My Reasons to be Creative…

Last week I headed down to Brighton for the first Reasons to be Creative conference and had a brilliant time catching up with friends, discussing ideas and taking in what has been my annual fix of inspiration for the last few years. This new event effectively takes the place of Flash on the Beach, which ran with great success from 2006 – 2011, assembling some of the best creative and technical talent for three days every September.

Over the past few years though, the gradual increase in adoption of alternatives to the Flash platform has quite rightly led the organisers to diversify the conference to attract a broader range of delegates. Having attended a few of the previous events it would seem to me that this transition was already taking place, the rebranding was just the finishing touch.

The conference got off to a great start with a key note from Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University, presenting to us some fascinating pieces of research. The talk included insights into his research and use of Class II implants for the purposes of extending the potential of the human sensory system. Among a couple of pretty gruesome slides of the various operations that had taken place to insert implants, Professor Warwick explained how they could be used to enable the transmission of neural signals to both robotic devices and from human to human. In another experiment we saw how magnets could be used to allow humans to experience a form of real life haptic feedback in the tips of their fingers. For me, one of the most fascinating items presented by Professor Warwick were his findings in the use of neurones from the brains of rats to drive basic robots around a wooden box and how, with an hours practice a day, over a period of three months, the neurones were able to ‘learn’ basic functions which enabled them to traverse around a box, avoiding the walls with an increasingly accurate level of control.

Later on that morning, Memo Akten showed some really interesting work involving beautiful sound visualisations based on the patterns generated by the oscillation of a series of pendulums. I love the simplicity of ideas like this as a starting point for experimental projects, as they can often lead to amazing results, examples of this piece can be seen here. Memo also spoke of his contribution to the amazing ‘Meet Your Creator‘ show at the Cannes Lions New Directors Showcase. I really enjoyed Memo’s talk – it was easily one of the best of the conference for his creativity and style as a Visual Artist.

On Monday afternoon, Mario Klingemann’s talk covered his most recent work, which was quite different from the Flash work that he is more commonly known for. Working with a laser cutter and various materials to create physical objects, Mario showed a number of physical interface projects, one of which included a real life version of a Facebook style ‘Like’ button which was featured at the “Ultra Social” UAMO-Festival 2011 in Munich. He also spoke of his experiences of setting up a maker collective and how beneficial groups like FabLabs and Hackspaces can be used as a channel for creative output. This is definitely something I’m looking to get involved with in the local area over the next few months.

Brosmind provided a great evening of entertainment, presenting to us their highly intricate and playful illustration work, with so much energy and enthusiasm. Their attitude and approach really reminded me of that taken by director, Robert Rodriguez – with the whole shooting (or working) at the speed of thought concept. In a similar way to Rodriguez, Juan and Alejandro of Brosmind worked creatively from a young age, making their own short films as kids, cleverly utilising what ever tools they could manipulate to achieve the desired effects within their films. I really enjoyed learning about the thinking behind Juan and Alejandro’s work, one of the best examples of which were a series of concert tickets they had designed for Dave Matthews Band which, when placed next to each other in any direction, would show the design continuing from one ticket to the next.
I laughed a lot and absolutely loved it. A week later, I still keep hearing their phrase in my head:

“Hey brother, this is our momento!”

On day two, Mozilla technical evangelist, Christian Heilmann gave a great talk which covered a range of viewpoints about life as a web developer. He considered ways in which developers can be better at adapting to change, reaching a better understanding of the different audiences of the web, and how we can work best to nurture future web technologies by making the most of new features and advancements in a constructive and realistic way. Christian also highlighted the importance of being considerate of the fact that not all users of the web will consume it in the same way. His talk was really well structured with the help of some really nice visuals from Shaun Tan’s elegantly illustrated book ‘The Lost Thing’, Christian also drew some really nice analogies between the characters in the book and the relationship between developers and the web.

