“Four heads are better than one”: The Dropbox Dream Team on the art of creative collaboration
This November, It’s Nice That commissioned a creative dream team to push the capabilities of Dropbox Paper, working with four global creatives from diverse disciplines to produce one ambitious project. The last article in the series shows the inner workings of poet Anna Haifisch and web developer Rifke Sadleir’s process, developing the final elements of the project to form one cohesive interactive website. Dropbox Paper is a collaborative workspace which eliminates distractions that get in the way of creativity. Because you can work with all types of content — from video, to sound to code — in Paper, you and your collaborators can easily edit and discuss all aspects of your project in one centralised place.
The third part of It’s Nice That and Dropbox’s partnering project The Dream Team, placed the project’s reigns in the hands of German poet and illustrator, Anna Haifisch. This was the third creative act for team captain Max Siedentopf’s brief to be shaped by, and saw the project go back to its beginning— rhyming words and poetry.
Translating artworks into poetry is a longstanding tradition within the creative world, showing how writing can be an alternative creative act, often revealing the context of a piece that the artist themselves may not have even noticed. However working with a poet was a completely new experience for all involved with The Dream Team, and in turn provided a distinct viewpoint on the more visual counterparts of the project’s stages.
The success of this may be due to our poet’s unconventional route into the medium. Many It’s Nice That readers will recognise the name Anna Haifisch, but more for her illustration career where she spends most of her time putting pen to paper. Although Anna’s drawings have regularly had a literary accompaniment, Max’s brief saw her solely working with words by interpreting an earlier part of the process, JP Bonino’s photographs.
Anna’s process to create each of the poems was a bit of a waiting game. First, she picked the ones she felt a particular connection to, or was fond of (her personal favourite is the snake image), and took the time to have a long look at them. “I just stared at them for like half an hour!” Anna laughs when explaining her approach. “I wouldn’t write anything down, and then just some words popped out or a verse. It took a while for the photos to sink in because there were so many paths that I could take, each of JP’s photographs was quite open.” Anna would write two to three possibilities for the poems, “then I’d let it sit for a night, and when I would look again it was like, that’s the one”.
Consequently Anna’s poems add another layer to the photographs which inspired them, providing examples of a possible backstory. This was an approach endorsed by Max, suggesting on the Paper doc that they could be pushed further by adding “contemporary twists”. This advice changed the narrative for one piece, rake, opening with “this land will be yours my father announced today,” but with a surprising ending of “no, thank you I want to become a graphic designer (if you let me)”. Receiving comments like this in Paper Anna says were helpful to the project’s growth. “I’m definitely going to use it in the future,” she says. “It’s 11 people on one doc and it’s not chaotic at all. It’s not a mess, it’s really easy, I’d rather have this than a mass e-mail.”
Anna’s poems also add a emphatic twist, a romanticism to the slightly absurd photographs. For instance referring to the flying bridesmaids in cake as “drifting off like herons do”. Overall, each poem continues a slightly silly tone which had run throughout each part of the project so far. This was an element that naturally developed from the beginning, as starting the project with rhyming words made the work always have a familiar feeling. “The brief gave me a lot of freedom,” Anna explains. “It wasn’t like a heavyweight project, a heavy topic or anything, it was light, fun and more experimental than I thought. That was the great part about it, I think.”
The poet’s pieces are also relatively short in length, a conscious decision Anna made explaining, “because it’s a website in the end and I know myself, and pretty much everybody else doesn’t have a big attention span”. The choice to make them short was also determined by Rifke Sadleir, the project’s web developer and last contributor, and her suggestion that the poems could be combined with the photographs, which helped Anna to avoid “the feeling of too much text”.
Rifke, despite being the last to add her input and creative take to the project’s process, had been watching the project unfold on the Dropbox Paper doc from the beginning. Based in London and a graduate of Brighton’s graphic design course, Rifke explains that “while everyone was working I was laying out what I thought it could be,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I kind of like to lay the foundations of how everything will work before the content is even there. Then, if it needs to change in terms of feel or atmosphere after content you can do that, but still have the general structure of it ready.” But also admitting: “I kind of did that because I was worried about doing it all really!”
In some respects, Rifke had the toughest job out of the four dream team members, pulling together their separate counterparts and forming it into a cohesive whole: an interactive website to explore the work within. Due to this, Max and Rifke spoke frequently on the doc while JP and Anna were forming their creative stances on the brief.
In sharing websites they both admired for its design or use of 3D animation, the pair decided on details such as backgrounds, typography, navigation, signposting and rotation, always asking the other for their thoughts. As the web developer’s process is a number of stages, Rifke would regularly share updates when the pair tried something new to see how far they could push it, or simplify it towards it the end. Discussing these elements was made easier by using Dropbox Paper, which the web developer explains she already uses regularly. “When I was told it was using Paper I was like oh cool, my time to shine!,” she says. “I like how you can track all the changes in the document, commenting on parts too. In other online documents it’s really hard to see who has written one thing, when it was written, and you lose track. The interface is really easy to use, it’s simplified, you don’t have everything you might want to click all at once, it comes up if you need it.”
Once the many counterparts were decided and Max had shared his design for the website, it was up to Rifke to combine all the creative layers into one. “The project was quite open-ended really, but Max is good at discussing ideas and bouncing those ideas off of you,” says Rifke. “I guess the idea he had in mind in the first place is how it’s turned out, but loads of different things have fed into it. His original idea was good in that it was free to add to.” A fondness for both JP’s photographs and Anna’s poems, which she describes as “not contrived at all — it’s the opposite, they’re very tongue-in-cheek,” also helped the project’s final development. “I feel like everyone has had a lot of creative freedom, but it hasn’t been chaotic. He managed to get it to come together without being too descriptive.”
The final website design Max explains is the part of The Dream Team project that best evokes his starting point of the brief. As the website loads, its many elements and contributions slide into view, giving the user the option to click on a word they are attracted to and see how it has been interpreted. “The single photos and poems captured parts of what I thought and felt,” says Max. “But I think the website, where rhymes, images and poems come together and everything connects, best describes the feelings that I initially had in my head.”
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.