I first met Danny Brown at the Madrettor conference in Rotterdam during the fall of 2002. The first thing I remember thinking was “Holy shit, it’s Danny Brown from Noodlebox”; the second being: ” …we wear the same Prada sneakers!”
In 1997, Daniel inspired a new generation of web artists and designers with the introduction of Noodlebox. During the stodgy experiences of early interactive design online, we were surprised with playful, innovative, moving… just beautiful works, primarily using shockwave. He didn’t stop there, and before we knew it Danny brought us ‘Bits and Pieces’, Play/Create, and was an integral part of the Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.
The next time I ran into Danny was during the 2003 OFFF event in Barcelona, Spain. It was on the closing night that Daniel was injured in a swimming accident-leaving him without use of his legs and limited use of his arms and hands. Nonetheless, he continues to work and captivate us. In 2004, Daniel won The London Design Museum’s ‘Designer of the Year’ and is currently evolving Play/Create into a company.
At what age were you introduced to computers; what sort of influences and interests helped form your development in computational art?
Well, ahem, I was given a bit of a head start. My father actually founded Digital Pictures, which was one of the world’s first companies producing computer graphics for television. They had a big computer, size of a room, with a massive 2 megabytes of RAM or something. I knew then it was the future, and that soon every city would have its own computer.
I was first introduced to your work via Noodlebox, many years ago. Can you describe what initially drove you to publish a personal site and the ideas you were exploring with it?
Back then people were still doing very static HTML sites and maybe having the odd java or shockwave ‘spinning logo’ in the corner. I realised that by actually putting the whole site in Shockwave, you could create a much more immersive environment; you could show animations while data downloaded, and in fact you could download data in the background so users wouldn’t even have to wait… That way you could make the web much more like television, or a computer game.
During that time (Noodlebox), you were with Amaze. Was there a relationship between the Noodlebox projects and your work at Amaze?
Not in the beginning. I worked on noodlebox on my own for a long time before showing it to my bosses at Amaze. But they immediately saw the potential and gave me some time to finish it. It immediately struck a cord and clients such as MTV really liked it, so from then on, yes there was a relationship between noodlebox and the projects I worked on.
Eventually there was a departure with your personal works from Noodlebox… and we were introduced to Play/Create. How was Play/Create different from Noodlebox and what drove you to create something new, rather than just another version/issue of your old site?
As I’ve said, once noodlebox launched, it was both mine and Amaze’s baby, so when I eventually left Amaze, I naturally wanted to set up something new. Also, when I created noodlebox, it really was an experiment and wasn’t intended to have an identity itself. So I named it noodlebox, but I didn’t see that as a ‘brand’ I would want to work under. Play/Create seemed much more appropriate – the idea that by playing with interactive systems the user can actually be creating or achieving something.
When and how did the opportunity to join Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio occur? Were there challenges, especially during the beginning, working with people from more traditional backgrounds?
In the wonderful way London is, when I left Amaze somebody’s sister’s boyfriend’s mum’s best mate told someone and within a few days Nick’s team had contacted me and asked if I wanted to work with them. I couldn’t decide at first as I had intended to work part-time for a while.. But then Nick invited me to his house to explain his vision for SHOWstudio – and I didn’t want to miss such a great opportunity.
Collaborating with artists and designers from different fields at SHOWstudio isn’t so much a problem – there’s very much a mutual respect between different fields. About the same time I started there I had got to a point that I realised I’m not the best graphic designer, video designer, musician or photographer.. and I realised that to produce better work I had to collaborate and myself specialise in interactivity and technology. Some of the work I’ve done with Nick Ryan and Mark Bell (LFO) for example, I really think it’s their music that makes it special. Working with Nick for Dazed and Confused ‘Come as you Are’ piece, was really seeing magic – that project simply couldn’t have been done without so many dedicated people. (see showstudio.com)
Are there other interactive artists that you’ve been particularly fond of?
Everything I see by James Paterson and Amit Pitaru these days scares me; I always think ‘damn, why didn’t I think of that!’. Plus its very punk, very illustrative (something I’m really into at the moment) – but also fun and- slightly naughty!
I’ve loved the occasions where we get to meet and mingle with other digital designers/artists during various events. Have there been any favorite moments for you?
