Week 5 – Collaborators…

Week 5 – Collaborators…

…Mount up (genuinely a collaboration)

‘To ensure that the true spirit of what it means to be Cuban was captured at every stage of design, the Pearlfisher team travelled to Havana to work with local artists and illustrators. Sarah Cattle, Creative Director at Pearlfisher, said of the creative process: “To bring the raw creativity of Cuban people, as well as the brand principles of collaboration and unpretentious craftsmanship to life, each element of the brand world was cut, stuck, drawn, hand-painted or screen-printed in collaboration with Cuban artists.’

I just want to understand this, because I have never been – the true spirit of Cuba is savage-like primitive, raw hand made arts and crafts?

Is this really collaboration, or did you just hire some people and exchange their work for some glass beads money? I am not accusing Pearlfisher of colonial exploitation (at least not overtly) but is this really a collaboration? What exactly do we mean when we throw the word around? Pearlfisher’s Havana Club sounds more like – at best – a cooperation not collaboration, the artists’ goals were not to sell more Havana Club and I am guessing that they will not benefit from higher sales either. Nor do I believe that any of the artists were in strategy meetings at Pearlfisher HQ. And it has to be said that I was not there, I am only privy to a pdf document, that probably is not targeted at me. But we devalue collaboration if we claim that everything involving more than one person, or one group is a collaboration.

It’s so hard to pick my favourite collaboration; is it the British East India Company and the creation of the Raj. The Middle Passage, Scotland and England? (and Wales) My Uber driver and I, Smallpox and blankets (it’s Independence Day week, here), Russia and Trump? Boris and Gove? Manny Kaltz and Horst Hrubesch? Robert Johnson (or Faust) and the Devil? Thunderbolts and lightning? The last might be too very, very frightening.

Even-toed Ungulate and Equine Beauty

There is no ‘i’ in collaborat…oh, wait.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but the question is interesting as to where collaboration ends, cooperation starts, and work for hire takes over. And perhaps more importantly, does collaboration need a leader, a visionary; can it be pure groupthink. There is no ‘i’ in sheeple, there are two i’s in visionary. Was Alex Issigonis (lots of i’s) right, or was it just a glib line – a verbal Reichstag burning – to enable a dictatorial approach and diminish the work of others?

Maybe Issigonis is correct, maybe there is a time for collaboration and a time for bullying your vision through a committee, but are we really to believe he solved all of the design and production problems and challenges on his own? And if he did design everything and then outsourced production and model making, is that still a collaboration in the true sense? Einstein is alleged to have said, ‘I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork … for well I know that in order to obtain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding.’ What is it with these guys and horses?

The intelligence of a group is often higher than that of any individual within that group, which is good for guessing the weight of a slaughtered Ox (according to Francis Galton) and the Iowa Electronics Market uses this to make election predictions that are often better than pollsters, but do creatives also perform better in teams and groups? I do believe design is a team sport, but as David Moyes might suggest, it takes more than assembling a group of talented individuals to be successful. In Quiet, Susan Cain writes, ‘On the Internet, wondrous creations were produced via shared brainpower: Linux,  the open-source operating system; Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia; MoveOn.org, the grassroots political movement. These collective productions, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts, were so awe-inspiring that we came to revere the hive mind, the wisdom of crowds, the miracle of crowdsourcing. Collaboration became a sacred concept—the key multiplier for success.‘*

Except, Susan Cain is not convinced by the hype around collaboration. Many of the examples she cites were – according to her – famously introverted and preferred working alone. Does Collaboration mean working in groups? Even those of us who prefer working alone, who are drained by human interaction, can we not still collaborate, especially with access to the internet – does collaboration necessarily mean being in the same space as gregarious extroverts who think the loudest voice has the best idea.

More model than in a Formula 1 VIP lounge.

There are many models for collaboration, e.g. here, or here, and here, and there are many more articles and papers written about collaboration, but I have yet to find anything that mentions the relationships and personalities – which currently means that it is hard to find, not non-existent. It could be argued though that the difficulty in locating says something about the importance given to personalities and relationships. Collaboration can be quickly dominated by an individual (in my experience frequently a heteronormative, white anglo male) due to shyness, culture, language barriers of the other members. The best-intended model or plan can be scuppered by one or maybe a few bad actors at any level.

The collaboration-mania has also led to changes in the interior design of offices and workspaces, but even in the most extroverted collaborative individuals, it turns out that there are different types of work that require different ideal environments.

There is also this, that claims to be scientifically proven to boost creativity. So instead of working alone in a crowd, I can be alone pretending to be in a crowd.It is currently distracting me from writing, btw.

