An interview with designer Eddie Opara, founder of the Map Office, partner at Pentagram, and creator of innovative motion graphics, brand identities, art installations, and more.
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(soft electronic music) - [Voiceover] Eddie Opara was named one of Fast Company's 100 most creative people in business in both 2012 and 2014. He was also featured in Ebony magazine's Power 100 list. After stints at ATG, Imaginary Forces, and 2 x 4, he established his own studio, the Map Office.
Five years later Opara and the Map team joined Pentagram in New York. Opara is a multifaceted designer whose work encompasses strategy, design, and technology. His numerous awards include a Gold Cube from the Art Director's Club and his work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Opara has taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, as well at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He is currently a visiting critic at the Yale School of Art.
- We're here in New Orleans at the AIGA Conference and I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with Eddie Opara. Eddie, thank you so much for joining us today. - Thank you, it's good to be here. - So you have spoken about two things that have influenced your work. One being your mum's Nigerian headwraps and the work of Lebbeus Woods who is an architect, the drawings. What was it about those two things that are really different that sparked your creativity? - Well, you know, my mum is really incredibly close to me.
It was really more about understanding my culture. You know, being born and bred in London, England is sort of a very different distance between that and Nigeria. And when my mother would go out and you know, enjoy herself with her friends, and sort of party, she would normally have me in the room, in her bedroom and we would actually pick out the cloth, the wrapper that she would wear and also her head wrap.
And it was always that head wrap, either it was actually made by a friend of hers already and then she placed it on her head like a crown. Like a queen. Or she would actually make it up there. And it was the noise, it's very, very, sort of crisp material. It's very, very sharp and it's always colorful. And as she folds it, it starts to make these sort of impressions and patterns, repetitions. And then when you place it on your head, it's not just that it's a crown, it's this sculptural piece, this artistic representation of being a strong African woman and that is a very important statement of communication.
And to me, utilizing that in parts of the work that I was doing, way back when, it was sort of very important, to use that and recognize it. And so taking things from, you know, past and also very much from your culture is a very important factor within graphic design for, I would say, a lot of people. And so that's why I adore my mum so much. And, you know, there are other things about her that allowed me to go into graphic design.
- It sounds like as a kid you already had that artistic thing going, is that fair to say? - You could say that. To shut me up at church she would give me, pencil and paper and I would be sitting in the stalls and drawing whilst mass was being preceded. If you didn't give me a pencil and paper I was wreaking havoc, singing hymns without, you know, when you don't actually start singing hymns. Or being dragged out of church and into the sort of front yard area to shut me up until either service was done or there was another part of the service that I would just keep quiet in.
So, the paper helped and the idea of drawings did. And she also was my first client if you could say that. She has this Women's Association she still actually is part of and she asked me to draw a dove as a logo. "My son likes drawing, so I think he should do this." And I said, "Yes, okay." And it was my first understanding of what a client actually does to a certain degree and that's interfere in my artistic endeavors.
So I actually showed her my design. She said, "Well, it's very nice, "but can you change this and change that?" And so I went back and changed it, went back again. She's like, "It's very nice, "but I'll show it to my friends." And she came back and she's like, "It's very nice, but can you change this?" And then I was like, "No, I quit." We had an argument and then I quit. And then she took what I had and used it. She's like, perfect client, right? So, you know, yeah, very influential in my work, yeah.
- And when did you find your artistic voice? Was it high school or college? - I would say it was, it was art school. I, you know, I was just really young. I was like 18 and I thought I was gonna be an architect, but a very good friend of mine basically in art class was saying, "Why would you be an architect? "Look at the way that you paint." And I was like, doing a still life and everything was incredibly geometric and so much symmetry in it.
And a really sort of flat color. And he said, "You should be graphic designer." I'm like, really? And to a certain degree I was a bit snobbish about that and I didn't realize what graphic design really meant. I thought architecture was a far more, you know, hierarchical sort of thing. And so, I went for it and I got into London College of Printing. And I didn't do a foundation course, so I was incredibly worried about my, sort of, the first impressions.
I hadn't gone through that, sort of, rigorous training. And it was my teachers, then, Peter Pierce, Bob Britton, Nick Bell, who used to be the Creative Director of Eye. And they really were people that allowed me to channel my so called talents and become a better creative person, better designer as it were. And still today, there are certain lessons that they've given me that I still try to utilize.
