Yesterday I attended an event called Innovation Lab in Leeds. As I sat and listened to some of the conversations taking place I began to think about the place I felt most 'innovative' and how that special feeling was created. There is no doubt in my mind, one place stands out above every other: The Palace, in Barcelona.
The place I am talking about was not pre-made or planned by a strategic agency, it simply evolved and changed as we went along. During the second year of our studies at the European Institute of Design, myself and a friend: Marcus Carlsson decided that as well as having somewhere to live, we wanted to have a 'space' big enough to share ideas, play music and drink beer.
An apartment came on the market, it had small bedrooms but an amazing open-plan living area. As soon as Marcus and I had seen the space, it was decided and we took the 2 year lease. The apartment was completely empty but we decided the first three things we needed shipping in: Massive TV, PS3 and CDJs. Once they arrived, the first building blocks were in place for our very own 'Barcelona Innovation Lab'
The look and feel of The Palace was really created as we went along, what was for sure was that plain white painted walls would not inspire creativity. We invited in some of our friends: Albin and our soon to be third roommate Shahin (both amazing graphic designers) to basically do what they felt like on one side of the room. The result was really cool as you can see in the picture. On the opposite wall, we had a massive painting of a super-hero (maybe that was our inner-child taking over) and the two sides contrasted well and both caught your attention equally.
The main feature of the room had to be 'the booth of love'. What started out as a simple table with decks and a mixer quickly turned into the 8th wonder of the world: a 10 foot high, 2000 can Dj booth made of our empty Estrella cans. This structure took me around a year to make and is still one of my greatest achievements!
As the weeks and months passed, The Palace became a hub for some of the city's most exciting creative types. But this did not just happen overnight and neither was it planned this way. It actually started out very simple: come round to listen to some good music (depending on who was dj-ing!) grab a coffee or a few beers, read a book, sit on YouTube for hours, have a nap, whatever you want. We had certain projects we had to work on for our education but most of the coolest ideas that came forward were actually completely separate from our course work and more often then not included people from totally different creative backgrounds and countries.
So the lesson here is to create a place where people can drink, smoke, play music, watch YouTube and then come up with ideas for projects? Not very realistic for a brand or a city, obviously. But there are things we can take from this moving forward. I firmly believe that to be 'innovative' and creative you need space, you do not need a pre-decided plan that needs to tick boxes or be measured every step of the way. Brands and cities need to take a punt, have a little faith. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes crazy, sometimes rubbish ideas will emerge but if the group of people involved are intelligent, talented, outside-of-the-box thinkers, then the time and money spent on creating this space like this can be paid ten times over with just one amazing project or idea.
We started projects like 'The First Six' something way ahead of it's time, (something we looking to move forward in 2011) art exhibitions, viral campaigns, international branding strategies, city vision strategies and marketing plans, music events, fashion brand launches and much much more and all these came from our time in this seemingly un-planned environment. Most of what we did was cutting-edge, creative, interesting and relevant.
Some of the former regulars at The Palace have gone onto amazing things: published writers, magazine editors, agency directors. Some have moved on to be professional photographers, bloggers, stylists, fashion designers, teachers, brand consultants, music video directors and probably many more we do not even know about.
I will always look back fondly at this period of my life and I am sure there are many more who will do the same. It helped to shape my approach to projects we are currently working on and also lots that we will be announcing next year. I am sure there will be people who believe that a much more structured environment is the way to go and innovation can be 'taught' but we at Hebe firmly believe that by thinking about things in a different way and in a different environment can lead to innovation and creativity flourishing... now to paint that super-hero on our new office walls!