Interview with Studio Moniker

March 18, 2018

Your projects — as is well known— involve user participation as a fundamental part of online and offline performances. Would you tell us how do you balance unpredictability and planning in your processes?

In our practise we are interested to involve the user or participant in order to influence the work. The impact of the participation has to be well thought through. For these kind of projects we design a framework in which users become actors. Scenarios of user behavior are an important part of the development process. But people are unpredictable and we integrate user tests at an early stage. Usually this is very revealing and we discover unexpected behaviour and new possible impacts. Then we go back to the drawing board and adjust the framework. This can happen in several iterations. In fact we are quite paradoxical: on the one hand we try to avoid too much unpredictability and are like total control freaks, on the other hand we have to let go of the process once a project is live. We even love it, when our system gets ‘hacked’. This is one of the triggers for us to keep doing participatory works. We love to see how people engage with the work and try to find workarounds, tricks and solutions to behave otherwise. It is a little bit like parenting: you never really know if it will work out the way you hope.

Are there any limits to the hybridization between online and offline practices? (if there are any)

We like to mix up the online and offline domain. For example we set up a digital collaborative lettering tool the outcome of which will be engraved in real granite stones. When you click a button in your browser you puff up a physical balloon. People in real life receive instructions as if they were part of a computational program.

Probably the limits in hybridization get less and less. It is a very interesting time where the digital domain intrudes in our offline environment and vice versa.

We are a bit sceptical however towards the political aspect of this hybridization: we cannot foresee what the social effects will be of a total online-offline melt. We are curious about it, we like to thematize it with our work but in the end we can only observe its developments.

What is the importance of browsing an experimental project on multiple devices and browsers? And what do you think about experimental web experiences conceived for one specific device?

Whether we're working on a self initiated project or a project for a client, we never want to exclude particular browsers or devices and make our projects as accessible as possible. Our recent web projects were more focused on mobile where the differences between devices are bigger (than on desktop).

As mobile devices and their browsers keep getting more powerful and capable — whether that's by new features like WebRTC, WebVR, or just more processing power — more of our ideas are becoming possible to produce. Although we try to wait for new technologies to be available for most people it's inevitable to exclude some (those with older devices or operating systems). For a new technology it's always hard to find the balance between adoption rate and uniqueness/newness/freshness.

For some projects it makes a lot of sense to only target one specific device (e.g. Dance Tonite). Although we do think it's important to always provide a well designed fallback for others to understand and get a feeling of the project.

Another part of keeping a project accessible is to target the browser instead of a native app. Of course we also do this to lower the threshold for users to participate in our projects.

What are the technologies (online/offline tools, languages) you most often use in your projects?

Most of our recent front-end projects are being build with React (and it's excellent Create React App) in combination with Redux. We're still fiddling around with some Node JS based back-end frameworks, but always add Kirby if there's any editorial work involved. For most projects we setup a VPS with Dokku installed which makes deploying our BitBucket hosted code very easy using BitBucket's pipeline add-on.

Does it make sense to exhibit online performances? How would you exhibit your online participated experiences?

Our practice oscillates between art and design. Sometimes our work is the result of an art commission, sometimes a video clip, sometimes a campaign for a company with a clear message. Ideally the online performance has an interesting outcome that can stand on its own. Usually we think of ways to document or capture the process already in the development phase. If we can capture the process in form of a video or film it is rather unproblematic to exhibit. We have done that quite often in the past. We find rather difficult, however, exhibiting an online interactive project in a gallery . The interaction with a screen in an exhibition space is different to your desk or regular environment. As we like to confront the users in their usual habitat, we try to avoid displacing the online performance into an exhibition space.

What are the biggest difficulties in the interaction between design and development?

Design and development are both in service of an idea or concept. They have to work together to communicate this idea or concept as best they can. Ideally this means a lot of iterations where design and development feed off each other. (Design can only be finished when development is too.)

Unfortunately it's a lot faster to come up and sketch something new than it is to build it. Making a sketch in code can sometimes take up quite some time. Especially with design that has to "feel" good this can be problematic. Finding the balance between performance, looks and feeling requires a lot of work.

What are in your opinion the most important and interesting Github repositories?

Although of lot of code is being shared between (creative) coders, it often is nothing more than just a sketch, example or proof of concept. An exception are some projects by the Google’s Data Arts Team and their Creative Lab. They often collaborate with designers and developers to showcase new technologies in a creative way. All of these projects have their own Github repositories and are great examples of creative coding. A good example would be the Dance Tonite repository by Moniker co-founder Jonathan Puckey.