So that's when I started to sort of gravitate and a lot of people started to see the work that I was doing. And I'd left, I took a semester off, and I moved to Holland which totally opened everything up, even more so. Meetings at Dunbar, at Studio Dunbar and having a beer with him in his studio at lunch time was something else. And at the time I didn't drink and he basically forced me to have a beer, a Grolsch. But whilst we were talking, I would just look around the room and just see all the amazing posters and designs that he had created.
And that sort of aspect, that sort of easy-going personality, that sort of also comes out in work that he had done for the Dutch police, the Dutch post office, and also the Dutch Theater. It just started to resonate with me a lot more that I needed to relax more. I needed to open up and look at the aspects of new things and stretch my hands out into new areas of design to bring back into my work.
And you know, that was a very captivating time for me in Holland. - Well, and the design scene in Holland is so unbelievable. Amsterdam in particular, you walk around and it's just, it's everywhere. It's gotta be a very inspiring place to be and sort of blossom. - It is, yeah it was. And you know, it's infused into the culture. You know, there's not many countries that can actually state that. And I do come from a country that does try to infuse design into its culture as well and it's done it very well into the past, like early 21st century and that area is incredibly important to me.
Unfortunately, I was in the United States when those things actually occurred, which is an entirely different type of culture, and trying to graph exactly what America sort of stands for or is representative of in graphic design is very hard, because it's an incredibly broad place. To be absolutely honest, even New York being the center of media, it doesn't, to me, I don't believe that it's a full center of design, or it should be, and that's an important factor for all Americans to understand, that they should reach out and grab design by their two hands and try to figure out exactly where it stands in their lives.
Everybody, because it's a very important thing. One thing my father said before I actually left, he said, design is spiritual, Eddie. My family is very religious, so, for him to state that, I thought he said it, like, out of context or something. But really, when you think back, I thought he was basically saying art is spiritual. No, no, no, no, design is spiritual. And, I've always tried to figure out exactly what that means, but also, trying to find that pursuit, that sense of balance with what design does for you in your life and all around you, how it functions, and helps you and allows you to communicate with things.
It's a facilitator, and it helps you guide who you are. And I think a lot more people should understand that. - And when he said that design is spiritual, was that an affirmation for you? Was that sort of a point where you could say, maybe this is something that I really, it is great. You know, you had had your reservations early on, but was that a mark of, like, yeah, this is something to follow. - Yes, yes, absolutely.
I mean, at the time, you're young. I think when he said it I was 21, 22. And, you're still trying to find out what it is that you're doing. And for your father to state that in quite simple terms, was quite something, and it allows you to think, think more. I was always hearing design is all about solving problems.
But nobody had ever said that design is spiritual. Absolutely not. But now, if you look at it from the point of view of things like an Apple Phone, or Apple as it stands, or even parts of Google, to be absolutely honest, the things that they're trying to do are changing the world, and how they're sort of more than engaging in your life, but changing the way that you deal with your life, and allowing people to be more uplifting about who they are, themselves, is truly something.
I know that's sort of the commercial end of things, but there are a variety of other companies doing even better things than they are. - Yeah, no, it's absolutely changing lives all the time. So, you went to Yale for graduate school, and when you got there, you realized that you wanted more than just print. And you looked more towards interactive design technology and research. So, what kinds of projects were you thinking about at that time? - Well, when I first got there, it was like a sinking ship for me.
I was sinking. I thought everybody was far more intelligent than myself, why am I here, oh, I can actually, design and composite books and posters quite well, but what about meaning? And what about the aspects of critical thinking? Critical thinking, to me, it wasn't even on my radar, and it was fairly new.
And I had to try to embrace that as best as I could. It was a very very hard time, because a lot of the things that were said back to me were that, your work's puzzling. You should rethink these particular things and these types of steps. So, my first year, I think I sort of struggled to find a voice, and then, in my second year, I sort of started to gravitate more to interactive design, and also other artists and photographers and sculptors who were in the art school at Yale who are now well-known.
So, I tried to talk to them, find out what their thoughts are, what their ideas are, try to get into their personalities, their personas. And, it was very, it was very intriguing. And I would use them in my work, and I started to reflect on their life and their works in interactive installations. And people started gravitating to the work that I was doing more and more and more.
