Rising stars – Ross Phillips

WHEN you’ve never had to apply for a job and have been handpicked by Applied Information Group’s Malcolm Garrett, Fabrica’s Andy Cameron and Nick Knight’s Showstudio, you know you must be doing something right.

When you’ve never had to apply for a job and have been hand-picked by Applied Information Group’s Malcolm Garrett, Fabrica’s Andy Cameron and Nick Knight’s Showstudio, you know you must be doing something right. So what makes interaction designer Ross Phillips so sought after? ‘I like nice, simple interaction that people can understand,’ he explains in a nutshell.

At Showstudio, where Phillips is head of interactive, the projects are a mix of editorial and commercial. He describes his work as mainly ‘real world’ interactive installations, and he especially enjoys involving the public. Taking Liberty’s in 2004, for example, invited passers-by to pose for a picture in front of Liberty’s shop window in London, with a chance to win vouchers for their style. ‘I like to be in the public space, it’s the most interesting place to work in. There’s something nice about seeing how other people get on with an installation. There’s a talent and an art to that that I really enjoy,’ says Phillips. ‘My favourite work is where I’m not showing how creative I am, but I’m giving people a blank slate and a tool to be creative with.’

Phillips’ Videogrid is a perfect example. It allows users to record short videos that are broadcast in grids on a large screen, looping repeatedly until someone else records over them. The effect is of an evolving set of repeating patterns. He recently adapted the grid to create an installation for Evian, Replenishing Body, which was nominated by the Design Museum as interactive design of the year and got an honorary mention in interactive art at this year’s Ars Electronica. The results of the grid in action at Istanbul Modern’s Design Cities exhibition are on show at the London Design Museum.

According to Phillips, companies are increasingly willing to consider interactive design to support their brand, and other Showstudio projects have included interactions for Sony PSP and Playstation 3. ‘They are recognising that you can give customers an experience and that people associate that fun with the brand,’ he says. ‘Companies come to me to ask what I can do to relate their brand into another market, or give them a certain cache – so I’m doing what I like to do, but for brands. I enjoy bringing my sensibility to a commercial environment’.

Phillips also teaches a module at his alma mater, Westminster University, which he finds very rewarding, and takes on freelance work, such as creating three interactive installations for the Science of Spying exhibition at the Science Museum last year. The next step is to ‘move away from the physical coding and work with and direct a team of people’, says Phillips. ‘The idea, and other people’s reactions to it, is the most interesting part of the process for me. The making of it is fine, but it’s coming up with the initial concept that I like.’ He has many projects he is keen to develop – to create something with RFID, for example. ‘It’s just a case of finding a place for them’, says Phillips.

But you won’t be seeing Phillips setting up his own company any time soon. ‘I don’t think it’s in me to have a company at the moment. I just want to make interesting work for people,’ he says.

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