One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his axe. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Before planning a collaboration tool it might be wise to consider what part of collaboration is worth focusing on. co-working spaces, for example, could be considered a collaborative tool, but it is a crude tool, they are essentially a hybrid of executive suites and a local cafe. Instagram, in fact, all social media has the potential to be collaborative, but as the adage goes, Instagram is where we lie to our friends, Twitter is where we tell the truth (bully) strangers and Facebook – I don’t know – where we avoid our mothers? Snapchat is where we post ephemeral images of lasting regrets, (the Las Vegas of the apps). And My space is the creepy abandoned amusement park of the internet where the ghost of Tom can still be seen if you say the name Zuckerberg three times to the screen.
Instagram is a great tool for some things, (in fact – all of them can be) but whereas it used to be that artists, scientist, designers would share findings or works with their peers, and thus it would be a peer review, IG’s interface mostly just allows for liking or ignoring – it has become a popularity contest with no rigour intended.
In addition, IG comments frequently include the phrase ‘…so excited to be collaborating with…’ which means either:
1. I am paid a salary to work on this, or
2. Some corporation has backed up a Brinks truck to get me to post a picture of me wearing a t-shirt because I have an appropriate amount of followers who may buy this brand’s offerings.
The reason for all of the apps promoting better communication and collaboration is interesting in and of itself…something got lost when we went digital. There is no substitution for individuals being together and yet this is what we are trying to do. With progress, there is always loss; there are fantastic benefits to online communication, but I don’t think they can actually replace in-person collaboration, they can do other, better, even, things, but to try and replicate something that is outside of its medium is futile.
I have no issue with any of the apps that promote – and perhaps deliver – a form of enhanced collaboration, albeit mostly in the form of communication. However, they are mostly, just speeding up processes not harnessing the potential they may or may not have. I would argue that design has not become better due to technology, t has become faster, more shared, more critiqued – if that is the word we are using – but not better. I think I want to slow things down. I think maybe a good collaboration tool would be a good kitchen, a good dinner or lunch, a space where thoughts can evolve outside of the Thunderdome that is twitter or the echo chamber that is Instagram
The reason for all of the apps promoting better communication and collaboration is interesting in and of itself…something got lost when we went digital. There is no substitution for individuals being together and yet this is what we are trying to do. With progress, there is always loss; there are fantastic benefits to online communication, but I don’t think they can actually replace in-person collaboration, they can do other, better, even, things, but to try and replicate something that is outside of its medium is futile
Akbar was the third of the Mughal emperors of India. faced with diverse religions within his empire, he sought to unite them in one religion, or at the very least promote tolerance of other faiths, believing as he said that no religion knew the whole wisdom. In 1575, he built a hall called the Ibadat Khana (“House of Worship”) at Fatehpur Sikri, to which he invited theologians, mystics and selected courtiers renowned for their intellectual achievements and discussed matters of spirituality with them… These discussions, initially restricted to Muslims, were acrimonious and resulted in the participants shouting at and abusing each other. Upset by this, Akbar opened the Ibadat Khana to people of all religions as well as atheists, resulting in the scope of the discussions broadening and extending even into areas such as the validity of the Quran and the nature of God. 
Granted, Akbar did not have any communication tools in the 16th century, and it should also be noted that horrific religious violence continues to affect India as much as elsewhere. Maybe there will be a time when peace negotiations will be held on a special Slack or Workplace channel, Blair and Ian Paisley swapped texts during the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, so it is not Never. Never. Never (or is depending on the interpretation of that now) that full complete communication will be virtual. It is perhaps inevitable, but I do not think the technology was there in Akbar’s time, nor is it yet. We have stop-gap measures that prioritise real-time over real space. And few of them have ventured far from the concept of the telephone. And when it comes to the collaboration that I am interested in, the collision of art and design, or the cross-pollination to phrase less aggressively, I want something controlled but serendipitous and fluid. I don’t want anything task-oriented, and much like with have ideas while brushing our teeth standing the shower – essentially occupying ourselves with a menial task – I would want this tool not to be overtly collaborative. Group Critiques have the sense of ‘EVERYONE BEING F***ING HELPFUL, NOW!!!’ That can work well, for brainstorming or finding solutions to a specific problem, but with diverse projects, that are only tangentially related, input and feedback might need to be best when aged or marinated.
Pit crews are a great example of collaboration, upwards of twenty individuals performing at a high rate of speed, under pressure, with a shared goal, and it is phenomenal to watch, a high octane ballet, but one of the keys to successful creative collaboration is independence and diversity, there is less of that to be seen in a F1 pit lane
This is a genuine favourite of mine. A bar staffed by designers, artists, architects, historians, who are also bartenders. There is no drink minimum but there is a drink maximum. One and three-quarter drinks, just the right amount to loosen you up, but not enough for euphoria to blind all critical thought. It might partially be based on this, but I think I had the idea first during my undergraduate.