And I thought that was a positive time for me. I was quite excited about the potentials, the future potentials of the things I was doing. - What advice would you give to somebody who is in school who is hitting one of those places, where, maybe they're hearing their work is puzzling, or they're wondering where to go. Is there anything looking back that you can offer? - I think, in a sense, fear.
Don't be afraid of what people are going to say. It's an appraisal. They're trying to help you, not trying to back you down. A sense of design is to design. Design your way out of your own problems, and that's what they're trying to do. And, take on that, heed their words. Not only that, try to partake in not just, I'm going to design a poster or a website or do an installation here.
Carry on doing artistic pursuits, whether it be photography, whether it be still life drawing, or portrait drawing, or landscapes. Do something different, and then come back. It stretches one's mind. And then, on the other side of that, write. Whether it be a little poem or a little diary for yourself, it's very sort of important. It might feel as though you're not getting somewhere, but you can go back and pull out those particular concepts and ideas out of that, that journal, and utilize them for the future.
That's an important factor. We're never ever going to stop learning, ever. And, I believe I'm still sort of a little bit at school, with some of the things I'm trying to do. - You went to Imaginary Forces, and you talk about one of the, your most favorite projects, which was the Morgan Stanley project. - Yeah, yeah. - Can you talk a little bit about what that was and why it was so special? - I think it was special to me because, at the time, I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I felt as though I needed a change.
I had been up there for nearly four years, and it's, you know, it's beautiful and quiet, I played football three times a week, and I had a great job, but that job wasn't really pushing me, and I wanted to move to New York. And I got a phone call incredibly late at night, two AM in the morning, from a gentleman named Mikon van Gastel. And I met Mikon, actually, in New Orleans, in 1997, for the AAJ conference there.
Yeah, we had won the gold medal for students at the AAJ. I don't think they do that anymore. And, so, we met up, and he was working at Imaginary Forces before he did the credits for Gattaca at the time, and I thought, wow, this guy's brilliant, and he's only 24 years of age. And so, he gave me a call, and he said, "Eddie, it's Mikon." And he said, "What do you know about dynamic data?" And I'm like, "A bit." And he's like "Do you want to come work at Imaginary Forces?" And I was like, "Absolutely." And so, he was setting up the New York office, and with Saffron Kenny, a producer there, and the project, basically, was Morgan Stanley, he won this project.
Morgan Stanley, he'd been working on it for a little bit, and it was the facade at 745 5th Avenue in Times Square. The onus of this is that Morgan Stanley was moving there from on the other side of the street over to the big headquarters designed by KPF. And, it's a block long facade that wraps around the corners, so, at the time, I think it was the biggest LED in the whole of North America.
And one of the things that was a problem is that it's punctured with strips, three strips, and it's very hard to deal with graphics on that type of canvas. So, what we did is, we came up with themes, similar to the Q project that I just showed. And, these themes were all based on Morgan Stanley's new identity, and at the time it was the triangle, which they've now, I think they've got rid of it.
And, this whole idea of the triangle being a device, and it can sort of create different things from the idea of bridging the gap and connecting people, networking. There was a theme called X-Ray, and this theme's actually quite interesting, because the whole idea of it was to show how many people were actually working in this particular space. And, one of the interesting things was, if you walked down the road, everything's showing advertising. Here, it was really more about the heart, rather than the idea of commercial product.
It was really trying to show more things about who we are as people. And that's what was really really different. And so, we had life sized sort of poser people walking up and down. And these were developed by the very talented animator called Fabian Tajder who also worked on the Mad Men intros, and you may see, you know, Don Draper. Yeah, basically, it was the guy falling down, it was a poser person, he developed that.
And, so, it's always nice to, you know, connect all these things, but, it was a beautiful project, and unfortunately, because of 9/11, it was basically opening I think the same week or month, Morgan Stanley didn't move into the building. Then, the Lehman Brothers did. - So what happened to it? - And the Lehman Brothers are actually now gone, and now it's Barkley's. - [Kristin] Did it have any time up? - It did, it had about, I don't know, a few months up, and I rang my mum and said, you've got to see this, mum.
