The design storyteller

Leonora Oppenheim- where to start? She’s one of them with many strings to her bow. One of which is Creative Data, which is all about experiential storytelling. Twang. Another one of which is Elio Studio, a design communications practice. Twang. And then there’s her journalism for Treehugger and Coolhunting. Twang. Twang. Twang. I’ve worked alongside Leonora and love the craft of her storytelling and the way she approaches journalism as design.

THE LESSON: Listening to my instinct without trying to rationalise it. I have a tendency to over analyse questions in both my professional and personal life. Something I’m working on is listening to what kind of feeling I’m getting from a situation. What is my instinct telling me? In the past I have often overridden a sense of unease because I couldn’t translate that feeling clearly in my mind. Now I realise I don’t need to intellectually understand why I do or don’t want to do something. Our instinctive reaction is inherent knowledge, so rather than ignoring it and getting myself into trouble, I’m listening. Basically I’m learning to say no, which is a pretty vital skill if you want to stay sane and healthy.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Scale. How much is enough? There are loud voices in the field of sustainability who are rightly concerned about the speed of change we’re achieving. We need to move faster, they say, to avoid global catastrophe. There is a current obsession with digital because of its ability to scale, but with Creative Data. I am swimming against the tide. Our physical and spatial exhibitions are designed to work at a local level reaching hundreds of people at a time, not millions. I’m pursuing this route in the belief that we need to work with communities to help people emotionally engage with the issues and understand how climate change will directly affect their own lives. My question is: how can Creative Data projects have a large-scale impact while still working on deeper personal engagement in future landscapes? How can the physical and digital work together in this context? Tom Uglow, head of Google Creative Labs EMEA, recently said that the future of digital is physical, which boosted my confidence and made me smile.

THE INSPIRATION: There are so many extraordinarily exciting projects happening out there, I am inspired daily. But with respect to my “burning question” I think a brilliant realisation of local creativity with global reach is the work of French street artist JR. Addressing the theme of identity he uses large-scale photography of local people on an architectural scale in their communities. He works guerilla style, without permissions or corporate sponsorship. It’s fast, radical and provocative spatial intervention which creates powerful emotional reactions and a sense of pride in place.  He won the TED prize this year for his Inside Out  project, which scales up his personal work, allowing anyone in the world to transform their own identity into a community artwork by sending them enormous posters of their own portraits. The quote below is from his TED talk and resonates very clearly with me about the purpose of Creative Data.

“Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world and create an energy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things, makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions and then enables you to change the world. What we see changes who we are. When we act together the whole thing is much more than the sum of the parts.”

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