Tech+Art Podcast: Kyle Phillips


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Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

"Don’t become too invested in one tool or framework. Because they are going to change. You should invest in how you can learn new tools, new languages and above anything else, invest in your ideas and ways to execute them."


In this episode, we’re chatting with Kyle Phillips, a Creative Technologist blending design and development to create projects related to generative art and creative tooling.

Kyle is part of Google’s Creative Lab in NYC woking on technology experiments like Teachable Machine.

Kyle and I had an awesome conversation about his creative process and what it’s like building tools for creatives and much more!

Question 1: At what point did you learn how to code and when were you exposed to creative technology?

[ 4:58 ] – […] I never once really thought of this as a profitable skill. Even through high school I really couldn’t have ever imagined that I would be doing this for a living, it was just something that was really important to me. I’m fairly convinced that 2001 was the year that informed a lot of what I do now. In 2001, there was no money on the internet. The bubble had burst and I viewed the internet largely as a place for artists.

[ 5:30 ] – The common style of internet art back then was these non-linear narratives, these kind of designed experiences using various browser mechanics, kind of a choose-your-own-adventure style of navigation often with links hidden all over the page and hard to find. And they were often released as kind of like issues or temporary exhibitions or internet zines where they’d be up for a few months and they’d be replaced with something else soon.

[ 5:57 ] – So I viewed the internet largely as a gallery where no one could tell me I wasn’t good enough to be included in.

Question 2: How did that play into some of your early career?

[ 6:15 ] – It led me really into the direction of approaching it from what I wanted to make, and then figuring out whatever it was I needed to learn in order to make that. I didn’t really understand the difference between design and code so much.

[ 6:54 ] – […] It didn’t really make me see any sort of barricade to it. Like I didn’t think ‘oh, I’m going to need to learn a bunch of math to be able to accomplish this’ or ‘oh there’s going to be something really difficult that I don’t perceive myself as good at’… I just kind of tried to work at it piece by piece.

Question 3: How did that explorative path lead you to the type of work you do today at Google Creative Lab? Can you tell us a bit about the lab and the type of work that you do?

[ 8:18 ] – I’m on a team that kind of focuses more on technology experiments. So I tend to do a lot of projects at the lab that focus on graphics programming or I also really like to build a lot of tools. A lot of my work really fits into those two categories.

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Question 4: How do you approach building those systems? How do you balance the potential for a creative outcome with project requirements or usability?

[ 9:52 ] – It’s always something that you have to approach on every single project a little bit differently. I think one of the things that I really love about creating generative art and coding in general is that nothing is fixed. You can forever just create endless iterations of an idea. You can take all of the tools that you wrote with you and apply it to the next one. So as you get better at building tools, there’s really no starting over, you can kind of just take that with you and just build on it differently.

[ 10:19 ] – I often approach a sketch by kind of visualizing an output that I think I might want to get and attempt to kind of work backwards to think of what system would create that.

[ 10:49 ] – The balance between predictability and potential to surprise is usually what I’m really trying to work towards getting right. It’s really important to me. I want to have a piece that can surprise me when I run it, that is possible of creating something that I didn’t really expect. So I want to have some aspect of chaos in it, I think that’s necessary. But if it’s too much chaos, it’s not going to give me a pleasing result or come through with intention. And I always want to put a piece of myself into my work and for it to look sculpted and intentional.

Question 5: One thing you mentioned a moment ago was your creative process - where you start with a visualized idea of the output you’re looking for and then you progressively work backwards from there to figure out what all the components are, what you might need to learn or make… Can you talk to us about that process?

[ 15:56 ] – I think to some extent, if you’re consistently making work, then you’re not often finding yourself without some sort of starting point. I feel like a lot of times, I have some idea that I’m starting to build. In the middle of it, I realize some tool that is really gonna help me build that thing. And then in the middle of building the tool, I realize some other thing that I could build with that tool. And a lot of time it just kind of becomes this endless cycle […] I just am constantly branching off of common threads, and so I’m exploring a lot of nearby territories in those ways.

Question 6: What do you think is missing in this industry at large? What do you see as lacking or not?

[ 19:18 ] – So you see a lot of people moving towards things like Unity, that provides them a lot of tools for visualizing their output in ways other than just code. You see a lot of visual programming like TouchDesigner or ShaderGraph inside Unity. You see combination – like hybrid tools – like Houdini, where Houdini, it’s going to output motion graphics, but it’s going to give you these nodes to be visual programming in, as well as the ability to code.

Question 7: What is some advice that you would share with someone who’s just getting started?

20:22 ] – The tools are going to change on you. Don’t become too invested in one tool or framework. Because they are going to change. You should invest in how you can learn new tools, new languages and above anything else, invest in your ideas and ways to execute them.