And, I think she got the tail end of it, which was nice. But, it's to me one of the best projects I've ever-- - How long did it take in the making? - Well, overall, seeing that Mekon was working on it before I got to it, I think in total, it was like two and a half years. Yeah, that was a long time. Takes a long time. - Takes a long time. And you then went on to 2 x 4. - Yes, I did.
- And one of your projects was to develop wallpaper for the Prada Men show. - Yes, yes, I was asked, Michael came over to my desk one day and said, "Prada wants some wallpaper "for their men's show, you've got," I think, "12 hours." And you know, it's fashion, right? - No pressure. - No pressure. And the thing is, I think I was actually leaving for London for the holidays, one to two days afterwards.
So, I was racking my brain, and I was thinking, typography, typography. I just couldn't come up with the message. What is the message? So, I said, bollocks, you can forget it. I'm going to do me. I'm going to do me. And so, I generated a poster that was, at the time, of a naked man, black man, and also, a white man but in pink, and so, brown and pink, colors that they were sort of utilizing.
And, they were my height, 6'2". And, I printed them out, and they were sent. And then I left. I actually left to London. Didn't know what happened. And then I came back. And Prada had actually blown it up, blew up my body, and naked, a model of my body naked, wrapping around this whole space, and I was blown away.
- Did you like it? - I loved it. Thank you, Michio Prada for that opportunity. And then she liked that concept so much we generated a new idea for the Prada store, the epicenter, in SoHo, around this sort of new model world, a Garden of Eden, but with these sort of 3D model people.
And, she really liked that, too, and then she utilized that in other stores, as well. So, it was nice. - So, a lot of people feel that adding constraints to design briefs drive creativity. And Sagmeister's and Walsher are famous for doing that. Do you feel that that's the case? - I think so, too. I mean, I sit right next to Paula Scher, so yeah. You know, often enough, we have conversations about this, and there's this sense of turning pages of books that we see in Europe, and saying, why aren't we doing this here, look at this, what's going on in America, come on, let's do this, let's strip off, let's get ourselves out, where's the energy? And, absolutely, I think it's totally needed.
- Why do you think Europe has more energy in their work than we do? - I really, I really don't know, because I've always believed that Americans have way too much energy. In perseonality, right? And so, you think it should come out in design. I really don't know. It's a puzzling thing. Something that I, I don't normally dwell on too much, I just say, "Eh, I'll just do my thing." But, I think it could be, I think it could be the fact that we've never, we as America, we've never taken on this sense of, have never conformed in their own guards to saying that this aspect of being dynamic and open and risk-taking in design is the solution for future design.
I think, rightly so, you have to have different pockets of things, eclectic pockets, of design, and I think that it's because America's an enormous place with large populations. If you look at Great Britain, it's basically the size of New York State and Vermont, with 40 to 60 million people in it. Holland's even smaller. So, these sort of, Switzerland. So, these contained spaces, it's easier to have this conformity, and create a sense of willingness to be more adventurous.
So, if the mandate is to be adventurous and be open, a lot more people are going to connect with that in the likes of Switzerlands or Britains or Hollands of the world, rather than America, because it's, it's largely open, and also, Americans don't like to take orders. From anybody, at all. - It's true, that's why we left. - Yeah, quite right.
- So, you left 2 x 4, which was a fantastic job, as I understand-- - It was, yeah. - And, you decided to start the Map Office. And, why, what was going on at that time? - I don't know. While I was in Argentina, with one of my best friends, George Plesko, who used to be my roommate at Yale, and George, I used to work with him at Art and Technology Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well, and we were tight, and he had his reasons, and I had my reasons for starting this new venture.
And, basically, what happened was, we were on the bus going to a wedding in Buenos Ares, and we came up with the name, thought it was fantastic, got back to America, and we started the process of setting up this company. Unfortunately, one of us got a little bit of cold feet, and it was fine. The sense of having family and dealing with health insurance, trust me, those types of things get in the way for a good reason.
So I said, no problem, I'll just start off and wait. And so, I started looking for work. I wanted to do something slightly different from what I was doing at 2 x 4. And, I didn't want to go into the same, well, the sense of being competitive was not an issue, not really supposed to be competitive to 2 x 4, because of, they used to be your bosses, don't go in that particular direction at this moment in time.
