Concept, design and build of a bespoke Sonic Vista audio bench for BBC Radio 4, which toured around the UK - London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast - before settling into a final home at the BBC Broadcasting House.
In an attempt to engage a new audience for Radio 4 in its 50th anniversary year, the proposal built on the station's strapline: "To see the world differently, listen..." by embedding bespoke content directly into an unusual context - 4 railway stations - and making it freely accessible to anyone with a pair of headphones.
As a way of amplifying this message - see the world differently - I suggested a custom-built bench which would incorporate a variety of physical viewpoints - one higher than usual, one lower etc - each of which would literally allow the user to see the world differently. Context-specific audio was embedded into each seat, accessed by plugging in the headphones and featuring a skip switch to allow users to explore the playlist.
The bench was built in oak by my friend and occasional collaborator Ben Coode Adams, and sprayed Radio 4 blue (against my better judgment - it was lovely in wood!) by custom auto paint shop artists The Paint Box who generally do more elaborate work.
I was very tempted
Tech guru: Jen Sykes
Having persuaded brothers Scott and Bruce Williams in 2003 to change the name of their brewery from Fraoch - the celtic name of their first commercial success, a 2000 year old heather ale - to Williams Brothers, I have overseen all aspects of design for this scottish, independent brewing business which continues to go from strength to strength.
The significantly-easier-to-pronounce Williams Bros Brewing Co portfolio now includes a range of multi-award-winning contemporary brews, which sit happily alongside the historic ales upon which their reputation was built.
Front-runners in the current beer revolution, Williams were doing craft in a totally modern way long before craft beer was even a thing, and continue to innovate in production, flavour and presentation.
Its a pleasure working with people whose product you are happy to endorse... get some:
Since 2009 I have held a permanent, part-time lecturing post in the department of Product Design at The Glasgow School of Art, where I teach across all years of the undergraduate programme and feed into PG programmes in the school of Innovation Design .
Internationally acknowledged innovators in the realm of design teaching, we have long held the view that in the post-industrial age product designers need to engage in the design of services and experiences - digital, intangible etc - as much as tangible artefacts.
Amongst my responsibilities I deliver projects around the themes of brand experience and responsive environments, running live projects with a broad range of clients from different sectors - including Hoover, Belvedere Vodka, Muirhead Leather and Bottle of Ginger to name but a few - in which we take a speculative look into the future to anticipate how the brands in question might respond to emerging trends and shifting markets.
In tandem with 'regular' teaching, I have also led the GSA component of a year-long research project exploring potential applications for speckled computing with Edinburgh University's School of Informatics with students from each of the 4 scottish art schools, and helped to deliver a live project for Toshiba Electronics, Japan, which culminated in a presentation of student work in Tokyo.
For 2 years I was a visiting lecturer on the Product Design course at ECA (Edinburgh College of Art) where I was final year project supervisor for students on both UG and PG programmes, and was also a tutor on the Product Design Engineering course at Strathclyde University for one year, helping students to focus on understanding users and scenarios of use.
I am also an occasional contributor to the core steering group for design teaching within Education Scotland's expressive arts team, and am a keen advocate for the improvement of delivery within primary and secondary education.
The Sonic Vista bench was one of the outcomes of my masters degree at the Royal College of Art, and has hung around to haunt me ever since.
It was originally conceived as a subversion of the archetypical park bench, modified very simply to afford unique experiences in public spaces by allowing anyone with their own headphones to plug in and enjoy the context-specific soundtrack. Each bench contains 2 solar-powered MP3 players, configured to start playing as soon as the headphones is plugged in, and to stop on removal.
The first Sonic Vista bench was built as a memorial bench for the great english singer/songwriter (and fellow RCA alumnus) Ian Dury, who I remain a great fan of, and who sadly died a few months before my graduation show. With the title of one of his best-loved tracks, 'Reasons to be Cheerful', carved into the back rest to announce its intent, the bench contains on one side an interview with Ian, and on the other a compilation of his best-known songs.
Exhibited at Outmoded, Sothebys, London in 2001, Reasons to be Cheerful is now permanently located in the grounds of Richmond Park, London.
It has also been the subject of a question on BBC's University Challenge, which may be one of the highlights of my life!
Between 2005-8 I worked with Bob McCaffrey as Pavillion Design Studio to provide creative direction for all footwear collections for the Belgian fashion designer Dirk Bikkembergs, based in Italy where the brand had a particularly strong presence.
A consistent connection to the world of sport, and football in particular, created a unique visual DNA that runs throughout the entire Bikkembergs brand, which included 3 apparel lines, each with its own bi-annual footwear collection.
