Tech+Art Podcast: Mike Brondbjerg

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OVERVIEW

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.

"I think that’s one of the hardest challenges with generative work is balancing the chaos and unpredictability of generative with strict brand guidelines."

IN THIS EPISODE...

In this episode, we’re chatting with Mike Brondbjerg, the cofounder of Kultur Design, a creative agency specializing in data visualization, information design, web applications & generative design. Mike is also currently at London City Hall as part of their Intelligence Unit working on Data Viz.

Mike joins us to share his story, what’s it’s been like working in this evolving industry, his current approach to creating design systems that mix generative design and formal information design – and much more!

Question 1: How did you end up getting your start with design & creative coding?

I did a lot of work in Flash for many years. So I’m kind of one of those guys that used to do a lot of Flash work. And I think that Flash background was what drove me into…. I mean Flash was a very creative development environment and it was that really nice balance for me between art and science; art and technology. You could be expressive with code, you could be expressive with the animation but it could also kind of have a generative and kind of programmatic sort of approach to it. So I think that’s what started me down this path. And seeing the work of people like Joshua Davis, Jared Tarbell, Mario Klingemann in those days had a really huge influence on me.

And I kind of came across interactive data visualization. So that was a space, as Flash was going away, was emerging as an interesting space. Whereas web design was maybe getting a bit dry, a bit formulaic – interactive data viz was just emerging as a really interesting sort of form – both artistically and analytically as well. […] A lot of the Flash work I’d done previously, I’d take a data source or dynamic input calling data from an API and piping that into Flash. And so I was kinda used to that workflow, where you setting-up the system and then pipe data into it to see what emerges. Less expressively perhaps, but I was kind of used to that idea.

I sort of then came across generative art and that cross-over between those worlds of creating drawing systems and creating design systems that have an input – whether that’s a user input or a data input. […] A lot of people come to data visualization from maybe an analysts’ point of view, maybe a data science background, but I’ve definitely been coming at it from a creative and sort of design point of view. And as kind of as a tool for drawing.

Question 2: You founded a creative agency called Kultur Design. What motivated you to start that agency and what was it like getting that started a few years ago?

I wasn’t really driving that business when I was a Flash developer, I was just responding to what people phoned up and wanted. Whereas I wanted with Kultur Design to kind of be more in control of that destiny if you like. And not be necessarily “oh he’s the Processing guy, or he’s the Javascript guy” […] so trying to escape from that freelance bubble of “he’s the guy that does that” sort of thing.

Question 3: How have you seen the industry evolve since you started?

I think there is slowly, kind of a realization in the design industry about the power of generative design and that kind of procedural design. In that it can be an incredibly productive way of designing and producing work, rather than hand illustrating […]

I guess tools are starting to take on that approach, where you’re creating a design system in code coupled with perhaps visual inputs as well but you’re not just designing one image, you’re not just designing one illustration – you’re designing an illustration system.

I spent a lot of time trying to convince people that “let’s design things in Processing, let’s design a system for this” but I think a lot of agencies are kind of setup around the kind of the Adobe Creative Cloud workflow. And it’s hard to take a design agency model that is used to those kinds of toolings and sort of reinvent it around an entirely different process. People still want to go “ya but can I have it as an illustrator file that I can edit in illustrator”. So it’s an education process I think working with design agencies. Some of them really get it and really embrace it – and some of them it doesn’t sit well because they’re used to working in a linear, adobe workflow.

And the ability to add those sort of code snippets into these design tools is great – and some of those prototypes that he was making for Figma were really interesting. And I think that’s gonna be the way that people start dropping bits of code into a more understandable, more familiar design environment if you like […] I think that kinda being able to drop scripts into modules within more familiar design tools is where it’s going to be.

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Question 4: How did you organize your workflow compared to that more traditional design agency workflow?

I think generative design or data design is much more iterative process – and sort of parameterized. So there’s kind of a lot of work upfront in a way. But as a workflow, you’re working with code really. And maybe it’s code you are reusing from other experiments you’ve done. Returning back to Matt again and the conversation that you had with him – he’s got his own toolset that he’s built up and he’s very much more formalized his toolset into a very rigorous library that has functions and methods. And it’s Canvas-Sketch is his tool. And it’s great – I love it. My own workflows is much more kind of rough than that. I kind of just have lots of little folders and folders and folders, sort of little experiments, little iterations that I’ve tried here and there.

What’s really good about the generative design process is that instead of just jumping straight into drawing things, you’re trying to decide how the system should behave and by deciding how a system should behave, you’re really pinning down the idea behind the design. The core of how does a particular value map to a visual encoding, how is it supposed to behave in response to someone’s input or in response to a certain input and what does that mean for the design – because you’ve got to encode that somehow rather than just going “well this looks nice” now and try and do the homework afterwards and try and make that fit the design system. It’s design system first, then the visuals come out after that. But because you’ve set that system up first, and then the visuals emerge out of that, you can then push that system into other formats or iterate quickly by changing the parameters.

A lot of the work we did, came from personal projects. And so I think that’s what I really like about this generative design world is that you’re doing a lot of personal exploration publicly iterating. So that’s a big part of it. Trying to sketch everyday and put something on Twitter or Instagram. So you’re always showing work in a way. […]

Usually the project will be kind of born out of something you’ve already worked on. Or you can say “ok, well we’ve done this here, this has got this kind of motion and this has this kind of aesthetic – let’s imagine we put those two things together, and let’s explore that”. And so rarely is a system built from scratch and rarely is an aesthetic born from scratch.

And I think that’s one of the hardest challenges with generative work is balancing the chaos and unpredictability of generative with strict brand guidelines.

Question 5: Where do you think the future of the generative design / information visualization is headed?

Frederik Vanhoutte has got a very nice, unique style I think that comes out of his own tooling. So he’s creates the HEmesh library which is like a 3D library for Processing that he’s created. So again his esthetic is very driven by the tool he’s created for himself to use.

I think it would be good to see, as we sort of touched on earlier, more integrations for the tools we know already like Figma and Indesign or Illustrator. But also I think the danger of that would be… like the web and product design world at the moment has become very, sort of regimented and quite a dry space. While I wish the generative world to have really good inroads into that space – and maybe it will do that space some good to really to be able to embrace that kind of more dynamic and live kind of aesthetic […] While there are little spots of creativity in there, I wonder whether they would, would silicon valley really embrace this kind of design approach? […] Is there a demand for seeing those kinds of processes into this kind of product day-to-day in that space? I don’t know. We’ll see.