Six Questions from Kicker: Jack Schulze

For the fourth installment in our Six Questions series, Kicker interviews Jack Schulze, of Schulze & Webb.

Jack Schulze

photo courtesy Timo / elasticspace.com

Jack obtained his MA in Interaction Design from the Royal College of Art in 2006, previously running an independent design studio for four years and graduating in Graphic Design from Central Saint Martins in 2000. He is interested in optical perception, especially in display, and focuses his graphics work on looking and perspective. His projects in this area explore maps and representations of urban space. Most recently Jack’s interests are in the aesthetics of mechanisms, and his work is drawn from comics, cinema, manufacture and television.
1. What is the most cherished product in your life? Why?

I have old stuff which is rare and personal, like my grandfather’s migration documents, but those aren’t products. Matt Webb recently pointed me towards Bruce Sterling’s last post on Veridian. Sterling says the only stuff worth keeping is beautiful, emotionally important, or things you use all the time. Sell everything else. I don’t really cherish products that much. They lose their mystery when you work with them every day.

I like Monster Burp most as a product in the world at the moment, and also the Peecol series of figures by Eboy. That world of art vinyl works between manufacture and graphic design. It’s very clever, very elegant. I’m drawing an enormous amount from these bodies of work right now.

There’s also one of my vintage Transformers I really like. Those toys were truly remarkable pieces of engineering and design, and amazingly manufactured too. It is hugely inspirational to imagine there was once this team of people able to conceive, design and manufacture something of that level of beauty and cultural imagination. Amazing that Hasbro have managed to shit on the franchise so badly now.
2. What’s the one product you wish you’d designed, and why?

There are products I wish I’d designed because I like them and then people would think I’d done them and like me more. This list is massive. Off the top of my head: I wish I’d directed and conceived the perfume commercial where a guy on a helicopter kisses a woman at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and a Channel commercial with Little Red Riding Hood shooshing the wolf. I’d like to have been the first to take the photomontages Hockney produced in the 60s. I wish I’d written The Filth by Grant Morrison. I wish I’d conceived and made Super Mario Galaxy. I love the table-top skirmish game called Necromunda in the Warhammer universe, although I only played it once, because the social negotiation of the rules that always happens around the game, are embedded back into the rules. I think Formula 1 television coverage is visually completely remarkable. I have no idea what is going on, but it’s so good I can watch it just for the optics. It’s like injecting Photoshop filters straight into your eyeballs.

There are also those products I wish I’d designed because that would imply I had a much higher level of technical aptitude than I do. But I’m more interested in telling you all the things that would have been better had I done them. This response is more revealing than it looks. Design (verb) is often blamed or cited as to why a product is unsatisfying. Design (noun) is where that process manifests, but it’s rarely the process which has failed. It’s almost always something else.

So most of the things I’d like to redesign would include that something else. I would have to wield the enormous corporate power within the structures from which the design and products are inseparable. I wish I could do this with anything Nokia have produced since the 3210i. I wish I could design the Flash video platform. And someone needs to redesign Adobe Creative Suite, and it may-as-well be me, it certainly can’t get much shitter. I’d really like to work somewhere like Bang & Olufsen, I really appreciate the emphasis they place on desirability.
3. What excites you about being a designer? Why do you keep doing it?

It’s a funny question, like those ones you get for university applications, ‘why do you want to study at Theslethwick College of Brilliance?’ And you always end up thinking ‘um, because it’s on my bus route,’ but you actually write ‘because you reputation is unprecedented and I’m hungry for a stimulating and diverse educational environment,’ etc.

The truth is I don’t do much design. Recently I’ve been working on graphic work around the Here & There projection. That’s design, it’s true, although it isn’t the point of the project but just the current form of the output. Also recently lots of animation and photography, and that isn’t design. Working with Matt to shape the company is not design work. The word ‘design’ as I was taught it has shifted so much that I try to ignore it now. But I have to say, I’m probably unemployable, not having been an employee for ten years and I’ve only got hippy degrees.

I keep doing it because I get excited about my company and working with my colleagues. I like it that the company is set up in a way that there is a balance between working with other companies with very specific, directed interested, and our own explorations. I love working with Matt Webb and a guy called Paul. I like it when I’ve been involved with something that other people like, and I like that the work is culturally interesting and affecting and technically weird and challenges.

I’m personally most excited when I’m involved with something I’m literate in, but technically unfamiliar, when I’m in pursuit of something culturally new or playful. When there’s a sense of discovery or itchyness about newness, that’s when I’m happiest.
4. When do you first remember thinking of yourself as a designer?

Design is a weird word isn’t it? Sometimes it means a job title, hotly contested (not by me). This used to work better when design fields were associated with vocations (book designer, furniture designer). Now it seems suspiciously vague. Design is sometimes used like a verb, like an ambiguous cluster of unfamiliar processes. People say ‘I’m doing some design,’ or ‘I’m designing something.’

I was producing designs and doing design from a very early ago. It was always a component of my drawing as a child. I didn’t start calling myself a designer until I was in my early 20s, but now I don’t find it important to define myself in that territory. It’s easier to describe my company and the projects it has done, or to talk about the people I work with.
5. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned, and who taught it to you?

No one cares about what you think, unless you do what you think. No one cares what you do, unless you think about what you do. No one ever really cares what you say.

I learnt this lesson from Spencer Thursfield, an old tutor of mine.

Here’s another. You get the work you do. If you want to do something else start doing it.
6. What are the 5 things all designers should know?

1) Don’t use processes like User Centred Design or Usability dogmatically. Learn your trade and do it properly and you’ll be able to deliver work confidently.

2) Talking about your work does not directly improve the actual quality of your work. Ultimately design happens in the world and in your hands, and not in your mouth.

3) Once it was possible for designers to hide in their vocations and ignore the context around their work. Designers are better now because they include business, processes, media and software in the substrates they work with.

4) Some people (they are wrong) say design is about solving problems. Obviously designers do solve problems, but then so do dentists. Design is about cultural invention. There are some people who want to reduce the domain of design to listable, knowable stuff, so it’s easy to talk about. Design is a glamorous, glittering world and this means they can engage without having to actually risk themselves on the outcome of their work. This is damaging. It turns design into something terrified of invention. Design is about risk. We all fear authentic public response to our work, but we have to be brave enough to overcome.

5) Always have nice pens.