I, like, totally hate Group Projects

Said every student ever, because in student group projects, every student you talk to did all the work, and every student you aren’t talking to, did nothing – and you talk to all students. Quasi-forced collaboration doesn’t work well, goals, values have to be aligned, skills have to be spread out, this rarely happens within a relatively small group with the main goal of either getting a good grade or doing what they want. There are whole departments based on collaboration and they are universally hated, pretty much the only thing upon which the students agree. Collaborations can be encouraged, accommodated, accelerated, but it seems to me that it always comes down to personalities; not skills.

As mentioned above, the personalities and backgrounds of the students don’t always do well in group projects. There almost invariably (though not always) emerges a dominant ‘leader’ who believes his ideas to be the best and his peers should help him realise them. This is of course not a leader; any type of leader in this example would seek to harness the power, skills, insights and knowledge of the shy, quiet, foreign members.

In addition, in a teaching environment, there is always a grade as a reward, one that, unfortunately, students often care more about than the actual project outcome. And it is hard to blame them, educational institutions (foolishly, I think) place a premium on grades, therefore, it is unsurprising that collaboration is seen as less important than a grade. But if designers need to be good collaborators, and if collaboration is a skill one can and should teach (if) then what are the environments and parameters that foster such activity. It is not that I have never observed a successful group project or collaboration, but these have happened almost in spite of, not because of the class. The collaborations in a learning environment are the ones that happen indirectly, outside of a formal structured course or class.

There is a lot of talk about open studio spaces fostering collaboration, but that is too easy a summation. Frequently, in my observation open teaching studios lead to an increase in headphone sales and a creation of an archipelago not a unified country.

Ego and ownership also get in the way; I don’t want someone else benefitting from my idea, and almost equally common, I don’t want to use her or his idea because then it isn’t mine and mummy won’t hang it on the fridge?

Padlet’s tagline is ‘Collaborate better’ and I am not saying that Padelt doesn’t want that, and I am also aware that Padlet was not designed specifically for online education, but are we really collaborating on the ideas wall? Yes, we are, but the true/genuine/altruistic collaboration happens on WhatsApp, away from the grading eyes of instructors. I am not accusing anyone of having ulterior motives and faking collaboration on Padlet, mostly, because that is not the case, and certainly, with a course that is 100% online, Padlet is a tool that can help, but what would Henry Landsberger think about this, especially as our grade depends partly on posting on the ideas wall, at which point my aim is not to help a fellow student, but to appear like I am (whether I am or not), or to post a lot, to be active on the ideas wall. But more importantly, we cannot really be collaborating, we have separate projects and separate goals – if anything we are helping each other, which is great. I do believe that premeditated collaboration can work, but what interests me is the type of collaboration that is unseen or hard to untangle, the subconscious influences of others on our work.

Collaboration models are like an arranged marriage claiming to be love.

Aino what you are thinking, Rosalind Franklin

Credit and ownership of ideas and creations are a difficult subject. On the one hand, credit should be given where credit is due. receiving credit – for most – will also be a motivating factor; on the other hand, how does one assign credit, some good ideas are based on preceding bad ideas, or just different ideas. Unsurprisingly, credit is often given to (taken by) an individual and this is most frequently observed when it comes to women within collaborations. There are of course shamefully hidden figures. Surely true collaborations should assign the idea to the group as a whole, and men should do better. A lot better.

Border Reivers, Clans and the outsourcing of violence

Image result for murmuration of starlings

We don’t have the beauty of a murmuration of starlings or shoal of fish, humans have almost always collaborated to survive; from individuals to a family, to a clan, to an ethnic group, to a country, we have pooled resources, shared skills, and divided responsibilities to survive. Working as a collective should come naturally, but (un)fortunately, our lives are more complex than a starling just trying to survive peregrine falcons, so humans will also exploit groups for our own gain. Famously and allegedly, UPS trucks don’t make turns across traffic, which they claim saves the company millions of gallons of fuel. Studies show that this could work for all drivers, if we never turned across traffic, all journeys would benefit, however, in practice, this would then make turning across traffic then even quicker, which invariably, some or many drivers would do breaking the whole system. this would only work through legislation. (I can only imagine the Fox News, Daily Mail outrage should this happen). Humans need complex rules and laws to function, unlike the collaborative starling, which just follows their seven nearest neighbours.

So what are the rules for collaboration beyond the models, and how are they enforced?

Collaboration is not good or bad, the goal matters, the morals and ethics matter, being a team player is only valuable

Gehry and Oldenburg’s Dual Vision

Except it wasn’t really just Oldenburg.

