Eddie Opara deals with design and code. Some think design is about solving problems, and that once a design is finished, it is done. But Opara delights in the fact that there is no end for his work, and there shouldn’t be. The idea is that the client evolves and changes and the work continues to be adjusted. His current project, the MahaNakhon Cube in Bangkok, is made up of multiple screens and apps, timed to the surrounding environment … truly a project with no end.
- 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. Just before, there's a sense of is this really happening to us. You sort of like pinch yourself.
We all pinched ourselves. "Okay, this is happening." It takes some time. It takes about a year to sort of get into the business of things and understand what's going on. Then it takes even up to five to seven years to really feel comfortable. I've been told that by other partners. It takes a while. But, you sort of become more engaged in what's going on in the company.
It's the fact that you're in a family. The family acts as a... They could be dysfunctional or functional at any given time. 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 that have to decide on a lot of things is a very, very difficult thing.
But we do do it, and then we've done it for 43 years. So it does work. - 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. We love it. It's actually great.
- To be surrounded by such a diverse, amazing group of talent, has that had an influence on the way your team works? - Well, the way my team works is (laughing) I would say not necessarily. I believe that my team is pretty nuts. (laughing) It's like I normally call them the "Crazy Gang" for many, many different reasons. I feel as though that the energy and the vibe in the office is what gives them the boost that they need to do.
It's loud. (laughing) It's loud in there. Sometimes, because everything is open, it feels like you're in sort of a call center. People just shouting and they're walking by your desk, and you're on an actual call with a client, and you've got one of your team's just trying to get your attention, "Hey, Eddie! Can I... "I need to talk." 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, blah, blah, blah." You're like, "Yes. Right.
"Yes. Okay, understood." You're trying to be as quiet as possible on yourself, but it's very loud in there. There's a lot of energy. It's New York. (laughing) I suppose. - One of the things that you say are "desires are never finished." - Yes, that's right. Desires are never finished. - Can you explain that? - It's fairly simple. Part of the work that I do is dealing with code and the digital world, the virtual world.
If you've ever tried to build software, which I've designed and built software, like I have, it doesn't end. It should never end. So when people, a designer, starts saying their design's 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 could be very elastic over the course of time, but it needs to be adjusted. Your design needs to be effected. This is not just for identity, but it's for all walks of design.
So you're never finished. Don't ever consider that. That's what makes it great that we're not in the film business. There is no "The End." Isn't that wonderful? - It is. As you're watching these things develop, and you create a product, and time goes along, what are the markers you're looking for that dictate, "Okay, it's time to jump back in again "and bring this thing to its next generation?" - Well the markers, when it's not working for that user set anymore, that audience anymore or it's dying or it needs to be adjusted.
That's one. The other factor of the potential client changing, the sense of retention of the client that you knew has changed. A new party has come in and they've got their own ideas. That's another marker. Then there's also that "I just don't like that anymore. (laughing) "I think it needs to be changed. "I'm going to call them up and change it." That's another one. There's a variety that you don't often see. Basically, it's just not working.
It didn't work the way you thought it was going to work. You're going to have to change it, but hopefully at a cost. (laughing) - Right now, you're working on a project on the tallest building in Southern Asia? - Yeah, in Thailand. Yes. - This has been going on for two years. Is that correct? - It's 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 Buro-OS.
It's Buro Ole Scheeren in Beijing. Ole and his partner, Eric Chang, used to work for Rem Koolhaas. Eric, I knew from college, a very amazingly talented architect. They were the team that built the CCTV building in Beijing, one of the brilliant pieces of architecture of the 21st century.
I got a call. Eric ordered me to work on this project with him. He explained what it was. It's an amazing building. To a certain degree from a literal standpoint, it actually looks like Pac-Man is actually eating parts of the building. So there are sort of these areas that jut out, and then it sort of smooths up. It's a luxury residential building.
It has a Ritz-Carlton residences in there and also, Editions Hotel in the actual tower. Then down below is a different type of program. It has a mixture of arts and commerce coming together. The building that we're focusing on right now is called "The Cube." The Cube is incredibly fascinating. The facade, the whole facade of the building, apart from the bottom floor is an LED screen.
It actually is 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. They're building another bridge that actually goes right into the building. So it feels very much like a sort of Blade Runner-esque experience. So what we're doing, it's actually centered in the financial district in Bangkok called "Silom." 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.
It's made up of these mini apps that we've created. At certain times, there's certain schedules that the client can control that we've built. The interface actually changes and becomes one full system of information. But within some of these themes are the things that are tied to the timing of the trains and the timing of light that allow things 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. So we've taken measurements of data, the dynamic data, on a day-to-day basis. At certain times, we know the time of day to the second when the sun will actually rise or the sun will fall and what angle. So we computationally created the sun on the screen at that time and the angle, actually, how it moves across the screen.
It was fascinating that somebody on Instragram 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 cars can actually see it when they're going to work, and actually coming from work. We also 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 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" where 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. - 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 in there into its place.
That was the whole purpose of it. It shouldn't be all about ads. So the ads are not going to be running all day, one ad after another. It's just boring. Why do that? So they do have ad time. They 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. - Oh. - "Friends 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 anymore." - Yes. - Can you talk about how the community has the power to influence a brand? - Oh, wow! That's a big one. How long can you go? (chuckles) In today's society, everything.
They have all the power, all the power. The fact that we live in a societal world that is networked, and highly networked, is important. So everybody who's utilizing this ecosystem, this global ecosystem, that people have generated have a say. Now, how much of that say is important. Those are the messages that were 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. It's very, very important. So we are not in control. We should not be in control. In principle, it's easy for me to say that. (chuckles) I just believe that if companies could 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 okay? (laughing) - You recently redesigned the Codecademy logo - Yes, I did. (chuckles) - There the logo that they had was sort of homegrown. - It was. Right. Ryan actually just picked it out. It was just a fun thing that he just saw and he just utilized it. It was like a script font. - 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. - How did that inform where you went with the identity? - It was more in regards to making sure that the identity was open enough. I found that, that they wanted Codecademy 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 the cademy needed to stay.
So code is always framed and so that you could just wipe it off at any time. It was very important, the aspects of being open. The aspects of your community may be generating a new type of concept for that particular position. It could be an icon and then cademy at the end of it. That aspect came out of these conversations that I had with them when they sort of brought in the objects. Also, it was really more about observation.
I wanted to know how they would talk about things and why they liked certain things. We saw certain things from being incredibly detailed to being incredibly open, but there was always a reason. It wasn't off the cusp and say, 'Yeah, I just brought it "because it kind of looked cool." They weren't those types of guys. They had really great in-depth understanding. There was a rationale of why they purchased these items. 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.
That's the point of the actual mark that we developed for Codecademy. - When in looking at the objects, were there consistent details throughout them, whether it was, I think one was a razor or a sneaker-- - Sneaker. Yeah, yeah. - or something like that. - Zak brought in a sneaker. - Were there things throughout lines or palettes or anything like that that you picked from? - Yeah, in regards to palettes, it was interesting because Zak's sneaker was actually incredibly colorful, incredibly colorful.
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. 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 put into the typeface that he really loved, these little cuts into the actual type that other people will not see.
He loves details. 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. - Yeah. - What do you miss the most? - (laughing) There's not one single thing.
Well, I don't miss the weather. I don't know. I think that's obvious. I miss my mum's cooking. Yeah. It's not English cooking (laughs) at that. Nigerian cooking. Yeah, I miss that the most, I think. The mates. (laughing) I miss them. I love them. (laughing) Yeah. - 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.