Go somewhere else, do something else. And so, that's what I did. I started looking at different types of areas, like real estate and education, and then, they started being quite rewarding. And I started growing the company. From a small studio, from my bedroom, to my living room, eating bacon in my bathrobe, with one of my designers, Salvador Orare, and just chilling out, to a little tiny studio in Chinatown, to a medium-sized studio in Chinatown with 78 designers.
And, I was like, wow, what's going on here? And, yeah, yeah, it was fun. It was a good time to be had for those five years. It was, in a sense, like a five year plan anyway. And then up pops Pentagram. - And, the plan, or, from what I understand it, was, at Map, everybody did everything. - Everybody did everything. - There were no specialists. - Well, we had one, one coder, but then we had designers that could code.
So, you know, we all did everything, all of us, yeah. - So, did everybody show up with a full skillset, or were you madly coming up to speed in areas you were-- - Coming up to speed. Some people didn't want to do certain things. OK, somebody else do it. I wasn't upset. I just wanted to see how things moved along. And, I was greatly surprised. We came up with some really fun and interesting things.
And, yeah, I thought that for a time George would come back and then we'd make it bigger, and at that particular time, I thought, size was important. It's not, and, we sort of moved over into Pentagram, into the Pentagram family, which was very exciting. - One of your most well-known pieces from that time was Stealth. - [Eddie] Yes.
- And that is a personal project. - It is a personal project, yeah. - And, it's a beautiful important project that appears to blur the lines between design and art a little bit. Can you talk a little bit about what it is, this paper's construction, installation, and a quote I'll read by Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, which is, "I am invisible, understand, simply because "people refuse to see me." - That's correct, yes, it is a personal project.
And it actually goes back to Lebbeus Woods. And, his ideas and concepts about parasites, and scars and scabs. And, he never built anything. He was sort of a paper architect, as they call them. But his concepts were absolutely truly amazing, and his drawings were an absolute delight. And I picked him up when I was about 18.
At the age of 15 I joined the AA, Architects Association, as a member, and I thought that was exciting. You're 15 years of age, and you can go to these exhibits, and the bookstore, and the library, and study up on these architects for school. And, I thought, this is amazing, and at the time, further down the road, I found Lebbeus Woods' work.
And one of the things about his work is that he used, it's very similar to my mother's headwraps, the way she wraps. The way his sort of scars and scabs actually sort of drape over buildings and protrude out of buildings, and that's what you see when you see Nigerian headscarves and wraps. And I thought, this is something that's really interesting to me. Why are posters always flat? Graphic designers.
How come we can never actually have a poster that can actually protrude out from a wall? And why is it always a certain size? Why can't it be tessellated and be produced to create a larger whole? And, for me, that was important. So, I went all the way back to being a teenager and pulled that concept. Remember, keep all your notes. And pulled it into this particular project. And I wanted to use it for a student museum in Harlem, it was a client of mine, and I wanted to produce it for them.
I don't know why, it just is a heartfelt thing. And, at the time, I was reading Invisible Man, and a sense of identity was important. Sometimes I almost feel like you're the Wizard of Oz, the person behind the scenes that's never seen. And because you're a minority as well, it makes it even harder. And, you want to be seen. That aspect is very important.
And so, there's a lot of complexity and contradiction in the work where it's folded and it looks like a stealth bomber. And the thing about the stealth is that it is not aestheticized, but, the aesthetics are amazing. It's all about function. The form is function, but, if you look at it, it's beautiful. It's this insane object, alien object, that the US government has created.
It's one of the most beautiful things ever. But, it also is incredibly dangerous, and also, undetectable, invisible. And so, combining all these items and this piece of text, and also, utilizing and manipulating the text so you can only see it from a distance, the message within the folds, it started to create all these layers and started reinforcing the aspect of what I was trying to say.
- You seem to do a lot of things that end up on the wall. - Yeah, I like-- - With Carda and Prada and Stealth and Morgan Stanley and the project you're working on now-- - Yeah, the MahaNakhon project. - It's interesting, because it's sort of, maybe this is where that architecture's coming back. - I think so, you know. It's sort of like this subconscious thing. It's, yes, definitely coming back in.
And I don't know why I mean, I do do a lot of identity work, and also books, but this is really close to my heart. And I think, also, understanding the designers like, design collectors like Archigram really helped me understand the aspects of what people call experiences, I don't really call it that, I just think it's fun.