Working between our studio in Scotland and the production facility in Italy, our consultancy extended from the design of every shoe within each collection to broader assistance with company-wide strategic development & brand communication, including creative direction for the launch and initial seasons of the Bikkembergs eye-wear line, and concept development for the launch of luggage and perfume lines.
Almost 2 years in development, Tirosegno, the first true 'performance grade' soccer shoe from a fashion house, was launched at the Euro 2008 soccer championship where it was worn by Italian player Giorgio Chiellini.
Born from a shared appreciation of those 'glitchy' digital images that take one by surprise by failing to load or render 'correctly' on screen, Spinning Bits is a digital artwork devised in collaboration with friend (and technically superior coding wizard) Andy Law.
Dissecting a range of individual jpeg image files into single, pixel-wide vertical 'slices', each slice is then spun 360º around a central axis. On completion of each rotation, the software repeats the action on the next adjacent slice, and so on... and on...
The resulting animations present the information held within the images in such a way that their original 'meaning' can no longer be seen, instead presenting each as a dynamic, abstracted animation.
We're not sure if this is a useful form of encryption/censorship, but we found them quite beautiful anyway.
Spinning Bits was commissioned by Alt-W and presented at the 2010 Creativity World Forum Digital Art Biennale, Oklahoma City, USA, and subsequently at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh 2011
Rising from the ashes of a previous off-license business on the same location - Quel Vin - the design brief was to develop a visual identity around the new name Valhalla's Goat which might be applied across the business: floor to ceiling craft beers, fine wines & spirits in the Best Independent Bottle Shop in Glasgow.
Building on some goat drawings by graffiti crew Too Much Fun Club, a graphic motif inspired by Fairisle patterns (a midway point between Scotland and Valhalla?) was developed and applied across the store, from architectural elements to shop-fittings and stationery.
The decision to allow random fragments of the pattern to drift upwards as if caught by the breeze, or land on the floor like fallen leaves, was a by-product of the decision to apply the motif by hand (thanks, TMFC!), which gives the interior a bespoke and 'crafted' mood, subliminally reinforcing the brand message of 'liquid treasures': specialised, artisanal and thoroughly curated.
Following a successful bid to develop a programme of engagement for businesses supported by Scottish Enterprise - the national economic development body - Mil worked as a key member of the Design Innovation Studio at Glasgow School of Art to deliver a series of workshops and one-to-one engagements designed to explore ways in which design thinking can lever innovation across the public and private sector.
Starting within a hypothetical context, the project was designed to illustrate through participatory workshops how the processes and tools of design thinking can add value to business in numerous ways beyond conventionally perceived outcomes, such as packaging, branding etc.
Following these initial workshops, which introduce participants to a range of design tools that allow them to view a business challenge with a fresh mindset, individual companies were invited to apply for a further 2 days of one-to-one support.
Rather than focusing immediately on a preconceived outcome, i.e. “we need a new website”, the one-to-one support gave each company the opportunity to explore their entire business through the ‘lens’ of design thinking. By drawing up a design brief for each opportunity arising from this initial 'open enquiry', the designers worked with each client to explore not only how the various opportunities interrelate to add value, but also how to go about engaging the right kind of designer, and to prioritise their goals accordingly.
Engagements within the Food & Drink and Smart (technology) sectors saw high take-up from both start-up and established businesses, and participant feedback evidenced both the value of this in-depth, focused design analysis and subsequent re-prioritisation of development projects to align design activity more effectively to strategic goals.
During this period Mil also led a deeper and more sustained engagement with the prominent footwear retailer Schuh, during which he worked with a broad group of employees from across the company - from the Managing Director through distribution, sales, marketing, admin to warehouse staff - to explore how a company's brand values filter throughout all aspects of their business: from the design of communication strategies and customer experience to the internal culture of the company itself and its approach to corporate social responsibility.
Commissioned by NuMusic for the Norwegian city of Stavanger as part of the cultural programme to celebrate their status as twinned European City of Culture with Liverpool in 2008.
10 Sonic Vista benches were set in locations both in and around the city, each with a specially commissioned soundtrack from a roster of local and international composers of experimental electronic music: one of which is the official memorial bench for Karlheinz Stockhausen.
It made sense to have the benches manufactured in Norway (Norwegian Wood!), and we were fortunate to find a perfect partner in local Stavanger firm RANSO, which employs a local workforce with varying degrees of disability in the production of various 'municipal' wooden products. The design of the bench reflects both the spirit of the audio content (modern, strong, angular) and RANSO's fabrication capabilities.
