Chris Waggott, BA Design alumnus: “Goldsmiths is not just about what you do, but also about the people you work with”

Christopher Waggott, a graduate of our BA Design course, talks about his experience studying with us and about his current work in film and interactive design.

Q: What were your expectations when you started your studies at Goldsmiths?

A: I came into it with quite an open mind. It was really refreshing to be taught in such a comprehensive way, that didn’t necessarily focus so quickly. It allowed you to develop into the kind of designer that you wanted to be, rather than being funnelled into a system that forced you into doing very similar things to everybody else.

Q: And what kind of designer did you want to be?

A: That’s the thing, I didn’t know, and being at Goldsmiths allowed me to figure out a lot of things along the way. I suppose that even when I left I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to do, but it gave me the tools to continue working that out. It was my graduation project that set me up on the path of making films and videos, onto what we’ve been doing for the rest of our careers. We’ve got a studio called Common Works, and I have two partners; one of them is Sam Tripp who also studied on the Goldsmiths Design course with me. Sam and I worked together at Goldsmiths from the very beginning, and we’ve continued to do so. It’s interesting that Goldsmiths is not just about what you do, the actual design work, but the people that you work with also stay with you when you leave. As a studio, now, we do three main things: graphic design, moving image and creative development, websites and code. The things that we were doing in our last year at Goldsmiths are very similar to what we’re doing now, just a bit more evolved.

Q: What was your graduation project about?

A: It was about exploring the idea of film as a prototyping tool for designers, and of cinema as a way of sharing ideas that are yet to be proven. Film allows prototypes to exist within a narrative structure. For instance, with Jurassic Park, there had been a lot of discussion between prominent scientists and paleontologists about what the Tyrannosaurus Rex actually looked like. The version they used hadn’t been proven at the time, but because they hired a certain consultant for the film and then millions of people saw the film in cinemas with what he thought the T-Rex looked like, that became the public image of what a T-Rex is. So, cinema can steer the mainstream into thinking in a certain way. Another example is the film Minority Report, with Tom Cruise, which came out a couple of years before the first iPhone. In the film, people use touch screens and gestures in the same way, so as soon as the iPhone came out, you already knew how to use technologies like these because you had seen them in the movies before they even existed.

Q: So this was the concept of your project?

A: That’s how it started. I designed a machine that is to be used in the same manner as a traditional camera, but instead of recording images onto film, it plays cinematic soundtracks on magnetic tape wound around reels. This gives the user the opportunity to use the object to transform moments of the everyday into imagined cinematic vignettes. By interchanging lens types (soft focus, sepia, 21:9 ratio) and cinematic music reels, the user can fulfil their auteur-ist vision. You can exist within a cinematic narrative construct of your own making.

Q: Is this the kind of work that helped you figured out what kind of designer you were?

A: I’m not entirely sure I even classify myself as a designer anymore. We do so many different things that the word ‘design’ seems narrow nowadays. I think everybody who comes out of the Goldsmiths design course has different skill sets and different ways of looking at things. It feels strange to just label it as design… but I can’t think of a better word to use.

Q: What attracted you towards working with moving images? What kind of video work do you do?

A: I’ve always loved watching movies, and mucking about with a camera. It was just a hobby initially. During my third year at Goldsmiths, I started taking a proper interest into it.

Recently, we’ve done a film for The Unseen, fashion technologists who make very theatrical concept fashion that answers to different stimuli like heat, brainwaves, carbon monoxide… We’ve been working with them a lot recently, one of videos may be shown during this year’s Fashion Week. We’ve also worked on music videos.

Q: What would you tell design students about starting their careers and getting their foot in the door in the design industry?

A: We’re a strange example to give, but I would say, start before you even graduate. If you want to go your own way, start as soon as you can! We won a competition in our second year to exhibit at Tent London, in the first digital exhibition they had at the London Design Festival, through Dezeen. We ended up with a lot of contacts within media, and it led to projects and clients. When we graduated, we were able to go into it alone, rather than into the traditional system of working through a variety of studios. It worked out well for us.

Q: What did you think design would be like when you first started studying it?

A: It seemed a bit more clear-cut- there was product design, and there was graphic design, and so on… but when you get to Goldsmiths, you realise you’ll be working on a project where you do all of those at once, or service design, which doesn’t have a a physical outcome. Design becomes a way of thinking, rather than a way of doing. You can use the same principles to solve most problems.

Q: It seems that art and design education tends to be less valued in the public discourse than other fields.

A: I think design education is incredibly important. Even if you don’t necessarily follow a career path in the art and design world or the creative industries, that kind of training in critical thinking being drummed into you is very important. It can be applied into different areas, even if you end up making a massive career change!

Interview by Nadia Barbu. Images courtesy of Christopher Waggott