And to sort of elaborate into these sort of interesting situations, so, yeah. - Can you talk a little bit about the role that non-client passion work plays in your life professionally and personally? - That's an interesting question. I think, I think it's more in regards to that you can't keep going on with client work and, I mean, maybe some people can, and feel like, I'm infused, I'm infused every day.
Keep give it, you know, give me more. To me, sometimes, it's like I'm being whipped. Oh, no, do not give me more. I'm sorry, I can't take this, this is too much. And you go home, and you, sometimes I get home, I just sit in the TV and try to veg out. And then I sort of, like, get up, and say, I'm going to do a personal project, that's going to take me out of this particular world, that I am the client. That's what I've always wanted to try and do, so that clients will see what I stand for truly, and then utilize for me for work.
So, in a sense, it makes it, I would say it makes it a lot easier to actually produce the work. Not saying, do you do such and such in your work, and do you do this and that, and it's like, come on, I can. Doesn't mean I've done it before, but I can. And, so, it can be very selective. That's what I would like it to be. I would say a lot of designers would like to do that. And so, that's why I came up with the Carter project, and other little things that are in my back pocket.
But, for me, even though I'm a partner in a large design firm, the idea of being an entrepreneur is, is very difficult. The idea of selling a product rather than selling a service is insanely difficult, and being a graphic designer is that. But I like to tinker around and see if I can get better and get stronger, be a better businessman.
I've still got time to come up with something. - That's a really hard part of the equation, though. It's a whole other side of the brain, and there's so many designers who come up with amazing ideas, but really understanding how to be an entrepreneur, a design entrepreneur, and to know how to bring a product to market and get it out there and promote it, that's a whole different skillset. - That is a whole different thing. You know, I can learn a lot from a whole lot of younger designers. "How do you do this on Kickstarter?" It's amazing, they have no fear.
They're going for it. And I think that everybody else should do it, and it doesn't have to be through Kickstarter. It could be through other channels, just go out and do it. What would impress me with AirBNB is that they're from RISD. And others are like that. I mean, John Mader recently was talking about this in a large lecture he was giving. Factors of design not just being the service makers, but being the actual entrepreneurs producing very successful companies that aren't supposedly really dealing with design but have design at the heart of their business, and that to me is like, wow, wow wow, that's great.
It's super exciting. Can I do that? I'll try. - When you went to Pentagram you brought the Map Office with you. - Yes, I did. - How was that transition coming into such an established New York office and Pentagram? - It takes time. And, just before, there's a sense of, is this really happening to us? You sort of, like, pinch yourself.
We all pinched ourselves. OK, this is happening, and it takes, it takes some time, it takes about a year to sort of get into the business of things, and, understand what's going on, and then, it takes even up to five to seven years to really feel comfortable. And I've been told that by other partners. You know, it takes a while. But, you sort of become more engaged in what's going on in the company, and there's the fact that you're in a family, and a family acts as a, they can be dysfunctional or functional at any given time.
You know, we don't have infrastructure of the CEO or CMO, CTO, we don't have that, we're all on an equal keel, so 19 people, coming up with, have to decide on a lot of things, is a very very difficult thing. But we do do it, and we've done it for 43 years. So, it does work. - And you're each working on your own projects, correct? - Yes, that's correct.
But we also do share projects as well. Depending on the scale, or, sometimes in the sense of expertise, on that, or whether we've done that project before, we can gang up. We'll do it. We all do that. And we love it. It's actually great, it's great to be there. - To be surrounded by such a diverse, amazing group of talent. Has that had an influence on the way your team works? - The way my team works is...
I would say, not necessarily. I believe that my team is pretty nuts. They normally call them the crazy gang. And for many, many different reasons. I feel as though the energy and the vibe in the office is what gives them the boost that they need to do, and it's loud.
It's loud in there. Sometimes, because everything's open, it feels like you're kind of a call center. People walking past your desk, and you're on an actual call with a client, and, you know, you've got one of your team's trying to get your attention, "Hey, Eddie, I need to talk!" And then there's Emily that's running over or something, trying to tell you something, or Paula's standing right next to Michael and talking about another project, "Yeah, yeah, you know," and you're like, "Hi, yes, OK, understood." You're trying to be as quiet as possible yourself, but it's very loud in there.