A.n SMS service was incorporated into the project, whereby each bench had a unique number, which could be dialled from a mobile phone for extra information on the particular composer and soundtrack. A credit card-sized fold-out map was produced to show the bench locations and information on all the composers.
One aspect of the physical design of the bench was that it's flat surfaces deliberately allowed for 'surface decoration': NuMusic also promotes 'street art', and in anticipation of 'tagging' from locals we invited a local graffiti artist to decorate one of the benches destined to be placed near a city-centre skateboard park.
Project delivered in happy collaboration with Andy Law.
In January 2013 I was invited by the British Council to join a research expedition to South Africa to investigate the potential for collaboration projects between designers in ZA and the UK.
Over the course of one very intense week, the UK design team - comprised of practitioners from the fields of architecture, design and curation - visited Johannesburg and Cape Town to experience first hand what was happening in each local scene. Coinciding with the annual national design festival - Design Indaba - we visited a number of practices and spoke to key players in each city, in an attempt to reveal meaningful opportunities for collaboration. Each designer was invited to contribute proposals which might build on the opportunities witnessed.
The outcome of the project was the development of a Maker Library Network, launched to coincide with Capetown's tenure as World Design Capital in 2014, which has now expanded to incorporate 20 Maker Libraries, expanding to Turkey, Mexico, Nigeria, Germany and Ukraine.
The project involved the design of bespoke audio system - including electronics and custom-built hardware - for a temporary installation by Louise K Wilson, a British artist with a particular interest in the memory of institutions.
Orford Ness, on the Suffolk coast, was owned by the British military between 1913 - 1985, during which time it was the centre of research for many War Department secret research initiatives, including the development of RADAR, the first British atomic bomb tests and satellite tracking during the Cold War. De-commissioned in 1985, the site lay empty until the National Trust acquired it in 1993, opening it to the public in 1995, by which time nature had started to reclaim the site. Assuming a deliberately non-interventionist stand, the vegetated shingle ridges and bird colonies now co-exist amongst the slowly deteriorating architectural remains of its former life, adding to the aura of mystery.
As part of her project 'A Record of Fear' Louise recorded a 7 part sound piece to install in the Black Beacon, an octagonal building built in 1928 to house an experimental 'rotating loop' navigation beacon. It now provides an elevated viewing area over the site via 7 viewing slots.
The audio system comprised of 7 unique, custom-built earpieces - designed to resemble relics of abandoned military equipment - each connected to a central 'transmitter' unit, housing a bank of MP3 players triggered by a motion sensor. With no mains electricity on site, the challenge was to provide a solution which would function reliably with only battery power.
Funded by the National Trust, it was a pleasure to find myself on their list of approved suppliers of 'delight': a lifelong ambition fulfilled, though sadly no fancy certificate to back it up!
Designed in collaboration with Steve Waldron.
Undertaken with Andy Harrold during our partnership as Buro Design Thinking, the project started with the design of a new identity for canadian interior textile designer Liz Eeuwes, which included not only a distinctive mark - based on the traditional Inuit symbol for 'home' - and extended to the strategy, creative direction and styling for all communications: both print and web.
Our remit included the art direction and photography for all product shots and concepts for promotion, such as the limited edition Eeuwes balsa wood toy glider plane, produced to celebrate the launch of the Terre des Hommes rug collection, inspired by aerial views of the visible impact of various human agricultural interventions on the natural landscape.
A Buro Design Thinking project, partners Andy Harrold and I were given the opportunity to work on a number of projects for the UK's largest specialist whisky retailer: The Whisky Shop, including the brief to turn around their somewhat generic and corporate in-house magazine, Whiskeria.
With an editorial approach which sought to place whisky at the heart of a thoroughly modern, metrosexual and cosmopolitan lifestyle, we developed a new tone of voice for both editorial content and features, as well as a refreshed look & feel for the brand, which was subsequently applied to other touchpoints across the business.
Working alongside the talented Emlyn Firth on graphic duties, our creative direction role took us from developing thematic concepts for each issue to finding interesting and charismatic contributors and even interviewing our various cover stars and featured guests, all of which helped to shift Whiskeria from 'trade-centric' to a much more consumer-focused periodical.
Commissioned concept, content and design for an interactive audio-photography exhibition utilising an innovative technology which had been developed by Hewlett Packard Research Labs.
Pre-recorded audio files are triggered by placing photographs onto the surface of the Weegie* table, which can accommodate up to 18 different images at any one time.
