Although Karsten Schmidt features in ‘branding’ and some of his work falls loosely in that category, the software developer, designer and artist defies categorisation. ‘I try not to go down any specific route, and I try not to specialise at all,’ he says, and what the likes of Moving Brands, design collective Universal Everything and other clients employ him for is difficult to define in any traditional sense. Schmidt harnesses code for the creative world, applying software tools to express his, and his clients’, ideas. ‘Code is just abstraction,’ he explains. ‘If you learn to programme, you learn a new language, and that language can help you express your ideas in a better way than any other tool.’
But it’s not merely about computers, he adds. A lot of the techniques can be applied to other areas. Mozart was one of the first generative artists, says Schmidt, creating a set of rules to allow an astronomical number of possible minuets, for example.
Schmidt’s recent work includes the digital concept and design of installations for the London College of Fashion’s graduate show through Moving Brands, helping the college convey an identity at the forefront of innovation. Visitors could view students’ portfolios by placing a calling card bearing a unique computer vision marker on a table. The table would read the marker and load the portfolio, allowing viewers to browse by twisting the card. Schmidt has also created branding and generative design for the Sheffield Lovebytes digital arts festival and a motion graphics piece with Universal Everything for Nokia’s presence at Heathrow Terminal 5, where he has created an endless succession of unique characters through generative software.
Schmidt’s programming life started in his teens with an afternoon computer course in his native East Germany. After years in the competitive world of then-underground community Demoscene, Schmidt now finds himself in a creative no man’s land. ‘I am somewhere between two groups,’ he says. ‘I try to tackle design projects via software, but I’m not part of the software industry, and I’m not really accepted by the graphic design camp because of my different background.’
Not that he particularly minds, however. ‘There seems to be a niche and a lot of interest in the type of work that I do,’ he says. That niche is making the most out of the unimaginable power of computers, pushing them to the limits of what is possible – light years away from off-the-shelf products offered by the likes of Adobe.
Creating his own tools is important to Schmidt. He lauds Open Source software sharing and encourages everyone to take advantage of it. ‘The glue between all the different [design] disciplines is code,’ he says. ‘People have to realise that they have machines that are so powerful. You can only get an idea once you start writing your own code, and you start to push things in directions you never knew existed.’
Schmidt is also pushing himself in his own work. He is currently creating an audio-responsive, generative sound sculpture for Universal Everything’s ongoing Advanced Beauty project, which will be displayed at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and he strives to find a balance between his artistic and commercial work. ‘There is benefit in both,’ he says. ‘If you have the freedom to go quite mad artistically, that keeps you sharp for your more commercial work.’ With the power of code at his beck and call, Schmidt could not be sharper.