This is the fifth interview in Chapter 2 in my new book, Designing Media
Fred Deakin, Nat Hunter and Alex Maclean, July 2008
Fred, Nat and Alex are partners in Airside, a London-based creative design agency, with a fluent approach to using multiple media platforms. Fred Deakin is both a musician and a designer. He brings a rich combination of media to the support of his band Lemon Jelly. Nat Hunter thrives on developing algorithms and communication design; she relaxes by knitting Stitches. Alex Maclean combines a flair for animation with a whimsical wit. I recorded my interview with them on a warm July afternoon in 2008 at their offices in London. They are located on three floors of an old brick row house on a busy street in Islington, so the interview was interrupted by vibrations in the structure whenever a heavy truck went by outside, as well as a thunderstorm with dark clouds and dramatic lightning flashes, visible across the rooftops from the top floor.
A visit to the Airside Web site is the best way to form an impression of the creativity and humor of their output and slightly subversive charm. They agree with Blixa that a new media format for music will evolve that embraces the functionality of the digital age, but when it comes to designing in old media or new media, they don’t see any difference at all. They think that design has always been about problem solving, and exploring, and about having fun with it. As Charles Eames put it so succinctly, “Design is a method of action,” whatever the media or disciplines. They focus on people, and the subjective qualities of design solutions, saying, “We are interested in how to make someone feel something; how to make someone react; how to create an emotional response. With all interaction, whatever the media that you’re interacting in, you’ve got to remove as many barriers as possible, because everyone’s got too much on. You’ve got to make it as easy and as intuitive as you can.”
Creativity in one medium can be supplemented by linked designs in other, so more serious underlying philosophies can be supported with a light touch and engaging style. For example, when Airside was commissioned to create two short films for Al Gore to illustrate climate change issues, they avoided getting preachy. They looked for entertaining ways to persuade people to change their behavior. They made two films featuring cartoon characters and silly scenes that came across as pure entertainment, proving the value of “entertainment first, message later.” Thank you, Alex, Fred, and Nat for your contribution as entertainers, with the meaningful messages there as well.