The audio is played through 4 small speakers, positioned above head-height around the table, the surface of which acts as the physical control interface – pull the image closer to you, the soundtrack gets louder... Push it away to lower the volume... Pass it across the table to the person opposite and the sound appears there!
Working with different community groups and individuals, 6 audio-photography sets were developed for the show, each ‘located’ in Govan but exploring different ways in which the medium might be exploited in the future: from individual, personal histories to a tour of the shipyard, by way of fiction, local politics, new architecture, country music and the impending smoking ban!
Each ‘story’ was built around a principal narrative, augmented with sound effects, music etc, each recorded as a separate audio-photograph and triggered by placing it on the table. These compositional ‘sets’ are re-configured by the listener as they interact with the stories: there are no rules and no synchronised starts, so every hearing of each story is a unique experience.
Weegie was shown at the LUV Gallery, Govan Glasgow, 2006, the content developed in collaboration with Esme McLeod and commissioned by David Frohlich / Surrey University, Stephen Barr / Govan Initiative, Mark Blythe / Leonardo Network
*Weegie is local slang for a native of Glasgow - Glaswegian - which seemed too obvious not to use as a title what with the obvious connotation of Ouija boards, voices from the ether etc!
A temporary re-interpretation of the primates display in the Hall of Mammals at the Museum of Manchester, England, as part of Explore Expand Exchange, a project conceived & curated by Artefact Projects.
A classic example of the Victorian natural history museum exhibition style, the hall and its contents have remained largely untouched for over 100 years. Thanks to the affordability of foreign travel and the popularity of TV wildlife documentaries, the public is now used to seeing these kinds of animal alive and in their own habitat. As a consequence, the collection of stuffed specimens can now be re-deployed to raise different issues... The intervention consisted of an audio installation, designed to allow visitors to 'eavesdrop' on the different conversations unfolding between various occupants of the Primates case.
More commonly used to allow hearing aid wearers to pick up amplified signals in public spaces such as cinemas, post offices etc, 6 audio induction loops were attached to the inside of the case. Each loop was concealed within a coloured vinyl graphic motif, affixed to the inside of the glass. By incorporating the induction loops physically into the graphic emblems, the vinyl loops act as audio-visual 'frames' for the particular animals we chose to animate.
Wearing a specially designed headset pack, the visitor approaches the case and starts to hear the audio tracks. Each loop contains only one conversation, looped permanently, each about 10 minutes long. Whilst standing between 2 loops the visitor can hear both conversations and, just as in 'real life', navigates to the source of that which sounds most interesting. The action of peering through each coloured portal reveals more clearly the appropriate soundtrack: the closer you get, the louder the signal - each visitor is his own volume control.
The various 'conversations' were written by Kate Davis.
Seating system for the new 'open visit' centre at HMP Barlinnie, the UK's largest remand prison.
The brief from project architects Keppie asked for a design to accommodate seating for up to 4 people - 1 inmate and 3 visitors per group - and a surface for drinks etc. With particular concerns over the increased risk of drug-transfer, the seating solution had to be robust to withstand abuse in a potentially stressful/volatile environment and easy to maintain. A solution was proposed which took inspiration from the 'diner' booth, freeing us from the more obvious 4 chairs + 1 table format.
All parties sit on one 'bench'; the inmate subtly separated from the visitors by the table's vertical supporting 'wall', which intersects the seating surface and also prevents anything being passed below the table surface.A wraparound back rest provides a feeling of intimacy, cutaway at the intersection of inmate/visitor to ease supervision of this sensitive zone.
Arc was designed with fellow students Bob McCaffrey and Aidan Jamieson during the final year of our BA at Glasgow School of Art, and assembled and installed by us that summer: a nice way to conclude our studies, and as far as I know it is still in use today.
Running annually since 2011, over three days Museomix participants gather to co-create and test new ways of approaching expositions. The 2013 edition took place in six museums across three countries, with multi-disciplinary teams drawn from a number of specialisms to imagine, protoype and test new ways to engage musuem audiences.
I was invited to be a team mentor for the only English participants, a group of 10 inter-related exposition spaces collectively called the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, which are located in Shropshire and feature significantly in the history of the Industrial Revolution.
The role of mentor - a kind of 'floating adviser' - involved helping to facilitate the evolution of projects from concept to delivery, acting as a neutral voice within groups comprised of professionals from various diverse backgrounds: scientists, historians, museum interpretation experts, digital technologists and graphic designers, each with a specific view on the 'best' way to tackle the challenge the team identified... most 'authentic', most 'beautiful', most 'educationally rich', most 'innovative'... altogether an intense, exhausting but ultimately rewarding experience, in a beautiful neck of the woods.