This month we chat to Chris Robinson, our Head of Design. Having been with us for over three years, he’s overseen some of our most exciting projects. We ask him a few questions about his background and what it’s like to work at Knit.
Tell me about your career journey to date.
I graduated from The School Of Architecture, Lincoln in 2006, where my love for design and architecture really began. Following my graduation, I spent several years working in various architectural roles designing concepts and master plans for large-scale projects in the UK. As my passion for design grew further, I began looking in new places for opportunities. In 2011, I started work as Head Of Creative at a digital agency designing for web.
Two years later, I was recommended a role at Knit as Head Of Design – an offer I couldn’t turn down! At Knit I had the opportunity to work with skilled developers and creative technologists, and be free to use my varied design skills to build digital experiences that existed in the physical world.
How has your experience helped shape the way you work?
My career has been varied in so many ways and has enabled me to gain a range of skills that combine perfectly for Knit. From my architectural experience I learned early on how to take a brief effectively, identify the key objectives, and put pen to paper (or mouse to screen). There isn’t time to be assessing and re-assessing the task in hand. You simply need to rely on your skills and talents to get the job done. I was employed because I was deemed to be good enough, and reliance on that fact enabled me to relax and enjoy my work. I firmly believe that there should be an element of fun in companies.
Those that are producing work to tight deadlines - and with high levels of tension - need to keep that in sight at all times otherwise you fall out, or go mad. Often, the silliest and happiest times in my career have been during those periods when the team is burning the candle at both ends, and it helps. It keeps the team feeling lively, even if they’re tired, and also generates the camaraderie needed to keep us on our toes as a team.
How do you like to work and what processes do you follow?
My work is predominantly based around the production of concepts and selling them into a client. I need to work quickly, and in as versatile a way as possible, so that I can change the route of the design if I need to. Editability is key, as it enables me to go back to previous work and make amendments quickly. It also helps when passing the final design on to be built, as the teams involved are able to access each asset, without needing my involvement. It saves time and keeps people focused on the task, without distraction.
I have a range of skills, but they are just tools, so making sure that somebody can use the end product, without needing access to the tools used is vital. When working with the design team on a new brief we like to remove ourselves from the office environment, find somewhere quiet, and sit down with a cup of tea. Everyone involved can then have the time and space to talk to the team, sketch out responses to the brief, and write up next steps. We will often put down an initial series of ideas based on that session and then I can work up a more detailed set of concepts, which are fed back to the team for feedback. This iterative process enables us to keep track of progress and make sure that a level of internal critique is included before being shown to the client.
On large projects, or when we are particularly busy, we each identify the areas in which we can concentrate our skills and portion it out. We often have to work in a nimble and versatile fashion to ensure that we can get everything completed to a high level of quality – this will always rely on our Project Managers too as they balance resource with output.
Discuss your favourite part of your role.
Creativity. It’s that simple. If we stop being creative, we get bored, we become distracted and, ultimately, we produce work that lacks vitality, quality and relevance. Whether a designer, a technologist or a developer, we each look for the next project to inspire us, as that is when we produce our best work.
And finally, what has been your most memorable project at Knit?
The Renault Iris Wall, constructed for Clerkenwell Design Week 2015, was a challenge to say the least. Over 500 proximity sensors with six 60-inch screens split out into individual irises that paired with one of those sensors. These were housed in an undulating fascia, laser cut and coated after 120 hours on the CNC machine. As somebody moved past the wall, their silhouette would be replicated in a series of opening and closing irises. As a concept sketch it was interesting but, when realised at full scale, it was impressive and almost daunting.
On the night we finally completed the install it was five square meters of technology waiting to deliver three days of fun and interaction to thousands of visitors. But would it work? It not only worked, but I think it fair to say it ‘wowed’ drawing in curious and intrigued crowds who triggered the irises as they strolled past.