Yearnotes 2012

It’s the last day of calm reflection before I go back to work in the morning, and time to take a moment to run down what last year looked like. 2012 was a packed twelve months, full of the kind of work I like to do for the kind of people I love working with. I spent most of it working on factual projects, diving into a bunch of complex subjects and rendering them legible in both physical and digital forms.

Two unrelated projects landed in the same period of history: House of Cards with Coney for Historic Royal Palaces and Mission for iPad with Somethin’ Else for Universal Music. My brief for Coney was to make a series of physical newspapers and gossip magazines for their House of Cards exhibition. There’s something very right about revealing history in the very rooms that it happened, and I had the best possible brief, to join palace events to wider developments in London and Europe. It meant that I was able to write about it as if we were in that time as well as that place, and tease out the parallels with modern times – the South Sea Bubble, the new business culture around coffee houses. There’s so much in that time of hectic modernity that feels familiar.

Mission is an interactive mystery story for iPad, designed to bring to life the world of a particular Baroque Composer, Agostino Steffani, to tie in with an album of his work by best-selling classical artist Cecilia Bartoli. It’s full of music and beautiful period detail.

Then back to the 21st century, and thinking about what form is right for a poetry anthology on the web, with Somethin’Else and Faber & Faber for BBC’s The Space project. Jubilee Lines is an anthology pulled together by Carol Ann Duffy, who commissioned one poem for each year of the last sixty years to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and 60 Years in 60 poems is a digital expression of those poems. We spent a lot of time with this amorphous mass of poems, trying different ways of classifying them with the idea of being able to facilitate discovery and serendipity without overwhelming the integrity of each poem. The final site was designed by Stefanie Posavec, who made data visualisations of how the poems sounded when read as a base for a jukebox-like experience where you could navigate the poems by year or by theme. We also unpacked some of the historical references in the poems with pieces of archive you could leaf through like a stack of photos, before coming back to the recording of the poem with fresh understanding. Fast Co were very nice about it, and it was interesting to be part of The Space unfolding as a platform.

Concurrently, and also for Somethin’ Else, I worked with Kew Gardens on a couple of content projects for iPad – one about sculptor David Nash, who has had a wonderful retrospective in the gardens this year, and an iBook – Planthunters – about botanical exploration. Both were again a process of unpacking linear print content, and remaking it for a medium where a page is merely a convention we impose, rather than a physical limitation. I didn’t take them to their final form – Apple’s changing book app guidelines meant there was a second round of reinvention to do, but they are both now out and beautiful to read and use.

At the end of 2012 I started working part time as a producer at Caper, and will continue to do so in the new year to cover maternity leave there alongside my other freelance work. They have carved an interesting niche bringing together museums and galleries and technologists, and it’s great to be working so closely with the team there. I also did a couple of talks on narrative and designing factual content, and some consulting on other game and narrative projects.

Writing this list has reminded me what a privilege it has been to do these projects this year – both physical and digital projects, to both originate content, and give the carefully considered work of others life in a bespoke interactive form. Taking part in Somethin’ Else’s mission to test the boundaries of the digital book, Caper’s exploration of digital prototyping, Coney’s continuing project to get audiences to ask questions of themselves and enjoy finding the answer. I’ve had the luxury of diving into diverse, beautiful subject matter, from history to art and back again, and worked with so many thoughtful, passionate people.

2013 sees my work for Caper continuing, the launch of a couple of games I’ve had a hand in designing, and a research project around using games and museum objects in the classroom which I’ll be writing up here as I go along. I’ll be booking in new work from February, and I can’t wait to see what the year will bring.