On the 23rd of October 2008 we travelled the 37miles to Liverpool to see Matt Pyke’s Universal Everything talk as part of D&AD’s President’s Lectures series. The day had already included a tour of Liverpool’s Biennial by design agency Thoughtful and a talk by the wonderful Bruno Maag so I was eager to hear what Universal Everything was about.
From a garden shed in Sheffield, Matt Pyke is at the centre of the design collaboration Universal Everything. From its earliest days four years ago right up to the present, Matt has been the only full-time employee. Watch a video here to see how Universal Everything works.
Permanently hooked into iChat or logged into Hotmail, Matt plays the role of Creative Director and calls on a talented cast of both regular and not-so regular contributors, purely on a needs-must basis. The company operates worldwide with an ever-expanding modular team of designers, programmers, animators and musicians. He seems to be operating on a different level to a lot of designers and his whole studio set up is very interesting. Universal Everything is a virtual studio network, rather than one central office. Matt Pyke is based in Sheffield and the other people he work’s with are dotted around the world. He comes up with the basic direction and then builds a unique team based around the project brief. He mentioned in the talk that it’s “good to not know everything.”
‘Everything’ being coding, programming etc.
Pyke comes from a musical background, designing record sleeves and promotional stuff, but universal Everything has since then branched out to include gallery design, advert animation and website design. Pyke says it’s “good to not know everything” as it doesn’t hinder your ideas. He used the advertising campaign they created for Audi TT as an example.
This was originally a simple napkin idea which Pyke roughly sketched out but had no idea how to execute with his limited knowledge of certain software programmes at that time. He then gave the advice of, “find experts who know how to do what you want to happen”. No one can ever be skilled at everything and there will always be someone out there who’s better at it than you. But by combining the two together, as you can see from the video clip, it can create some stunning and beautiful pieces of design and slowly you’ll begin to learn more.
This message was also echoed in Craig Oldham’s lecture on the 23rd April 2009.
Craig has been out of University for 3 years now and has worked at big design agency The Chase but has recently moved to the smaller company, Music.
During Craig’s lecture, he was discussing his award winning publication 12IN12.
In ‘lesson 6’, Craig said, “Do you remember when you were at school and you used to do your work with your arm wrapped around your exercise book and scream for teacher as soon as someone even as much glanced at you? Well, you were seven years old then and I bet you’re still doing it now. Design is not a solitary practice, by any means. Even one-man-band outfits still collaborate with others. Don’t think you can do everything.” He kept reiterating the importance of being honest with yourself; identify your strong points but also your weaknesses in order to become a better designer. Don’t create a website if you know you’re not very good at them because you won’t do your ideas justice and the lack of knowledge and skill hinders your creativity; get someone else who knows more than you.
Even though Matt Pyke collaborates with many different people from all around the world via webcam and email, I can’t help but feel he’s still working in some sort of confinement, he’s still got the metaphorical arm over his work with no-one else to look over it with fresh ideas. Pyke mentioned during his talk that anyone can create a studio - all it takes is a laptop and a mobile phone. Sure, you can share ideas with people over the phone or webcam, but once you’ve hung up, you’re just one man in a shed in Sheffield. I think that having other people around you is an important factor when it comes to producing good work. Your colleagues are the ones that could have a quick nosey over your shoulder at your sketchbook and see something in an idea that you may have dismissed. I know that working in a studio environment at college has benefited my work greatly. You’re able to bounce ideas from one another and ‘invite comments about your work; two heads are better than one’; another point which Craig Oldham made during his lecture.
Technology today is a great advantage when it comes to connecting people from all over the world but I don’t think I could work solely just using iChat and email for communication with others, although some see it as the modern way to run a studio. But Something so seemingly insignificant like a fleeting comment from someone walking past your work can trigger off a whole new way of thinking and improve your work so much. I think that this will be something I’ll have to be thinking about when finding a place to work, making sure it’s a great studio environment. I think I’d struggle if I became a freelancer working on my own at home.
I do believe though that both Matt Pyke and Craig Oldham make valid comments when they agree that collaboration with others is important within design. You want your work to look the best so you get the best to work on it. You may not be the best copywriter, but someone out there is bloody good at it so why not have them strengthen your idea.