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Running a Pop Up: How I Design Meals (and Everything)

When people find out I used to run a pop up dinner club, (and run an empowerment workshop and run a research collaborative)  they sometimes struggle to make it all fit together. So you’re a designer but you do all this other stuff? How’s that all work?

I don’t just design things, or spaces, I design experiences. When I design a landscape, or a book or even a meal, I’m thinking about the kind of experience I want people to have, and then filtering that impact down to all the touchpoints I can control. In landscape design, that’s the signage, the circulation, and how it sets up assumptions for how you’ll interact with others, the topography, the site furnishings, how you move through the space and the viewpoints I set up.

In meal design, there are also touchpoints, both physical and non-physical. There’s the way you enter the space, the signage, the lighting, the way people are seated (do we sit them with people they know? Are their groupings?) and what’s on (or not on) the table when you arrive. There’s the way we give or hold back information (menu information, what’s a surprise, and what’s not?) There’s even room to play in how we serve you and how you serve yourself, and how the meal sets you up to interact with others (Can you pass the…?) And I’m not even designing the food.

I just came across this UK-based pop up that is a collaboration between a set designer and a chef and I thought, yes, this is exactly what my chef partner and I have been doing.

Here’s some eye candy to enjoy below drawn from a recent camping-themed pop up they held on the theme of ‘camping.’ They give a sense of just how much the little details add and how central experience design is to creating a memorable meal.

Photos of The Art of Dining Gone Camping pop up linked from the websites above:

featured image photo credit: Rochelle Li

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Creative Agency Profiled in Young Architects Forum’s Connection Magazine

“Part of what design does provide is a means of problem solving that is open ended and can overlap solutions to find wins and synergies.

The design process allows for uncertainty and creativity, which is deeply optimistic and imaginative.”

The Young Architects Forum just profiled Mia Scharphie and Creative Agency in their magazine Connections. This issue, the State of Practice, focuses on emerging modes of practice within the field and my profile centers on Designing for Social Impact.

To read the feature click below.

By creativeagency

Paradigm in Pano: Brooklyn Bridge Park

In a current project we’re looking at how the conversation on public space in New York City has evolved in the last 20-25 years. One of the most interesting comments unearthed by our interviews was that there has been a shift in the kind of spaces we are making or (re) making in that time, from the loss-based approach of public space efforts in the 1980s and early 90s, like the Central Park Conservancy’s early restoration-based work–to a more contemporary, future-oriented aesthetic and approach in some of the flagship public spaces being built today.

While in town last week I visited Brooklyn Bridge Park and took a panorama that expresses these two moments coming together in quite a dramatic way. From dark to light, high to low, right to left, I was struck by the contrasts and a paradigm shift laid out almost didactically clearly. How does a paradigm shift so dramatically? And what remains the same? This is part of what’s so great about cities–the overlapping histories that show up and bump against each other in space.

By creativeagency

Explaining and Improving Process: Great Infographic from Boston Art Commission

How do you make a city more creative?

The Boston Arts Commission did a deep look at the city’s public art process, using a recent Public Space Invitational program as a case study and found a need to make the process easier to understand, and just plain easier for artists and contributors. A few exciting shifts? A new class of projects that are low-risk, and can bypass insurance requirements. Also, this new great infographic that clearly explains the process to prospective artists and public art initiators.

A few elements I think make the graphic effective:

  • I like how the graphic is laid out in a highly intuitive decision tree format, which shows that it’s been designed with its user, an artist or project initiator, in mind. The leader lines and boxes are also really helpful in helping one understand a sequential process that has some key moments, without being distracting.
  • It clearly expresses the ‘to dos’ that an artist or initiator will have to check off their list. Understanding the the ‘unknowns’ and the ‘unknown unknowns’ is one of the most stressful aspects of a project. This infographic gives the initiatior a process and helps them identity at least where some of those unknown unknowns might lie.
  • The commentary (in bright green script type,) which annotates the steps and tells you what to expect from the process. The use of typography and color is really successful here to help the artist or initiator interpret that process.
  • The use of icons which help visualize what each element of the process is and make it feel like more of a step. Icons are tough–they can sometimes look wildly cliche or out of sync or scale with the information. The proportions and use of color on this infographic are great. This isn’t chartjunk.
  • The use of color: Nice color palette, expresses a feeling of excitement and innovation but also a clear, trustable process–I think that navy blue is a pretty nice backdrop. The color does a great job of differentiating the kinds of information present.

Check out the infographic below and in high res here. Learn more about Boston’s public art process here, which I am happy to say is becoming increasingly transparent and accessible.

By creativeagency

On Creative Communities and Making Space

I saw the Black Mountain College show at the Boston ICA this week. The show focuses on a small, short-lived liberal arts college in the south that somehow became a central node, bringing together central figures in Contemporary art practice–often before they became prominent. Figures like Joseph Albers, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage and Merce Cunningham taught at Black Mountain College, and its students included Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Ruth Asawa.

The show was great, well-curated and left me with a lot to think about. Seeing the work of Joseph Albers (mid-century color maven) and his wife Anni Albers (a weaver and maker with fascinating work who I didn’t know existed before the show,) as well as their students, all displayed together was wonderful, and common threads about the nature of seeing, materiality and figure and ground emerge in the dialogue among the works.

The show also left me thinking about something I’m always intrigued by–network effects and the creation of communities and cultures. Why did so many important figures come out of, or at least, pass through this institution I never knew existed? Did this institution ‘make’ the artists–especially the young ones–that passed through it, or did its participants make the institutions? What about the place, the culture, the format, the structure of Black Mountain College itself created such a ‘sticky’ experience?

These questions are complex, and w’re really talking about a system here, one with feedback loops and relationships. Black Mountain College didn’t ‘make’ practitioners or be made by them, it was a co-creative process. Furthermore, the institution wasn’t a closed system, it was a node within a larger network of culture production–for example, it was one of the many institutions that benefited from the talent that left Europe when the Bauhaus closed.

That said, are there common features to those kind of sticky, productive and generative cultures? And how do we bring some of their joy and creativity into our lives?

The volunteer team for Creative Somerville, the speaker series I run met up for the first time this Sunday. We’ve had volunteers for a while, but volunteer coordinator Lindsay Pike had the foresight to suggest we meet and get to know each other outside of our events.

It was one of the most energizing things I’ve done in a while. I joke that I started the Creative Somerville Series subconsciously as a (really elaborate) way to develop the kind of creative community and collaborators I wanted to have locally.

Yet after running the series on my own for the last six months, I have realized I’ve been unconsciously playing the micromanager/grand creator that small business systems coach Val Geisler advises against. I think it’s partially my design training–we’re taught that every detail must be perfect and rigorous, which can drive top-down perfectionism–and partially just the [reforming] perfectionist in me.

Sunday was amazing. We learned about who each other are, what drives us and generated ideas about how to turn Creative Somerville from a just a series into a venue for generating community, collaborations and more. I am excited about these five people I’m working with individually, and what happens when you add us all together.

It looks like this might be one of the ways for me to make good on my dream–of developing that creative community I’ve been seeking.

Sometimes it’s about driving forward, and sometimes it’s about making space for evolution.


Paradigm in Pano: Brooklyn Bridge Park
On Creative Communities and Making Space