I have heard multiple similar stories about how this odd building came into being. One is that Gehry was sitting in his office looking at a model of his design with Claes Oldenburg and said something to the effect that he felt something was missing from it. At this point, Oldenburg is supposed to have picked up an actual pair on binoculars and placed them within the model. The other version is that Oldenburg and his collaborator wife had built a model of the binoculars as a proposed project and when showing the client Chiat/Day the building model, used the Oldenburg/van Broogen model to illustrate an addition of another piece and it stuck.

There are three things I find interesting about this process (assuming it is true)
1. it was not a formal collaboration, from what we know, Gehry and the sculptures did not sit down and brainstorm in a special space with different hierarchies and come up with an idea for an advertising agency’s entrance or building, but it is a form of collaboration, borne out of an existing relationship.
2. Credit is always given to the husband in married teams (Jeanne-Claude does quite well, albeit always mentioned second), Ray Eames could sometimes not present work (for have the temerity of being a woman), Aino Aalto is seldom remembered, though Alvar is celebrated, Ada Lovelace, Rosalind Franklin…I am not stating any insightful new information. The world continues to be sexist, and male-credit bias exists in collaborations too.
3. Gehry, by his own account, always looked to artists rather than fellow architects, this is a collaboration not with fellow architects, landscape designer, or an interior designer, but with two artists. It is highly unlikely the building would look the way it does had it not been for this relationship and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The binoculars are very much functional (as a space), housing – what the current tenant, Google, brags is the most amazing conference room.

Gehry’s other interesting collaboration is with Peter Lewis, who – while I would argue was a collaborating partner – functions as a patron, a Cleveland-Medici, who bought his way into the art world and into the design process. Having spent $82 million of his own money, the project was never realised. Peter Lewis had changed his mind or lost interest during the more than a decade-long process. Perhaps it was never about the finished buildings/village; I believe Peter Lewis wanted to be part of a design process. from what I have seen and read, he was happy with the endeavour and had no regrets. I suppose the question is whether this counts as a true collaboration or whether it was just a very rich individual allowing a designer (through both money, brief, scope, and freedom) to

”I discovered in my business career that if you get good people and are clear about your objectives, things get done. What I also discovered but didn’t apply here is that you’ve got to have discipline. That was the missing ingredient. That was entirely my responsibility.”

The ‘missing ingredient’, however, allowed Gehry a playground of ideas while also adopting aerospace software for use in architecture. While the Lewis residence was never built, one could argue that Peter Lewis is a silent collaborator on Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and his later buildings

Model of the Chiat/Day offices.

“To Whom It May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later.” John Cage

Image result for automobile tire print
Automobile Tire Print, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953

Rauschenberg and John Cage did not collaborate on John Cage’s most famous piece 4’33”. But they had collaborated before on works at Black Mountain College and John Cage drove the Ford Model A along the typewriter paper to create ‘Automobile Tire Print’ while Rauschenberg’s Combines were arguably part collaboration and grew out of creating stage props for Cage.

the Collaboration that is more interesting is the collaboration between Artist and audience. Cage’s 4’33” is not silence, but instead, the ambient noise of the concert hall during the four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The audience, the space and maybe the air pressure and weather are all collaborators. Similarly, Rauschenberg’s White Paintings rely on ambient light and the shadows of viewers.

We commonly think of the collaboration between designers and artists, but there is a collaboration between artist/designer and the audience, and I would argue a collaboration between the designer/artist and the medium, the technology and the tools

Braque et Picasso

Were Braque and Picasso (as examples), rivals, friends, collaborators, competitors? Can competition actually be a form of enhanced collaboration? Is competition a form of enhanced collaboration? The people who use the term ‘friendly competition’ are also the types that can never really define what that means. but would early cubism be what it is had the two artists not be inspired and driven by each other? We will never know and was their relationship key to the way they worked? Would, or have, other artists wilted (or been attacked by Caravaggio) in the face of competition.


*Cain, S. (2013). Quiet. 1st ed. New York: Crown Publishers, pp.78-79.

Hollywood Writing Rooms

It’s like baking a cake with seven people. Occasionally one of those people has a bag of dogshit instead of flour.

Collaboration buzz

I do believe collaboration is essential to design, to almost any endeavour, actually; but there seems to read a recent hype about collaboration, everyone is claiming there work is based on collaboration and hive-minds and multi-disciplinary teams or other buzz-words. There are many tools to create collaborative spaces and models, which is great, but can it be forced upon any individual. True collaborators will collaborate, others will use people to further their agenda or do less work.

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