Common Works, the digital manufacturing magicians augmenting the physical world

By Fiona Dent

Common Works was formed in 2013 as a means to experiment across different disciplines and fields. The studio has developed its practice with a focus on exploring the intersection between art direction, interaction, moving image and emerging technologies. The studio closely collaborates with its clients — ranging from start-ups to global brands — to deliver meaningful, lasting experiences through playful interactions and rigorous design thinking. I met Chris, Sam and Johnny the Founders of Common Works (and makers of Makerversity’s own website) to hear their unique Makerversity story.

“We came to Makerversity through Joe, one of the Co-Founders of Makerversity. Joe called us up; we suspect he actually wanted Ben and Sam from Pan, but instead he got us! Joe invited us to come and look at the basement in Somerset House. We loved the raw space. At the time we had a studio in Clerkenwell and we were working as freelancers in a group on large and small campaigns, from a PR agency’s office. Makerversity came along at a very nice neat point when we were deciding we wanted to work in more formal joined-up way. It was the opportunity we needed to turn Common Works into a go and we moved in 4 and a half years ago. When we moved into Makerversity some alumni were there; Knyttan (now Unmade) were downstairs in Vault 14. Good Gym were here too. At that time we worked with everyone as our areas of practice are really diverse.

‘Now we’re building a real niche in weird digital projects with physical elements. For example, we recently made an animated film where every frame is printed by hand using traditional woodblock printing processes. To achieve this, we had to automate large parts of the process, using custom digital programmes developed in-house. This is a recurring theme in our work, where we augment traditional handcrafted processes with digital technology to create outcomes that are not possible in physical or digital spaces on their own.’

Into The Wild, Decoding the Creative Journey exhibition and events, MV Works showcase, Somerset House, event documentation, London, 2016

Over the last 12 months we’ve been working on a proof of concept project, Miko, exploring creating handmade ceramic objections through digital interactions without the use of 3D printers; creating traditional objects with embedded data and narrative. Vessels that can hold added meaning as well as some pretty flowers. We’re interested in the idea of championing the handmade, making objects in the same way that they always have been but empowering the end consumer via a digital layer.

‘Why shouldn’t traditional manufacturing or skills benefit from the latest digital technologies, as together you can create outcomes that have never been seen before. Everyone talks about innovation only being in the digital realm, but there has always been innovation in the physical world too. The benefit of manufacturing in this way is that consumers are able to participate in the creation of the objects they purchase, entering into a partnership with the manufacturer to create truly personalised objects. User specific data — for example, a message to a loved one — has the potential to be transformed and abstracted into a permanent sentimental object.’

As a studio we have not only developed these tools for ourselves, we’ve also used them to build technologies for our clients, who have gone on to great success. Most recently we worked with Candy Mechanics to build them a suite of consumer-facing digital tools to create customised confectionery. We like working on difficult challenges and solving problems with our clients to arrive at places none of us have been before. We’d now like to reach an even wider audience who we could collaborate with or whom could commission our work. We’d love to create even more interesting, disruptive signature projects.

We’ve recently moved vaults and it’s really nice to be closer to the main space and have people sticking their head in our vault! It acts as an ice-breaker when people can see our work. In the future we’d like Makerversity to be what is now and throw as many parties as possible! It’s great to have a party, five feet away from our office! Then the work-talk stops! We’ve just had a lovely time…there are no niggles really, just sometimes “Why’s the laser cutting not working?” ;-).

‘We’ve grown up with Makerversity, we’re involved and invested. It’s total “unprofessionalism”, but in a good way! Makerversity enabled us, we just couldn’t do this anywhere else.”


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Fiona Dent
Posted By Fiona Dent