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Chris Speed, Programme Director at Creative Informatics
interview
24/05/19


1. TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR CREATIVE BACKGROUND

My name is Chris Speed, I am a Professor at the Edinburgh College of Art, and I lead the Creative Informatics programme that is based in the Centre for Design Informatics.

Like most creatives born in the 70s, my art education was based in Polytechnics before they were turned in to Universities in 1992. I wasn’t excited by art and design at school, it was very repetitive and the drive to turn out lots of kids produced bland and uninteresting work. So at 16 I left, and mum helped me get into an FE college in the centre of Leicester where the curriculum focussed entirely on drawing, painting, printmaking and photography. It was genuine shock – the timetable was more fluid, we were allowed to spend all day in the studio with mornings dedicated to life drawing and the afternoon on project work for two A levels (Art and Design) plus O level Photography. By 1989 I had a substantial enough portfolio to get on to an Art Foundation course.

Following my foundation course I settled on a Fine Art Course at Brighton Poly: BA Alternative Practice (alternative to drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture etc). I spent two and a half happy years making art from computer code, turning telephones into flashing lights and running up a huge fax bill for sending fax art around the world.

After graduating I moved to Manchester and did a one year PGCE to teach art and design in secondary schools. I got a job as an art teacher in Maidstone, Kent for one year. I didn’t last long! I moved back to Manchester where myself and a pal got a job turning a Tourist Information Centre into an Eco Hub with him doing the interior design, and myself designing content for touch screen kiosks, content for a video wall and the graphics for the centre and restaurant.

These ‘multimedia’ skills then got me a job in Wardour Street, London where I became Art Editor for a series of CD-Roms for Marshall Cavendish. A large Singaporean owned publishing company who were hell bent on turning all of their successful magazines into interactive CD-Roms for kids. The whole venture failed miserably as production costs spiralled out of control, so I jumped ship into academia in 1996 and took a job as a lecturer in one of the first interactive media programmes in the UK: BSc MediaLab Arts, at Plymouth University. Since then I completed a Masters in Design Futures, a PhD in Digital Architectures and moved to Edinburgh in 2008 as a Reader in Digital Architecture. Creative highlights perhaps include the design and installation of a random lift button in an elevator in Plymouth, a series of data visualisations that describe how people know space, and a clock that only works when you look at it.


2. CAN YOU GIVE US AN INSIGHT INTO YOUR PRACTICE AND WHAT YOU DO?

Upon moving to Edinburgh I set about developing my creative practice through research projects and with colleagues around the UK won a large grant to develop technology that allows people to attach memories to objects. The Tales of Things project was a very popular public project and Oxfam trialled it to see if personal stories would increase the sale price of second hand goods such as an Annie Lennox dress.

Since then the research has grown significantly and I now lead the Centre for Design Informatics in which over 25 designers, researchers and computer scientists explore how to design with data.

My current work remains fascinated with design in a decentralised society and we are currently working with Oxfam again, this time in Australia to explore how smart contracts could help the public understand if their donations are spent on specific causes.


3. DO YOU HAVE ANY EXCITING PROJECTS OR EVENTS ON THE HORIZON?

For the last few years we have had a pop-up exhibition in George Street to show off the work from staff, students and collaborators. Last year was particularly spectacular, although people did run off with many of the noodles when the bars closed at night. This year we are going to be developing a new pavilion closer to our offices on Potterrow in the Bayes Courtyard (just off Bristo Square). We work with Biomorphis Architects; a local Edinburgh architecture and design company who always push the boundaries of what we can do in a public space.


4. WHAT MAKES EDINBURGH A GOOD BASE FOR CREATIVES?

Edinburgh is very good for the face to face meetings that remain core to the development of a new idea. Of course the concentration of programmers and cultural centres helps, but the ability to meet people to body-storm and brain-storm ideas in person is magical.


5. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE THINKING OF PURSUING A CAREER IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES?

I would encourage them to think that the next 100 years of the creative industries is not defined by the last 100. In other words think beyond the products and services that defined the 20th century: cinema, product design, fashion etc. The world doesn’t need those things any more – it needs radically new ideas that cross-over the old boundaries to define new experiences. Creative Informatics hopes to help redefine the creative industries, giving birth to new methods of cultural production, driving the most imaginative products and services for a data-driven age.


6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT CREATIVE EDINBURGH?

No barriers. It seems to me that Creative Edinburgh has no barriers whatsoever to help people from all walks of life to define themselves as creative. This openness is the key to making creatives in Edinburgh feel like they should run this city!

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