What makes creative technologists tick? Dare's Charlie Perrins on how he stays inspired
The job role 'creative technologist' hasn't always existed, but has quickly become a well-established position in all the leading agencies. As they are responsible for thinking up all sorts of weird and wonderful inventions that can fuse the best of creative and technology, The Drum has put together a series to have a closer look at what makes some of these marvellous minds tick.
First up is Dare's Charlie Perrins.
What does each item on your desk mean and what role does it play in your average day? Talk us through the picture
Laptop and monitor - This is still so important. For all the hype about creative technology embracing physical spaces and doing installation work, so much still needs to get done in code, and in the browser. My work machine is getting on a bit now, but we’ve been through some tough projects together, so it’s a bit of a workhorse.
Coffee - Also hugely important. I use an Aeropress micro-filtering coffee maker. And I get freshly roasted coffee delivered every couple of weeks by Pact.
It’s all irredeemably hipster - but it serves a purpose. The five minutes I spend making each coffee in the kitchen are a little ritual (like rolling cigarettes for some smokers) and it also means I spend the brewing time chatting to other people from other depts who happen to be in the kitchen.
Squared paper notebook - This year I adopted the Bullet Journal note taking system. I’m honestly still not completely sure whether the whole thing is a tongue in cheek hoax, or an earnest attempt to help people sort their notes out.
Either way, it has really clicked with me and now I do everything that this notebook tells me to do, and nothing it doesn’t.
In fact my girlfriend stole it once and put a task on my to-do list (to buy her a present). I did so without questioning for a moment whether I remembered writing it down on my to-do list!
Android phone - I used iPhones for years, and am definitely an Apple fanboy. So in January 2014 I set myself a challenge of stepping outside Apple’s walled garden of devices to see how I fared. I bought a Google Nexus 5, and haven’t looked back. It’s a great device, smaller than the iPhone 6+ but bigger than an iPhone 6, an amazing screen.
3D printed shark’s head - We’ve got a decent 3D printer in the office, and this shark’s head (mounted in an engagement ring box) is the best thing we ever got out of it. I like sharks, so it sits on my desk for that reason, but it also serves as a cautionary tale. 3D printing, for all the hype, is still a highly skilled process. More akin to letter-setting or plastering. You might be able to buy the gear and have a go, but if you really want something doing properly then you’d be advised to get in a professional. Dare has had good success in the past using Cadventure for quick turnaround 3D printing at high quality.
Headphones - We’ve got a range of musical tastes in the office. My personal favourite is the weekly blasting of the Jurassic Park theme tune at 17:00 on a Friday - it’s the call of the weekend for me. However, at other times some protection from the ambient music is required. These ‘phones are disposable, but the upcoming desk move at Dare will put me closer to some of the biggest music fans in the office, so a pair of noise-cancelling cans is probably a requirement for 2015.
1.44MB Floppy Disk - It’s my coffee mug coaster, because they’re not much good for anything else any more.
And in the drawers…
Ubiquitous Raspberry Pi - Actually this isn’t just a plant for the photo - we do use these from time to time for creative technology projects. The most recent one is #TweetThatBell - the Dare school bell can be tweeted by anyone at any time using that hashtag. We also ran a campaign last red nose day hooking a paintball gun up to the internet via the same pi.
Random stuff from Kickstarter! - We try and keep a small slush fund aside for backing weird and wonderful things on Kickstarter, or buying cool gizmos from Adafruit.
Sometimes they’re a bit disappointing (I haven’t found a use for the Moff Band yet), but other items have been more successful. I’m always on the look out for things in my life that can be improved by the addition of an NFC sticker.
I wore the Fitbit religiously for a couple of months as part of a ‘research’ project into the quantified self. It’s gathering dust now. Makey Makey is brilliant fun, I turned my living room carpet into a giant Tetris controller with it - but it has yet to be deployed on a work basis.
Don’t forget the arcade cabinet
Not actually mine, much as I wish it was. This arcade cabinet belongs to our head of QA Marty, and was recently given a proper dust down and used for Dare’s first retro games night. I came second in the all-agency StreetFighter II tournament.
What are you inspired by outside of the office?
I’ve spent a fair bit of time at the Science Museum this autumn, and every new year's day I have a tradition of going to the animal photographer of the year expo at the Natural History Museum. Looking forward to that already - I am a keen if untalented amateur photographer. Have also travelled to new places this year for work and for pleasure, from Iceland to Barcelona to Mumbai. Seeing new cities is always invigorating.
I recently started teaching front-end development (coding) at general assembly. My class of students is made up of graphic designers, advertising creatives, journalists, financial experts, some young people directly out of uni, and more. Looking at what they produce as they learn to code creatively has been really inspiring, and I’m hoping to continue my and Dare’s association with General Assembly in 2015.
What's the main challenge of operating at the intersection of creativity and technology?
Obviously you have to work hard to get people who ostensibly come from different worlds to communicate and collaborate effectively. But I really don’t see the difficulties there that I did a few years ago. The Tech dept at Dare is part of the wider creative department, and we work with connecting teams without any major challenges.
The challenge is that many of the best ideas are not for flash-in-the-pan campaign type technology, they are for digital services which need time to grow their user bases and develop as products. So the big challenge is taking a potentially brilliant idea and finding the will and the investment to incubate them and allow them to flourish.
What technology/creative developments have excited you the most in the last year and what fires you up about the year ahead?
Perhaps no surprises in my list of great tech depts, but I love seeing what R/GA, B-Reel, Unit 9, Stink and AKQA come up with. However, in terms of producing creativity and effectiveness in digital products we can learn as much from the output of the Government Digital Service as we can from creative agencies.
One of the things that really excites me about next year is the continued rise and flourishing of front-end web development. Every month more technology and APIs become available to allow the web browser to do things we couldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago. So I get myself to Front End London as often as I can in order to keep up with the latest developments in that world.