Well, the OFFF 2003 in Barcelona was good… until I broke my neck 😉
Besides that, when IdN took us to myfavouriteconference, it really was fantastic. Funniest was half way through the week I was on a coach they’d put on to take us to an evening event and I realised Jaime from Fabrica was on it too. Thing is I know him through friends, not through ‘the industry’ so I hadn’t even put two and two together. He’d also spent the week thinking ‘I’m sure that’s Lloyd’s friend Danny’ too – it’s funny when that happens on the other side on the planet!
I’ve actually just been going through one of my many storage boxes with my assistant… And came across my travel wash bag… which of course has sat unused, untouched since my injury in Barcelona. Alongside it was my artist’s badge from the OFFF conference and the invite to the last-night party. It was after that it happened… Co-incidence eh!
I understand Play/Create is evolving into something new, a company. What’s going on and what new projects are you working on?
Well, Play/Create was always supposed to be what its evolving into.. It’s really been somewhat on hold for several years now. But winning The London Design Museum’s ‘Designer of the Year 2004’ award has opened lots of doors for me, and along with my injury its made me realise ‘now’s the time!’.
There are quite a few things in the pipeline. For example I’m looking to produce limited-edition flowers pieces on CD- each will have a serial number that generates a unique design. And then there are a few top-secret things, and some mobile projects.
I’ve actually just finished a projection installation for The Park Hotel in Delhi. Themed on Water, it endlessly generates random ‘waterfalls’ using particle systems. If any of your readers are in India…
Tell us a little bit about the cover piece for this issue of Shift.
Stop. Rewind. I’ve spent two weeks on the piece. Its fairly basic, a few things I’ve had laying about that I wanted to put together. But now its Friday, two days before the deadline, and I’ve changed my mind. Completely. Playing around with blocks i’ve realised you can make the word shift out of 3×3 pixel letters. And they look oddly familiar…
The cover is dedicated to the memory of Nick Kilroy.
Since the injury in Barcelona and your disability, what are the biggest challenges with your working process? How are you overcoming them?
I’m very lucky in that I can still use a computer. I do not have the same physical dexterity that I did – I certainly won’t be doing any ‘pixel-graphics’ any time soon! But essentially it hasn’t altered my process. I’ll probably look to collaborate with other designers more (I’m hoping to employ a junior designer later in the year), but right now most of the work I’m doing is programming based anyway – something I can happily get on with.
It does make me think though, what would have happened if I hadn’t proved myself and made my career before the injury, how I would see myself and would others have given me the chances they did? It’s distressing to think about on so many levels.
How have these issues affected your current views of usability and do you have any insights for other designers beyond “make everything bigger”?
It amusing that breaking one’s neck automatically makes you an expert in accessibility 😉
No, There’s so many different disabilities and impairments that I couldn’t hope to advise on all of them – and my track record is as bad as anyone’s 🙁
Myself, it is about dexterity. Its very hard for me to point at small things, and the same goes for moving things. I know what you’re thinking, ‘small – moving – things: sounds like Danny Brown’s work’ … you cynics!
But that brings me on to my next point. I don’t believe that accessibility should stop a creative coming up with a game or experience just because someone couldn’t use it. And that’s certainly not the aim of the DDA (disabled discrimination act here in the UK), which is commonly misunderstood.
It would be a silly thing to do if the site was a commerce site or a government information site – to needlessly make it difficult to use. But when it comes to games or entertainment, its ironic that I’m still programming pieces I can’t play very well! Sure, I’m putting helpers in (for example auto-fire in shockwave/flash games using caps lock), but above that I don’t think I should be spoiling other’s fun or limit what they can do.
My disclaimer – I really am talking about interactive entertainment here, and not web sites per se. I would hate what I’ve just said to be used to justify bad information design or graphics.
What has been getting you excited in technology or other mediums (music, art, etc.) as of late?
Having seen some next-generation mobile phones, it is very exciting. It’s ironic that this technology has leapfrogged the PC to become a true luxury good, which contains a pay-per-download software/media mechanism built in. That I can choose to pay a dollar to download a completely new look to my phone’s interface, or the latest MP3, or a game – you still can’t do this so transparently on anything else.
And hey, if things continue like they are, soon every city will have one of those, too 😉
Text: Jemma Gura