Maths graduate David Hoe is a self-taught interactive designer who specialises in on-line ‘toys’. Clare Dowdy talks to the freelance creative with a ‘can-do’ attitude who enjoys giving something back to his Web-based community
It’s all about play, engagement and entertainment, as far as interactive designer David Hoe is concerned, and he has recently been putting this into practice for the Wellcome Collection. His winning entry for its digital competition was a series of on-line interactive ‘toys’. Each entry was based on Wellcome’s ‘word soup’ – its archive of science-related words – and Hoe homed in on terms like ‘mutation’ and ‘serendipity’, and played with those.
‘Mutation is based on genetic breeding. [I made a game in which] the user breeds a child from two parents,’ Hoe explains, by clicking and dragging the mouse. ‘This “child” is a variation of the parents mixed in with some random mutation. Since you select whatever you deem favourable at each step, the outcome becomes more of what the user wants, as opposed to what they are forced to see.’
It sounds a lot more fun than most 22-year-old maths and computer science graduates are probably having. Though – given that he’s only doing paid work for one week a month – it’s possibly a less lucrative path than the one taken by his Imperial College London peers who went into merchant banking.
Hoe – Doncaster-born of Chinese parents – isn’t slacking for the other three weeks of the month. This is an intentional arrangement to give him time to put together his personal website. Come April, if it all goes to plan, this will be a showcase for yet more toys, like his ‘toothpaste’ game. Here, instead of squirting the tube all over the bathroom (which would be childish), Hoe’s digital alternative means you can squeeze out a line of paste and create your own patterns. ‘I like the feel of emergence patterns,’ he says.
Another toy he’s working on is a natural painting simulation. Here, the user ‘paints’ on to an oily surface. ‘If I could use something that somebody had made to create something of my own, that would be nice,’ he says.
These ideas are an extension of Hoe’s client work, though he doesn’t see his website as a new business tool. ‘It’s very community-based; I believe you should give back what you’re given. As long as someone enjoys it, that’s the thing.’ He says his site will be ‘slightly Japanese-influenced. I really love these kinds of things.’ And certainly he has a clean and simple style.
His paid work comes mostly via the digital production studio Unit 9, where he worked for 18 months after graduating. During his initial internship there, he got his hands on his first website, a showreel for ad directors called www.outsider.tv. ‘They gave me the website to do by myself as a developer,’ explains Hoe.
He followed this with an Irish tourism site, www.tourismirelandtaxichallenge.com, the first site he developed Flash content for. ‘When I build a site, I look at the user experience, rather than the technology,’ he says.
He describes what he does as building visual tools for advertising creatives/ a creative director has a brilliant idea for an on-line campaign, and developers say ‘No, you can’t do that’, but Hoe says ‘Yes, you can’. He gives the example of one client who envisaged 100 pieces of paper flying around a character, each with different images on them – Hoe went on to create the tool which made it happen in the Hewlett-Packard TV campaign.
Never having studied design as such, doesn’t seem to be holding him back. ‘Studying was a lot of theory and then moving on to more theory. At college, we were taught how to problem-solve. Design was a passing interest,’ he says.
Hoe went freelance in September last year, for the usual reason. ‘I thought I would have more time to do what I wanted,’ he says. At the same time, he admits that he’d like to work directly with creative directors, ‘to put across my creative ideas, rather than following a brief that was set weeks ago’.
Hoe happily acknowledges that he’s at the beginning of his career – in contrast, he implies, to many of Design Week’s usual interviewees. And with the difference in experience goes the difference in age. Hoe looks blankly at me when I make a passing reference to Dave Stewart, his band Eurythmics, and timeless diva Annie Lennox. Or maybe pulling off a first-class degree just doesn’t leave much time for 1980s pop icons.