On Process and Tom Sachs’ 10 Bullets

 By David Millsaps 

Left: Tom Sachs - Do it Yourself Survival Kit

On Fridays this semester, I am helping my old friend and mentor Pat Fitzgerald at the College of Design at NC State teach an advanced multimedia class.  My role is 'visiting artist,' where I talk about what it's like to work in a professional creative capacity and work with the students to learn Flash Actionscript and how it can work for them. The students are very bright, a mix of undergraduate and graduate design and humanities students who, for the most part, don't have experience in programming.

Learning programming and approaching big creative projects is a bit different in the real world opposed to the higher-education environment.  You can't always give yourself over to the work with abandon and each hour is billable.  Those reality checks are hard for students and the transition to the real world can be tough.   Learning programming has a special set of challenges for the young, adaptive designer, used to quickly mastering new tools - that world of enforced logic is a big jump for some students. 

Tom Sachs is a contemporary artist based in New York who produces large scale interactive sculptures that incorporate technology and industrial materials. The work is manufactured and developed with a large team of fabricators in a beautiful Manhattan studio that houses an incredible amount of tools, materials and media. The studio is organized like a master workshop and the fabricators are expected to behave in a manner that respects the environment, the work and the values fundamental to Tom's vision.

Students in my class, and similarly the budding digital media industry that VisionPoint operates in, are having to figure out new processes to build new media. Our tasks don't have the history of other industries: architecture, engineering, literature and art and often we catch ourselves and the web technology industry acting as if we have to invent new processes to get it done. One of the things I have been trying to advocate is looking at the old industries and taking everything we can to build better digital media. 5,000 years of architectural history must have some application to information architecture.

Tom Sachs presents his 10 Bullets in the video below. The 20 minute video is riveting, a stimulating look inside the studio and how the team gets their massive art projects done. Last week in class I talked to the students a bit about process and showed them the video. The students that 'got it' were the ones that follow many of the 10 bullets naturally and the ones that were texting on their cell phones; they missed the point.

Tom Sachs' 10 Bullets, 1st part of the Working to Code Video Series

  1. Work To Code - Creativity is the Enemy
  2. Sacred Space - The Studio is a sacred space and respect of this space is essential. Treat it as a 'shaker workshop or monastery.'
  3. Be on Time - Be on time and commit yourself entirely. An on the clock mentality should carry on to all things. Your present task demands your full attention.
  4. Be Thorough - Thoroughness applies to tasks proceeding and following the task at hand. The task should be done to the studio's exacting documented standards- aka the code. Keep a list.
  5. Give Feedback, Get Feedback - One party must make sure the other receives the information sent. "I understand" ensures the sender and the receiver is on the same page.
  6. Sent does not mean received - Always get a receipt. Receipts are proof of your actions.
  7. Keep a list - Keep a prioritized list at all times. Carry this list at all times. Keep track of every detail of every project you are working with.
  8. Always Be Knolling - Knolling is the studio's way of shorthanding the organization of your desk. See the video for a more complete definition of this very important principal of organization.
  9. Sacrifice to Leatherface - A small monetary sacrifice should be made to the studio piggy bank for certain kinds of 'oversight,' weakness,' and 'lack of responsibility.'
  10. Persistence - "“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Ray Kroc founder of McDonalds

Tom Sachs speaking at Google

More about Tom in this video:

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