The Dawesome Digest #14 — news and happenings from designer Brendan Dawes
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The Dawesome Digest — Issue No. 14

I've always said put the work out there that you want to make. Even if it's things you make for yourself, put it out there because more often than not things come back to you. You never know who's watching. That was certainly the case when I did eleven visualisations for EE a few years ago, born from someone at the agency who commissioned me after seeing the things I was constantly playing with. Fast forward to now and the EE work led to a call from Someone, a wonderful design agency in London, commissioning me to create a visualisation for the cover of Cancer Research UK's new research annual. Whenever I get a call like that I often ask myself "why me?" Call it Imposter Syndrome or just a healthy attitude to constantly question yourself but over the years I've realised that everything I put into the world forms a picture of what I'm about. That isn't data visualisation, in fact I think most people who would describe themselves "data visualisers" mostly dislike my work because I actually — and here's the point — know nothing about data visualisation. I don't study it, I don't visit data viz blogs, in fact I'm not that interested in it as thing. What I am interested in is creating work that creates a reaction, regardless of what pigeon hole people might put that piece of work into. 

Emotional reactions, eliciting heart-felt responses are for me universal constants, and that is what I'm interested in.  I've always been a big advocate of putting your flag in the ground to say what you're about, eschewing fashion, trends or whatever is on the cool portfolio sites right now. Because of that, because I don't worry what other people are making or doing, I end up getting the work that I do. One of my worst ever brainstorming sessions was at an agency where their idea of creating ideas was to put a slide deck together of other people's work, all done in silence! I remember I just felt so angry I wanted to shake them out of their middle-minded coma.
That doesn't mean to say I don't see things that inspire me. Of course I do but for me inspiration goes into your head and then time makes the memory of the inspiration fuzzy. Alongside the fuzziness other things you've seen or learned become part of that memory so when something pops-out inspired by that thing, your own creative DNA is part of that too. Quite often you cant even remember what the original inspiration was — it's just lost in the soup of ideas and things somewhere inside your head. Take the titles I did for the FITC Tokyo design conference. Now I am not a motion graphics designer so I was more than a little nervous when I was asked to make these titles. I knew there was no-way I could make some epic CGI thing but more importantly nor would I want to — it just wasn't me. I like simple shapes, circles and lines and the like. And I think much of that has to come from the title design work that has inspired me from the likes of Maurice Binder, Saul Bass and Pablo Ferro.

So with the use of Processing I coded together simple sequences that represented making things on computers but also the beauty of constraints and the possibilities born from those constraints. I also had to make the audio so I called on my previous life of making break beats and finding samples in record shops to cut together audio sampled from an old Bell labs thing, now in the public domain. Continuing to do things I don't know how to do, I downloaded Reasons, watched countless YouTube videos and put together a little soundtrack to accompany the visuals. It was only when it went live that someone on Twitter mentioned that it reminded them of Josef Albers's album covers. Oh yeah, so it did. Whilst at the time of making it I never thought about it, but maybe somewhere in the back of my head Alber's work was nudging me in a certain aesthetic direction — and I'm glad he did. 

I have to say that before I did finally manage to create something for FITC I was almost calling them to say you'll have to find someone else. I'm glad I persevered though. I think often times you have to make yourself uncomfortable and put yourself in situations that are knowingly scary — that's how you learn new things and that's usually how you make your best work.

The titles eventually got done and I was lucky enough to be speaking at the event in Tokyo to see it on on the big screen. It was my first time in Japan and I instantly fell in love with the country and the people. But more than that it was the constant feeling of serenity that seemed to pervade everything. Here I was in one of the most populous cities in the world, yet I didn't feel rushed, there was a kind of subtlety to everything that really appealed to me. It also didn't hurt that you could walk into a shop and buy a bag full of electronic buttons or buy any kind of jack-plug you could ever need. 
It's always an honour to speak at these conferences and whilst I've cut back on how many I speak at these days I still like to speak at so many a year. New this year however is running workshops and June saw my first official workshop in New York, laughingly titled "Data is Dawesome". It was a full-day as part of the Smashing Magazine Conference and by the end of it I was about 75% pleased with how it went but there was certainly room for improvement. The good part was that one group of attendees had created a completely new way to visualise their company data during the workshop and they were going to integrate it into their product. This made me very happy. But then some other people felt they didn't get what they were expecting out of it and so that's the bit I need to work on. I realised that for some of the class things got a bit complicated too quickly. It's always hard when a class is open to all skills levels but that's something that I need to get right for the next workshop which will be in London as part of the Generate Conference. One thing that did come out of that workshop though was a little typography thing I did, visualising population density of cities through type
In between working on commercial projects, watching Colombo re-runs and talking to Shirley at the local bread shop about her favourite Gin, I spend time making simple, stupid, pointless experiments that will hopefully one day be used as part of a project. Much of these compositions can be seen on my process blog where I've started to increase the frequency of how many I upload throughout the week. These little things by themselves don't do much but it's about how I may combine them later on with other seemingly simple things that their usefulness becomes apparent. To help me in that process I created a code library for Processing that I use every day for making not just these playful distractions but all my commercial work too. Called The Dawesome Toolkit it includes handy little things such as being able to create Fibonacci sphere layouts or laying things out in a grid. Much of the experiments you can see on my process blog use it extensively.

Whilst creating those experiments are a lot of fun, ultimately I want them to lead to something, to become part of a finished project. That's why I often find it frustrating when you get contacted about a project, do some research into it and then it just fizzles out because it turns out either the client had no money or it was just an idea from someone at an agency and wasn't actually real. That happens a lot, and yeah it's annoying, but I have to take value from those experiences in some way. The value is usually something I've learned as part of the research. Like the other month as part of a now doomed, never to be made project, I discovered this thing called X-OSC, kind of like an Arduino but can be controlled via OSC from software like Open Frameworks or Processing. Now I'm aware of it I can keep that in the cupboard so to speak and hopefully use it on something else.

Talking of learning, I get asked a lot about the best way to learn to code, what's the best resource? I always point them to Dan Shiffman and the brilliant Without downloading any software you can code in the browser alongside Dan, even if you have no knowledge of code whatsoever. I still learn from Dan too and his Coding Rainbow YouTube videos are completely brilliant. 

That's it for this issue of the Dawesome Digest — thanks for subscribing and reading. Please share it if you liked it and if you didn't then feel free to invite your friends round, print it out and then burn it. Or something.
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