There's a lot of energy. It's New York, I suppose. - One of the things that you say, "Our designers are never finished." - Yes, that's right. - [Kristin] Can you explain that? - Well, it's fairly simple. So, part of the work that I do is dealing with code, and the digital world, virtual world. And if you've ever tried to build software, design and build software, like I have, it doesn't end.
It should never end. And so, when people, when designers start saying, design is about solving problems, and then they continue and say, when you've solved the problem, you can relay the information to the client. That's not correct. That is not correct. The fact is that you're never going to end that particular process, either.
The whole idea here is that the client's going to evolve and change and adjust, saying the identity should, the identity could be very elastic over the course of time, but it needs to be adjusted. Your design needs to be affected. And, this is not just with identity, but for all walks of design. And so, you're never finished. Don't ever consider that. And that's what makes it great.
We're not in the film business. There is no the end. Isn't that wonderful? - It is. And, as you're watching these things develop, and you create a product, and time goes along, what are the markers you're loooking for that dictate, OK, it's time to jump back in again and bring this thing to its next generation? - Well, the markers. Well, when it's not working for that user set anymore, that audience anymore.
It's dying, or it needs to be adjusted. That's one. The factor of the potential client changing, in a sense of retention of the client that you knew is changing, a new party has come in and they've got their own ideas, that's another marker. I would say, and then there's also, I just don't like that anymore. I think it needs to be changed. I'm going to call them up and change it. That's another one. So, there's a variety there that you often see, and also, basically, when it's just not working.
It didn't work the way you thought it was going to work, and you're going to have to change it. But hopefully at a cost. - Right now you're working on a project on the tallest building in southern Asia. - Yeah, in Thailand. - [Kristin] And this has been going on for two years, is that correct? - This has been going on for two years, yes. - Sounds pretty exciting. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? - Yeah, the project's called MahaNakhon. This project is being designed by Bureau S.
It's Bureau Alla Shippin in Beijing. And, Alla and his partner Eric Chang used to work for Rem Koolhas. And, Eric, I knew, from college. A very, amazingly talented architect. And they were part of the team, they were the team that built the CCTV building in Beijing. One of the most brilliant pieces of architecture of the 21st century.
And, I got a call, and Eric wanted me to work on this project with him. He explained what it was. It's an amazing building. To a certain degree, from a visual standpoint, it actually looks like Pac-Man has actually eaten parts of the building. So, there were sort of these areas that jut out, and then it sort of smooths up. It's a luxury residential building, it has Ritz Carlton residences in there, and also an Editions hotel in the actual tower.
And then, down below, is a different type of program. It's a mixture of arts and commerce coming together, and the building that we're focusing on right now is called The Cube. And, The Cube is incredibly fascinating. The facade, the whole facade of the building, apart from the bottom floor, is an LED screen. And actually, it's made up of multiple screens, what we call cassettes, that fit together.
Another extraordinary thing about this building is that the BTS, which is the subway system in Bangkok, runs parallel to the building, and they're building another bridge that actually goes right into the building. So, it feels very, very much like a Blade Runner-esque experience. So, what we're doing, it's actually centered in the financial district in Bangkok, called Silom.
And, we're sort of looking at it from the point of view of it being part artistic, part commerce, and part financial information that runs on these particular screens. And it's made up of these mini apps that we've created and at certain times, at certain schedules, that the client can control, that we built, the interface actually changes and becomes one full system of information.
But within some of these themes are things that are tied to the timing of the trains and the timing of light that allow the themes to come alive. For instance, we have sunrise sunset, but not just a sunrise that goes like this, or a sunset that goes like this, because it doesn't work that way. The sun doesn't actually go up and down like this, it goes at specific angles, and so, we've taken measurements of data, the dynamic data on a day to day basis, at certain time of day, to the second, when the sun will actually rise or the sun will fall, and what angle.
And so, we computationally created the sun on the screen at that time, and the angle, actually, how it moves across the screen. And, it was fascinating that somebody on Instagram actually took a photograph of when that actually was happening, our theme was going on. So, we wanted to make sure, because there's a lot of traffic in that area, that people can actually, cars can actually see it when they're going to work, and actually coming from work. And we actually do it with the moon phases as well.
