Last night we hosted an evening of talks exploring the pursuit of brilliance to celebrate the UK launch of the HTC One M9 smartphone. Held at the Protein Space in east London, the event featured four speakers whose creative practice is built around an uncompromising quest for excellence and they each brought an enlightening perspective to the topic.
First up we heard from Nicolas Roope, a creative thinker who as founder of POKE and the man who launched the Plumen lightbulb knows a thing or two about brilliance in both a digital and offline context. He began by drawing an important distinction between “brilliance” and “perfection” and explained that creative thinking can sometimes be shackled by an unrealistic quest for the latter. “Imperfect things can be quite brilliant,” he said, “and brilliance can be much more expansive.” Using both examples of his own work and that of some of his creative heroes, Nicolas showed how brilliance often required a different kind of design thinking. “Stanley Kubrick was a control freak but he understood the films he was making were part of a much bigger universe,” he said.
Next up was architect, writer and curator Sam Jacob, who talked about brilliance in the context of our cities. “They are the real space of democracy, the place where we share our lives. That is why making them brilliant is so important,” he said. But there was a problem – it’s almost impossible to actually design a city as they’re really “an ecology of relationships” – between nature, history, planning, money, activity data and people. The key to brilliant thinking on this scale necessitated looking at what Sam called “the bigger maps,” the complex interlocking taxonomies of cities from which you can start to tweak some of the fundamental connections. “Through lateral jumps we can address very real problems,” he said.
The third speaker was Australian-born, London-based body architect Lucy McRae whose work explores “how technology is forcing us to redefine the limits of our bodies.” She began with a quotation from House of Cards’ Francis Underwood, who said that “Imagination is another form of courage” and her mind-blowing work showed how Lucy had examined this idea in both her commercial and personal work. From swallowable perfume that allows users to sweat a chosen scent to the stress-relieving effects of zero gravity, Lucy talked about “those unpredictable moments when something stirs me emotionally,” and how following these hunches has allowed her to push the boundaries of her practice in amazingly unexpected ways. “The experiments I am doing are a way of probing the human condition,” she said.
The final speaker of the evening was Daniel Hundt, the creative director for industrial design at HTC, who gave us an illuminating insight into “how we think and how we feel about what we’re doing.” Daniel said that the idea of “informed intuition” is one of their central philosophies, balancing art and science, business and creativity. By empowering the design team, he has built a culture where people can challenge each other. “It’s not always easy, it’s sometimes uncomfortable but it helps us push our design forward,” he said.
And by pursuing “simple, human and crafted” design solutions, the HTC team avoids the temptation to tinker for the sake of it. It’s about evolution not revolution, but without getting stale. Daniel said: “I believe if you do the same thing over and over and over you become very efficient at doing it, but you miss the spark.”
After the talks, all of the panellists came together for questions, during which they discussed the demanding nature of not settling for something average, and the best ways in which to create a design culture that allows people to fail from time to time. They also all agreed that if you didn’t enjoy the journey, the pursuit as well as the brilliance, then any attempt at excellence was doomed to failure.