Crispin’s work is chiefly concerned with exploring the social impact of new technology. Since 2007 he has focused on the production of his own lines of products including Mr Jones Watches and Tengu, an interactive USB character. He graduated from the Royal College of Art with a Masters Degree in Computer Related Design in 2000, since then he has worked for a number of companies including Casio Research, Philips Design and IDEO London. He has also worked independently and in partnership (as one half of Robson & Jones) on interactive projects for clients including The BBC, Tate Modern, The V&A and The Science Museum.
Alongside the commercial design projects he has produced more experimental works – these projects have been exhibited internationally including as a prize winner at the Prix Ars Electronica (2002), as Grand Prize winner at Japan Media Arts Festival in Tokyo (2003), at Salone Del Mobile, Milan (2005 and 2007), at 100% Design Tokyo (2006), and at the exhibition “Design and the Elastic Mind” at Museum of Modern Art in New York (2008).
1. What’s the most cherished product in your life? why?
Hmm difficult – I have been thinking about this a lot and i struggle to come up with anything. I do remember reading a study which said you have a far higher degree of satisfaction if you spend your money on experiences, rather than things (but of course I can’t subscribe to this or my customers disappear).
But reflecting on this if you mean which product I couldn’t live without I guess first up would be a computer (obvious but bear with me) – for me it changes how I can work: I design stuff from here in London (which I could have done at any time in history). I have stuff manufactured in different factories in China (again which I could have done all through history) and yet I can develop and release products without ever leaving London. This could not have happened before now – I don’t speak any other languages, and yet the computer means I am understood by people I have never met who translate the design into real objects. I don’t have huge amounts of money, nor any staff. Yet the computer allows me to efficiently control / communicate / oversee all the aspects of my business without incurring significant costs (I think computer in terms of cost per use are extraordinarily good value!)
So my answer is boring in one sense in that the computer has changed all our lives, yet I am quite a tangible example of something that was long predicted, but rarely in evidence (i.e. that the computer allows you to work globally etc without leaving your home.)
2. What’s the one product you wish you’d designed, and why?
This is tricky in the same way as the above, I’m torn between saying something facetious (the bicycle, the rules of football) and saying nothing.
I don’t think it is very useful to cast covetous glances around at other things and wishing you’d made them, so I would rather turn the question around and say why haven’t you / can you not make the most extraordinary / rounded / complete design yourself.
David Smith (the great 20th Century American Sculptor) has an extraordinary series of “Questions for Students” which are provocations or challenges. I’m not sure who introduced me to them, but I remember having a photocopy of the list glued inside the front of one of my sketchbooks. (I thought they were amazing!)
One of them has a resonance here:
18. Do you think that your own time and now is the greatest in the history of art, or do you excuse your own lack of full devotion with the half belief that some other time would have been better for you to make art?
We are living through the most dynamic, exciting and revolutionary period in human history. I would consider that fairly fertile for the production of art.
36. Or do you think that you are unworthy or that your life has not been dramatic enough or your understanding not classic enough, or do you think that art comes from Mount Parnassus or France or from an elite level beyond you?
3. What excites you about being a designer?
Design provides a forum to navigate and engage with the world. As a designer you can explore and engage with a breadth of different subjects / disciplines. On one level design is horribly inarticulate word – it has no real meaning nor way of encompassing all the things that are classed as “design”. This weakness however means that the discipline is kind of without boundaries. I think design allows you to engage with the contemporary world and engage in shaping the world: we’re living in a golden age of products/services as technology matures and people integrate it into their lives. Undoubtedly when the history of this period comes to be written the focus will be on the rapid pace of change in technology and the different ways that this was manifest in the objects that we created.
“Design” comprises a relatively small proportion of my time, but I keep doing it because it’s simply the most enjoyable part of what I do (everything else is simply to support this activity). It is the part of my working life that is surprising – I don’t normally know how things will turn out, at least not exactly. I know the destination, but not the route so to speak. I enjoy the process of seeing things emerge from idea to sketch, to revision, to detailed design, to sample, to production. It’s satisfying to participate in / shape creation, to make something tangible that once existed as just an idea. I think it’s a more complicated pleasure than the word ‘enjoyable’ implies…
4. When do you first remember thinking of yourself as a designer?
Probably a few years after I left the RCA when I realised that design was a pretty inclusive term (but I was frankly pretty naive about design and what it was at that time). I was just making the kind of odd things that I wanted to produce and people were accepting it within the context of design. For some time, especially in shows in Japan, I was called a “Media Artist” which I wasn’t particularly comfortable with. Prior to that time I wasn’t really sure about the label (and I definitely wasn’t sure about “Interaction Designer”), so I was kind of lost. I think I’m quite comfortable with it now.
5. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned, and who taught it to you?
Hmm tricky to pin down, so a couple:
1) It’s important not to be put off by failing – it is easy to become disappointed when things don’t go right. However failures offer moments of real insight.
2) And at a certain point in the design process it’s simply not useful to have the critical part of your brain active (e.g., why do this? is this solution the optimum? could we approach this problem in a completely different way?). Once on a path you need to be able to see it through.
The first comes from when I worked at IDEO – they had slogans all around the rooms and I remember one that ran “fail early to succeed sooner”. I don’t imagine that they coined the aphorism, but I heard it from them first. The second one is an insight from teaching – I’ve regularly encountered students who have good ideas, but procrastinate / argue / delay and for various reason never realise the full potential of their idea. I just think that at a certain point you need to switch into a different mode and stop questioning. I also remember another slogan from IDEO that was along the lines of “ideas are cheap, solutions are expensive”. I think it’s quite an important point – that ideas are not very valuable in and of themselves. We can get fixated on the ‘ideas’ part of a design / project. Generally if you put any person — designer, or not — in a brainstorming environment and probe them for ideas you’ll extract some extraordinary concepts. The tricky part is then to take the ideas forward…
6. What are 5 things all designers should know?
1) Don’t be a designer, there are enough already.
2) If you must be a designer then you need to work out a way to support your activity within a wider framework of earning money, paying bills etc. Nobody will do this for you.
3) There are about half a dozen interesting jobs in the corporate world and you won’t ever have one of them.
4) That business models are as important and creative as “design.”
5) It’s far more straight forward and less expensive to produce your own products than you might imagine. More designers should do this. It isn’t an easy option (the time demands and learning curve is quite steep), but for any modestly talented and intelligent person it is eminently achievable.