Joshua Davis, photos @ Gerhard Kassner

7pm on day 2 of the conference, a few people might be flagging. The caffeine is wearing off, and eyes on the clock for the last speaker – which is exactly why it was the perfect time for Joshua Davis to make an appearance. An energetic, loud, sweary, tattooed ball of energy crashed onto the stage like a train tearing through a wall. Behind the bluster (and energetic wedding dancing) it was apparent this was someone who clearly worked incredibly hard at everything he does. Even with his talk on the day (which some speakers may seem as a distraction from their day jobs) he treated like any other project – tweaking, playing around with ideas and refining over a year, trying to get the right balance.

Davis sees work and play as synonyms, in contrast to his peers who see them as direct opposites. He’s managed to maintain that child-like enthusiasm for just creating, without those hangups we acquire with jobs and deadlines. You could pick up his visible excitement at the things that inspire him, from old stain glass windows to a friend’s mismatched floors in his basement. Each of these sparked off into a whole cluster of new ideas.

Davis uses programming as a tool to create rich, graphic, complicated patterns, that he admits would take forever to draw by hand, by tweaking the programming he could produce countless variations in patterns, colours and density. However, this isn’t a mindless pressing of buttons, he clearly has strong ideas before he even sits in front of the computer inspired by real life. He encouraged us to just try things, without a client in mind, just to go with an idea and see where it goes.


He gave an example of visiting what he calls “the EVIL Cathedral” when stuck in Cologne. He was inspired by the patterns of the tiles on the floor which led to experiments with tiling patterns, repeatedly feeding them back into the process to produce more complex shapes. He had no intention for a commercial purpose, but eventually found a use for them on a book cover, which seems to fit perfectly with the subject, ‘Aim High, Keep Moving’.

Davis encouraged designers to keep giving themselves their own projects – something he tries to do himself everyday ideally with tight restrictions. ‘Failure is part of the process’, and should be embraced, especially with no client and only yourself to answer to.

Getting away from the computer was something that Davis keeps trying to do, particularly getting his hands dirty. After programming some new patterns he decided to draw these directly onto skateboards, by hand, in marker, ‘no undo’. He enjoyed the process of introducing the slight imperfections and errors back into the design, that were missing from those precise vectors. He did this again with several murals, this time enlisting the help of volunteers from the public to help him colour in these creations (another important lesson – embrace collaboration!).

He gave some advice, which any designer should take notice of, “the type of work you make, is the type of work you you will get hired to do”. In other words, don’t produce work you think other people want you to make, otherwise you will be always be stuck in that particular unrewarding rut.

I came away from this talk feeling inspired, wanted to experiment more, take more risks, and yank myself away from the computer more often, looking around a lot more for inspiration, and well play more. To re-quote Mark Twain: “Work and play are used to describe the same things under differing conditions.” Amen.

By Ian Moore, @ian1pm