So, it's all programmed in that particular case in point. So that's just one example of, of things. The other example is that, this whole screen can actually be turned into a music visualizer from the DJ up on the top floor. There's a restaurant called the Vogue Bar. When he's playing his tunes, it will actually change the screen turns and forms. From the actual central doorway as you're walking in, it sort of reverberates from there.
So, it's actually quite interesting. - And this will live on and on, because obviously... - Well, hopefully, the system will live on and on, but it can be changed. So the apps can actually be pulled out, and a new app can be placed into its place. That was the whole purpose of it. It shouldn't be just all about ads. So, the ads are not going to be running all day. You know, one ad after another. It's just so boring, why do that. And so, they do have ad time, they can control that ad time, but they also have these themes that designers like myself or other designers can actually come in and build for that particular screen.
So, we've built that program that actually can do that. - So, you said, and I'm going to quote you here-- - Oh, no. - It's a good quote. "Brands can never stay still. "They need to be adjusted over the course of time "by the community at large. "So, you the designer, are in a sense, "not in control any more." - Yes. - Can you talk about how the community has the power to influence a brand? - Oh, wow. That's a big one. How long have you got? In today's society, everything.
They have all the power. All the power. The fact that we live in the societal world that is networked, and highly networked, is important. So, everybody that's utilizing this ecosystem, this global ecosystem, that people have generated, have a say. Now, how much of that say is important, and also the message is now relayed to them.
So, the fashioning of your identity is based on how people are communicating with you, or how they're utilizing your products. And it's very, very important. And so, we are not in control. We should not be in control. And, it's, in principle, it's easy for me to say that, and, I just believe that if companies can just let go a little bit, you'll be surprised to see what can actually happen.
I'll just leave it at that. Is that OK? - You recently redesigned the Code Academy logo. - Yes, I did. - And the logo that they had was sort of homegrown. - It was. Ryan actually just picked it out. It was a font that he just saw, and he just utilized it. It was like a script font. - Right, so, you did away with everything, and said to the founders, bring in things you love. - Yes.
- Whatever you love. It doesn't have to do with the logo or anything, just bring it in, I want to see it. - Yeah. - [Kristin] How did that inform your, where you went with the identity? - It was more in regards to being, making sure the identity was open enough. I found that, that they wanted Code Academy to not just be about code, that they may actually create other companies over the course of time, or other entities, that were different.
But Academy needed to stay. So, Code is always framed, and so, you can actually just wipe it off at any time. It's very important, that aspect of being open, that aspect of your community may be generating a new type of concept for that particular position. It could be an icon, and then Academy at the end of it. So, they, that aspect came out of these conversations that I had with them, and when they sort of brought in objects. And I also, it was really more about observation.
I wanted to know how they would talk about things, and why they liked certain things. And we saw certain things from being incredible detailed to being incredibly open. But, there was always a reason. It wasn't off the cuff, saying, "Oh, I just bought it because "it kind of looked cool." They weren't those kinds of guys. They had really great, in-depth understanding of the rationale of why they purchased these items. And so, when you sort of look at that, you want to give a little bit of that into the design that you're dealing with, but always keeping it open for change in the long run.
And that's the point of the actual mark that we developed for Code Academy. - When, in looking at the objects, were there consistent details throughout them, whether it was, I think, one was a razor, or a sneaker, something like that. - Yeah, yeah. Zach brought in a sneaker. - Were there things throughout, lines or palettes or anything like that you picked from? - Yeah, in regards to palettes, it was interesting. Because, Zach's sneaker was actually incredibly colorful, incredibly colorful.
And, we were not sure whether we should actually use these amazingly bright colors for them. It wasn't part of the sort of brand message structure. And we were right. He didn't want that. He felt as though that was personal to him. But, he did want certain details that were slightly personal that we actually cut into the typeface, that he really loved, these little cuts into the actual type that other people would not see.
And he loved details. And so, that, that led us to relaying some of the things that he wanted into the work that we were doing. - So, one final question. You were raised in the UK. What do you miss the most? - (laughs) There's not one single thing.
Well, I don't miss the weather. I'm going to say that's obvious. I miss my mum's cooking, yeah. And, it's not English cooking. Nigerian cooking. Yeah, I miss that the most, I think. And my mates. I miss them, I love them. - Well, Eddie, thank you so much. It's been such fun chatting with you. I really appreciate you being here. - Thank you. Thank you for having me.