Born Of Attention

Born of Attention was a design exhibition at The London Design Festival that aimed to explore the reality of information overload, examining the concept of attention and its significance in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

As Michael Eysenck and Herbert Simon, amongst other theorists, have pointed out, attention is a constant negotiation between our current point of focus and other alternative stimuli. The negotiation is particularly intriguing because we are not often conscious of the processes of selectivity and capacity that govern it. 

As part of the exhibition, a multi-tasking virtual reality experience tested visitors’ abilities to process multiple streams of information simultaneously. This immersive experience aimed to shed light on the cognitive demands of modern technology and the impact it has on our attention span and ability to focus.

“In practical terms, we see our ‘mental models’ only when something refuses to conform to them. This is the business proposition of magicians and conjurers. They exploit our cognitive limits. They learn to train our selectivity and to work around our capacity. More deeply, mental models can be understood as reflecting our entire understanding of complex things, like our work, friendships and family. Our social relationships sometimes stumble or fail when a person does not conform to a mental model that is held about them (‘I did not expect him to behave like that’). The representation is not the same as the reality.”

In addition, the exhibition hosted a specially commissioned interactive film piece by performance artist, Jenny Lee. The piece explored the relationship between attention and perception, inviting the audience to question what it truly means to ‘pay attention’ in a world where distractions are ever-present. 

“It is not just in Psychology that we hear about the nature of Attention. In Art and Literature, major figures have long ruminated upon it, often invoking their struggles to build creative attention in the artistic process. Here is Henry David Thoreau warning of the perils of that interrupt system:  “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”

Born of Attention sought to challenge visitors’ perceptions of attention and its role in shaping our lives and relationships with technology, and to reflect on the demands of modern life and consider the importance of mindful attention in a world that is constantly vying for our attention.

Collaborators: Research: Rebecca Welsh. Graphics: Olivia Tirard. Animation: Sabina Dallu and Olly Starkey. Set installation: Glen Wearmouth. Contributing Writer: Professor Peter Kwalek. Programme Leader: Becky Lyon. Performance Art: Jenny Lee

Create A Highway

‘If You Create A Highway’ was an exhibition designed and curated as part of Clerkenwell Design Week that explored the fluid frameworks that define human relationships and the impact of innovation and technology on these relationships. The exhibition was inspired by the ideas of South Korean artist Nam June Paik, who is renowned for his innovative use of video and electronic technology in his artworks. The quote “if you create a highway” is often attributed to Paik and reflects his belief in the power of technology to shape and influence our experiences and relationships.

“More generally and still more profoundly: that which is human is also technological. It was always this way. The dualism between the human and the technological is called ‘sociomateriality’ by Wanda Orlikowski, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). To your grandparents or your great-grandparents, a refrigerator or television was ‘tech.’ To their grandparents, electricity was unfathomable in its possibilities. Once, all things were new. To us, now, robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain are ‘tech’. But soon they won’t be. They will be just another part of the material of life. We’ll have utilized them, integrated them and made some sense of them. And we will have changed something of ourselves in that process.”

The exhibition aimed to bring these ideas to life by encouraging visitors to react, interpret, and contribute to the research through digital and visual interactions. Performance poet Ross Sutherland created a short film that was featured as part of the exhibition, layering parts of the video ethnography with his own unique observations.

The research focused on interviews conducted in several London locations, where participants were asked to describe the last piece of media on their phones. Through these interviews, the research aimed to pick up cues and coincidences of the culture and explore the way in which people give meaning to their experiences. The exhibition hoped to spark a conversation about the sociomateriality of technology and how it is changing our lives, from the intimate to the grand, the economic to the private interest.

“Everyone now can report some little flicker of change – some new pattern to their life brought by internet technology – and for some of us these flickers add up to a sky. Some of us are crazy enough to see a panorama in the tick-tacks of change, a pattern that links every little story into a new culture that still has its own long way to travel. This culture is new and just forming. It is all about us now, as much ethereal as it is in the road underneath. The whole of life is changing, a new too-huge vaulting plain has opened up around us, and we race like specks of electricity into it.”

The exhibition continued the conversation about the intersection of technology and human relationships that Nam June Paik had started. By encouraging visitors to react, interpret, and contribute to the research, the exhibition aimed to spark a deeper understanding of the impact of technology on our lives and how we can shape our experiences and relationships in the digital age.

