accounted for in national economic statistics. Design is an iterative process—versioning and testing—rather than delivering a magically complete solution from the rack via the ‘magic’ of creativity. Just a thought.

Two cases shown by Sanky were particularly interesting (to me anyway), work for Harefield Hospital in the UK to improve patient experiences and outcomes; in particular a kind of chill-out room for people about to be prepped for heart surgery. Not only was it near and dear to me because I had heart surgery a few weeks ago but it also reminded me of the commentary by Dan Pink in his book—A Whole New Mind (Buy@Fishpond), about research in the US that demonstrated that a more humanistic, rather than medico-mechanistic approach to hospital design led to shorter stays and lower use of pain killing medicines (therefore lower costs). Sanky called it evidence based design and I wondered if the point resonated with the many students and graduates in the hall—design as social and economic driver, rather than simply aesthetic or decorative?

A second example of All Of Us’ work was the interactive concept of cycling inside Einstein’s head for The Science Museum. In a wonderful leap of imagination taking the iconic image of Einstein on his bicycle (supposedly where he came up with the theory of relativity—which I think comes under the heading of ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’)—to creating an experience where the user literally sits on a bike, and pedals through a 3D heads up world where the screen is housed inside a giant fiberglass head of Einstein and the film explains the theory.

He showed a number of interactive concepts for Microsoft and a hospital fundraiser for Great Ormand Street Hospital (the wonderfully titled ‘ Make Some Noise’) which demonstrated the idea of creating a technological framework in which the user creates their own experience in real time; describing how that overcomes the burden of creating content—something worth filing away for future use.

Sanky is an engaging guy, good humoured and self-effacing. He obviously loves his work, which segues, into his point about making sure that there is an element of fun and play in the process - without which solutions like posters made with conductive inks that can send messages to a laptop computer wouldn’t be possible.

The end of the presentation meandered into some philosophical indulgences and discussion of influential designers. In referring to references and inspiration he made the very good point that ‘everything is more interesting than your desk’. Creativity is fueled by real stimulus and exploration.

Bridging nicely to the presenter that followed he reminded us that ‘The best things in life are not things’.

Visit the AllOfUs website. Sensational work. Inspiring.

D&AD Interview with Sanky

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).