I decided to start Smart Hive, an agency focused on information design, data visualization and creative strategy, because I got a email. Out of the blue, in 2011, I received a promotional announcement for a conference in the Twin Cities called Eyeo Festival. I had never heard of it before because it never existed before. Dave Shroeder, founder of PilotVibe and Flashbelt, Jer Thorp, data visualist, and Wes Grubbs, founder of Pitch Interactive, dreamt up a conference focusing on the growing convergence of art, data visualization, creative code and media arts.
As I looked at the speakers and their work I thought, “What is all this? I’ve never heard of any of it.” I decided to sign up for it based purely on the email and the related site, without any idea what I was getting myself into and with no prior experience in any of this, beyond traditional interactive marketing and web design. I knew no one else who attended. I didn’t even tell many people that I was going. I just showed up.
I may never be able to explain my experience at the first Eyeo Festival. It was like traveling to another culture for the first time. Desperately trying to understand what people were talking about, trying to understand the language, being awed and amazed at the beauty, the creativity, the difference, the community and the curiosity, I was struck by everything I saw and everyone I met. I was overwhelmed with the infusion of new ideas and the amazing work people were doing. It was one of those unexpected, life-changing moments. I didn’t even realize it’s impact at the time. However, I did know that I had been privileged to participate in something special, because everyone else around me also felt it. It was like winning the creativity lottery and being at the beginning of something ground-breaking.
I met and learned from masters in their field like Golan Levin and Zach Lieberman, from the creators of Processing, Casey Reas and Ben Fry, from people doing things with data I had never dreamt of, like Aaron Koblin and Moritz Stefaner. I saw my first MakerBot there and my first Feltron Report. Suddenly there was a whole new world of people, projects and methods to consider. And I felt woefully out of my element. In the traditional world of design I knew the language and the values, I knew what was up and what was down and I knew the players. Here, I was thrown in with coders and journalists, data visualizers and creative media artists who were extraordinarily open-minded, had little concern for working within a silo (as in “I’m a designer; you’re a developer”) and were primarily focused on doing new things, not things which had already been proven to work. It was liberating and terrifying at the same time. I decided I wanted to become one of them.
So, three years later, three Eyeo Festivals later, I decided to focus full-time on the disciplines of information design, data visualization and creative strategy. I had been the creative director at Go East for over 14 years and was ready to take everything I learned there and bring it into this new approach. I’ve learned new languages and approaches, retrained and re-imagined my work and met a lot of great, new people. I was ready for everything to be new. So, I started Smart Hive.
My startup is focused on creating new ways to communicate using data visualization tools, information design methods and the best creative strategy can bring to clients, organizations and projects. I am excited to mix it up with art, design, code, data, information and communications. I look forward to meeting more people interested in all of this and making some great work. I’d love to hear from you.