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(Un)common Ground: Creative Encounters between Sectors and Disciplines

by Cathy Brickwood, Bronac Ferran, David Garcia, Tim Putnam, Editors
Bis Publishers, Ámsterdam, NL, 2007
160 pp. Paper, € 24,00
ISBN: 978-90-6369-166-0.

Reviewed by José-Carlos Mariátegui
Alta Tecnología Andina (Lima, Peru) and London School of Economics (London, UK)


The topic of trying to relate academia (particularly in arts and design) and business has been mixed with contradictions about its actual results. There are several studies, most of them related to empirical case studies. Perhaps one of the most well known publications on this subject was Beyond Productivity: Information, Technology, Innovation, and Creativity (National Research Council, USA, 2003).

(Un)Common Ground may seem as another good intention to unite those areas; however, it seems that after certain naïveté about this blurry topic. This new publication is more realist and critical towards the cases they point out.

Therefore, there are some critical issues and comment that are worth mentioning. First, it is discussed in most of the chapters about the binding between academia and business; however, the majority of the articles are written by people from academia or the ones that facilitate this bundling, mostly facilitators and consultants. It would have been interesting to incorporate also opinion (or interviews) by some business people that may be even more objective about the outcomes.

The second argument is more related with the nature of the approach, which is quite focused conceptually into design in a very broad sense. Though when it gets to the examples, the book tends to be focused in industrial design and product development, which is an interesting area where it seems that multidisciplinarity is essential. In the creative sector, Geke vanDijk states "cross-disciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing are powerful catalysts of innovation". He also explains a new notion defined as ‘service design’ that expresses that current products are no longer isolated elements, but a network of different experiences and combinations, such as the case of the iPod and iTunes. Yet in all the cases around experiences, it is not only the design but also the content that counts decisively.

The third one has to do with locality: It is true that the publication and the event were held in Amsterdam, but most of the cases, if not all, are European, mostly British and Dutch. Tim Putman included some information about the case of the Indian entrepreneur J. N. Tata, founder of the multinational conglomerate Tata Group. It would have been interesting to include other people from other realities, since it seems that both Britain and The Netherlands had been pushing towards these approaches and are just beginning to see the good outcomes.

Beyond these criticisms, perhaps the most valuable part of the book, as said previously, is its current perspective, out of the naïve vision that was present in previous publications on the subject and taking more practical perspectives.

Other interesting element about the cases is the focus on the ‘lab culture’ that is defined as spaces for innovations where quick turnover and rapid prototyping are essential to get some products out of it. A media lab is even considered a space of social interaction more than just of infrastructure (as it was more regarded in the 90s) that facilitates opportunities around organisational innovation, creativity, and communication. Garrick Jones digs particularly on this subject by offering the different types of collaboration between academia, commerce and industry, from the most informal and colloquial (Café Culture) to the most sophisticated and institutionalized (Labstatic) in which teams are supported with technology, process design, studio space or production budget.

We are entering a new age of participation in which blogs, WIKIs, and digital video are generating a shift in the consumer, from a mass production of industrial good into a individual production mainly of immaterial goods that are more customizable. Participation is therefore the new spectacle. All over cyberspace more people are trying to show themselves in order to feel they are different. Series like the Big Brother or American Idol are a good example of this current media-based spectacle. Therefore, situations that expose media evolution both in terms of social interactions and the effects of technology are the only way to maintain a reflexive and opinionated perspective of new media.



Updated 1st October 2007

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