I think Jake Archibald easily provided one of the most practical and informative talks of the conference in his detailed guide to the workings of a relatively new HTML 5 feature, namely, the application cache. Jake provided some really good examples and a comprehensive breakdown of how to use appcache as well as how to negotiate all of it’s douche bag nuances. I have used this feature in a web application and have had varying levels of success with it but ,until now, I had no idea how complex it actually is and how many potential problems it can cause. Jake’s talk proved to be really helpful and was really cleverly delivered with some very subtle humour.

The final day of the conference began with the Gimme 5 sessions, another favourite from Flash on the Beach, in which, new speakers get a chance to have 5 minutes in front of the entire conference audience to talk, present or demonstrate pretty much anything they want to. Historically, this has been a really great session to watch on the grounds of its pace, diversity and the chance to see what others at a similar level are doing in their work.

The Reasons’ Gimme 5 speakers didn’t disappoint – highlights for me included:

Luke Whittaker – Luke demonstrated a really clever Flash based game which involved a nice collaboration between an in game character and video of hand made models and scenes. Luke showed us a demo of the game using real world objects which trigger the advance and rewind of the video, based on the interactions that the character makes as it moves through the level, such a great idea.

Reece Millidge – Reece presented a game that he has developed called Icicle 2 – it’s so beautifully illustrated, full of humour and one that I’ve gone back to play since seeing the presentation, it’s a really nice piece of work. As with Luke’s game, I can really appreciate the high level of craftsmanship that has gone into this and it’s nice to see that people go to these efforts to produce visually and interactively engaging work.

Tom Platten-Higgins – Tom spoke about the HaxeNME games development platform – I’ve heard bits and pieces about the platform, but haven’t really ever looked into it as I’m not much of a games developer – it’s definitely on my list to investigate though as I found the overview and examples in Tom’s presentation really interesting and it could prove to be a good possible route to explore for future work.

Maikel Sibbald – Maikel demonstrated some of the work he has done with 360 cameras at video solutions company, YellowBird, which I found really interesting. I’m really fascinated by different forms of video work at the moment and it’s an area which I’m exploring within my Arduino work. Maikel’s presentation showed some of the amazing technology that can be used to create interactive videos which can display video panoramas, for which the point of view can be changed by the user at any time in a street view style panning motion – really impressive stuff!

Among the last speakers I went to see at the conference were Simon Collison and Jon Howard. Simon Collison provided an insightful look into some of his approaches to the design process and tips on how to effectively fulfil a brief. He showed some really nice work, both his own and that of others and drew attention to the importance of noticing the little details like the use of seasonally styled login pages on services like MailChimp. He also showed how services can be personalised with an example from a music app that he is currently working on, whereby the labels of the increments on a scale/slide control used to rate an album or band, are indicated by song titles which are specific to the user’s music taste. So, for example, the degree to which you like a band in the app can range from ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ to ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’.

Jon Howard gave a really enjoyable talk on the types of challenges involved in the design and development of games for kids as part of the BBC interactive team. Given that the BBC are publicly funded, I was really impressed and pleased to see the range of the projects that his team are involved with in terms of the different platforms and input/output methods. Jon also covered the approaches that are being taken to utilise tools, other than flash, to develop games for a broader range of devices – most notably mobile, which their studio has seen a dramatic increase in uptake, within the last few years.

The final day wrapped up with a talk from Chuck Anderson, who presented some of the projects that he had completed over the last few years including the design of the start up screen for Windows 7, after which he then went on to complete the packaging design for. His work spans a wide range mediums including clothing products, furniture, magazine and album covers. He also talked about how his opportunities developed through a range of self initiated projects and, for me, this was one of the over arching themes that I got from Chuck’s talk, and indeed, many of the other sessions throughout the conference:

Look for the ways in which your personal work can feed into your professional work – make sure that you find opportunities to do the things that you love doing in your own time, as this will inevitably guide what you do in your professional and paid work – if there is a path that you want to pursue – your own spare time projects can help to manifest this.

In conclusion, it was a great conference, and I think John Davey and his team did an outstanding job of putting on yet another awesome event in which he has been able to bring together a wide range of creative talent in a variety of fields, whilst still holding on to some of the more technical talks that are often essential as part of the creative process.

Looking forward to doing it all again next year…might even be tempted to submit a pitch for a Gimme 5 session…

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