Tom Hignett is a technician at the University of Chester and supports the students across a number of courses with things like Motion Design, Printing, Photography, Vinyl cutting, and a whole host of other things. He's pretty much the go to guy for most of the students when it comes to figuring out how to achieve an idea or finding out who they would need to go and see. If Tom doesn't know, he's likely to know who will know.
Tom's own practice focuses on photographic theory about what a photograph or image says about the person for who it is a portrait of, but transfers this into the field of data collection. What is it that the 'machines' collect as a digital imprint of our organic lives? What does this data say about us as an individual, and how can it be subverted by something as simple as sorting the data alphabetically?
Tom was telling me about a huge folder of paper he has which is the result of analysing the Mona Lisa as a string of Hexadecimal code, and it is this interaction between art and data that interests him. Is there an underlying formula for beauty, or for triggering the human emotional response to a great piece of art, or do these things even exist outside of the human mind.
I caught up with Tom while I was doing some laser cutting for my latest project.
What would you say are the three most important or influential books that you have on your book shelf? They don't have to be design related.
Hmmm... this probably varies, but some pretty solid ones are:
'The Tao of Pooh' by Benjamin Hoff (an old favourite)
'How to be Idle' by Tom Hodgkinson (a more recent favourite)
'Art and Technics' by Lewis Mumford (great for my current creative practice)
Is there a book that you go back to time and again, knowing that it will inspire you when you’ve hit a creative lull?
Tricky one this: I do like to binge on newspaper comic strips sometimes. A typical choice would be one of the Dilbert collections such as:
'Always Postpone Meetings With Time Wasting Morons' by Scott Adams
So That's Dilbert? I've seen a lot of the little comic strip things for this guy, but didn't know who he was. Kind of reminds me of the comic strips of Tom Gauld.
Often as designers we take it for granted that people know the same things that we do; or have been on the same kind of journey. If Design is a language, what are the top 5 things (vocabulary, if you will) that a designer should know to help them converse in the world of design?
Top five things a designer should know:
Being observant. I like the term "Active Observation" which I adapted from a book that argued that all writers should be "Active Readers". The idea being that a writer shouldn't simply read a book, they should be aware of the processes and structures that go into creating the text. In a similar measure all designers should be looking at the world and developing an understanding of how and why things are the way they are.
Being curious. Goes without saying I think, but can't be overstated.
Being able to see the world from the perspective of others. Unless the only person you design for is yourself, you need to learn to see the world as your audience or consumers do. Empathy is probably a good word to chuck in here.
Putting the needs of others ahead of your own. The worst designers dictate to their users or worse, disregard users altogether. Ever try sitting on one of the snazzy looking BauHaus chairs?
A certain level of ignorance is also quite helpful, if you don't know what the conventions are then it's far easier to break with them!
Would you say that you have a favourite designer, and can you explain why they hold that rank with you?
I tend to be a bit suspicious of big name or famous designers; the combinations of celebrity ego and quality of design don't really sit well together in my opinion.
As for favourite designers - I have hundreds of them and they were all students of the University of Chester Art & Design department.
Thanks Tom, I'm sure that any post grads, or current students that read this will be grateful for your support and belief in their work. I suppose you're in quite a unique position where you get to see designers who are still learning (which of course never stops) come to you with an idea or concept that you are able to help them realise through use of materials or processes that they may have never encountered before.
Are there any other books you’d like to recommend?
Heaps really, but I think the most important thing is to find something that sparks your interest and keep following it. That said, the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett are pretty awesome.
Thanks Tom. I think one of the main things I am taking away from this is the importance of being able to see things from the perspective of others, and taking a step back when in a supporting capacity to let those who are learning come to the conclusions themselves.
You spoke about being able to give students Sovereignty of an idea, and you used the analogy of the first person who saw the Grand Canyon being the only person who truly experienced it in an uninfluenced way, and that everyone else who has seen it since would have had some level of influence from the others that had seen it before them, thereby tainting their experience of it, and thereby giving some kind of unconscious pre-conceived expectation of it. By giving students sovereignty you are allowing them to have the experience, rather than just coming along for the ride.