Collaborators: Research: Rebecca Welsh, Louis Papaloizou and Stephanie Turner. Graphics and Set Design: Darryl Hardman. Set Installation: Tim Warren. Contributing Writer: Professor Peter Kawalek. Programme Leader: Becky Lyon. Poetry: Ross Sutherland. Project Manager: Sinead McCarthy.

We Sailed From The Apex

“We Sailed From The Apex” was an exhibition at the London Design Festival that provided an opportunity to explore the diverse aspects of collaboration in design and to contemplate the value of embracing individuality and diversity in the creative process.

The goal was to stimulate reflection on the collaborative process, and I contributed a personal reflection on the importance of diversity of thought in creative collaboration. All of the personal reflections were printed on repurposed sail material, crafted by the Centre for Advanced Textiles at the Glasgow School of Art.


“We are all creatively unique and can only unite as complementaries not as similarities”

The title is a quote taken from an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery I visited recently. It told the story of the creative relationship between the artists, and husband and wife, Ben and Winifred Nicolson. The exhibition demonstrated how their individual differences, as well as their similarities, contributed to the unique and powerful body of work they created together. 

Winifred’s statement, “We are all creatively unique and can only unite as complementaries, not as similarities,” speaks to the idea that the most successful and harmonious relationships, including creative partnerships, are ones in which individuals embrace their differences and use them to complement and enhance one another, rather than striving for uniformity.

Reflecting on a project from earlier in my career as a designer, I had the opportunity to work with the late Paul Robertson, the virtuoso violinist and founder of the acclaimed Medici String Quartet. I asked Paul how the Quartet’s intense creative collaboration had lasted the test of time, and he explained his theory of the power of different but complementary personality types.

“I am a classic Cleric. When in doubt, I lead. I never suffer from indecisiveness,” Paul told me. 

The Quartet’s cellist is a classic Phlegmatic, doing everything to make others happy. He would tune his cello out of tune to please others. 

Our first violinist was a Sanguine. Constantly spontaneous. Always popping off for an offer at the local market. Flawless but for one exception: he is always sight-reading. 

The second violinist was a Melancholic. A perfectionist: patient, thoughtful, painstaking. But after a wonderful performance where I thought we had almost ‘touched God’, she would say: ‘you rushed a bit in bar 33.

The story of the Medici Quartet illustrates the beauty of bringing together individuals with diverse personalities and abilities. Working in harmony, they were able to create something truly exceptional. 

As Paul concluded, “but together, as a quartet, we were perfect.”


Additional credits: Graphics: Darryl Hardman. Set Design: Harriet Paterson, Charlotte Bentley and Olly Starkey. Soundtrack: Jon Wilkinson. Lighting: Michael Straun. Set installation: Tim Warren. Project Director: Pip Roche.

The Chair, In A Room

“The Chair, In A Room” was a public design installation that aimed to explore the role of social imagination. The exhibition, inspired by a quote from designer Eliel Saarinen, was part of the Design Junction festival held in London’s King’s Cross district. Housed in a Red House, it featured an audio and visual experience designed to investigate our capacity to think creatively, daydream and imagine.

The installation’s film, accompanied by an audio experience, took visitors on a journey, allowing them to explore what neuroscientist Daniel Levitin calls their own “mind-wandering mode.” It emphasized the importance of imagination and how we can all envision, create, and shape our collective futures.

“Creative people are conspicuous for the investment that they make in daydreaming; that time and space are found so that daydreaming is cultivated and shepherded into some act of creation. Let free, the wandering mind will begin to fold itself into a spiral, visiting and revisiting anew. Soon the creative person will be moved to work and will stay for days in a kind of cognitive dance, wandering and focusing, until the work is done.”

Collaborators: Research: Rebecca Welsh. Set Design: Harriet Paterson and Charlotte Bentley. Graphics: Olivia Tirard and Carole-Anne Dos Santos. 3D Animation: Leon Duffy. Installation: Tim Warren. Contributing Writer: Professor Peter Kawalek. Programme Management: Becky Lyon. Code: Lloyd Ifor Thomas. Project Managers: Jessie Harris and Lola Sauer.