The world-weary designer would enter the bar and while I and my team wipe glasses with white napkins, we engage the frustrated designer in a discussion about their current project and ask socratic questions, give advice, input, feedback, help, and after enjoying 1.75 tasty beverages send them on their way
Dinner For (more than) One
I was hesitant about this, it feels too naïve, ut the more I thought about it, the more I believe in it. That can be a dangerous thing, so I actually asked around, and most designers (who, in all fairness are friends and like spending time with me…I think) were very excited about it. It could be considered a bit Luddite, but the Luddites were actually on to something. It is based on my core belief that online collaboration is admirable but a poor facsimile of true collaboration. There is no doubt that online tools are incredibly powerful in bringing individuals together(ish); As Diana said last week – and I agree – they have been hugely beneficial and successful for not only the craft scene and activists, but designers, artists…well, everyone, potentially, but as Neil Postman says in ‘The Medium Is The Metaphor’, ‘ You cannot use smoke to do philosophy. Its form excludes the content.’ I feel similarly about – I think – all online attempts at collaboration. It is not that I don’t understand the desire and the effort, I benefit from all these tools tremendously, but are they really collaborative – at least in the way that I choose to understand collaboration or the way my initial business plan seeks collaboration, collision, and cross-pollination. In time with AR, VR, Elon Musk – At some point, we are led to believe, we will have nano implants that can connect with processing databases, and, no doubt, fellow ‘humans’. but even 19th century Pepper’s Ghost technology might be of benefit, we might get closer, but if you want to really collaborate, in a city such as Los Angles, then for crying out loud, collaborate. I mention Los Angeles because I am aware that this would not necessarily work as well where I grew up; in terms of diversity, opportunity, or simply availability, etc. Having said that, is there not something to be found in embracing not only the culture that you are in but the specific issues facing you? Not to flog a dead cliche – while paraphrasing it – but, Look at Instagram, but act locally.
The concept behind this is that too often collaboration is forced upon us. ‘Time to collaborate, give your feedback, be critical, have ideas’ which almost defeats the purpose. Collaboration should not be forced or mandated. It is also based onteaching experiences where a lot of learning happens
The idea is simple (but not easy.) On a weekly basis, artists and designers come together, eat and talk; the topics can be encouraged to go into a design direction, but it is not forced. It is not a game night, or accounting taking on purchasing in a vengeful game of paintball (‘How do you like that PO, motherf***er?’) It is also not a networking event, because everyone hates those (at least, they should,) it is not about profit, money, or fame. The belief is that after a certain (intentionally vague) amount of time, collaboration, crossovers, cross-pollinations will emerge, be identified, and happen.
The food has to be inclusive; gluten- dairy, cruelty-free, kosher, halal….whatever it takes. I am leaving out (though now I am not) the metaphor of high-quality ingredients coming together and creating something better than they are on their own
The tricky part is the individuals, they should be consistent, in both the individual and their attendance – you can’t be expected to make connections immediately, this is not a networking event. They should be diverse in all the meanings of that word. They can’t just be friends who work 80 hour weeks at an agency or studio and have no time for outside endeavours. They, of course, have to be open to collaboration, although, a form of collaboration could be a gadfly of sorts. And ultimately, and I am not set on this, it would be beneficial if these individuals also spent time together in a separate working space.
Currently, this is not a marketable tool, a fact with which I have no problem. Not everything has to be monetised. Cook some healthy food, talk to some people. It will benefit you.
I am currently of the belief, though happy to be persuaded, or proven, otherwise, that all collaboration tools are merely attempts at recreating a physical meeting, so if you can, cook a meal and invite some people.
Here now, a short video about this, or an advertisement for tables – and/or mahogany.
Ultimately, it is not about finding one, single solution. Different designers collaborate in different ways; based on the type of project, the type of person that they are, and the place that they live and work in. For a designer in a small village, online tools may be more valuable than a designer who lives in a genuinely multi-cultural place or places.
Social media and online tools have great potential for inspiration and connection-making, they offer glimpses of the potential that online collaboration has, but as Sarah Boris says, it is important to go out and meet people – I think for reasons going beyond mental health.
Apps aren’t good for meeting people, instead, they are good for preselecting people based on superficial attributes; whether or not you can collaborate with them in a relationship is mostly decided in person.
Chandra, Satish (2007). History of Medieval India. New Delhi: Orient Longman. p.252-253