Interning at Formula D Interactive: a month in

Originally published on the Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion’s Blog and Formula D Interactive’s blog. 

I was recently offered an internship at Formula D Interactive, a design company based in Cape Town, South Africa. They specialise in interactive exhibits for museums. I was offered the opportunity to work as a project manager. A month in to the job, I’m going to tell you how it’s going. But first, let’s go back to why this internship was a fantastic opportunity for me.

I moved from France to study the MA Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion in September 2015. With a background in art and fashion history, I took an incredible journey during my time on the course. I experienced new practices, broadened my interests and challenged my knowledge. I became interested in social media and digital practices, fascinated by the limitless possibilities they offer. I researched how visitors could play a bigger role in exhibitions, using interaction and participation. It’s become an obsession.

My Masters project focused on these interests. Inspired by social media, I created a fashion exhibition where personal expression (mine and the visitors) had a big role to play, and where content was conveyed through video instead of text. When I graduated, I aimed to continue in this direction. I wanted – and still want – to create interactive digital exhibits and help museums provide a space where their visitors could express themselves. However, even though I was – I believe – a good researcher, and creative, I had little knowledge in other aspects of making this happen: finding clients, budgeting, planning – in other words, project management. Taking up this interning opportunity at Formula D Interactive was the right thing to do.

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Notes. Credit: Maxime Laprade.

My first week on the job was about settling in. I learnt about the tools the team uses every day, familiarized myself with the different projects and members of the team. I quickly noticed that Formula D is really a design company. I know it can sound surprising; however, I contacted them because I am passionate about museums and exhibition-making and for some reason, I was expecting everybody to be. It was silly of me: you need different personalities and interests to make a good team. If you want to create a good interactive exhibit, you need to work with someone passionate about interactive design and this person may not be a museum lover. It is then your job to incorporate the best museum practices in to the project.

Formula D is a new environment for me and it makes it more exciting. As a project manager, I am working with app developers, UX designers, graphic designers, a copywriter, product designers, technical engineers, a managing director and a head of creative/CEO.

I quickly became manager of a project for Two Oceans Aquarium, the major aquarium in Cape Town. Two years ago, Formula D created Smart Living for the aquarium, an interactive exhibition about environmental issues in the city, showcasing four different exhibits: water, waste, biodiversity and energy. The project I am working on, the Hand-print Experience, is a touchscreen that we are adding to the exhibition. It is a survey to understand the impact of Smart Living on visitors. There are three elements to this project: it needs to collect data via posing questions to visitors; they then need to make a pledge to leave a positive hand-print in the future; and it needs to make the collected data available to aquarium staff.

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Timeline for the Hand-print Experience, Cape Town, Nov 2017. Credit: Formula D Interactive.

On the creative side, it is fascinating to see how every detail of what is essentially a visitor survey is thought through, to make an enjoyable experience for the user. We are asking the visitors to ‘leave their hand-print’ and to achieve that, they need to customise their hand. In that way, the survey is a secondary consideration for the visitors, even though it is our first objective. It becomes a playful experience for them, while collecting data for us.

But what really interests me, because I am totally new to this, is all the other elements: planning, budgeting and skill management. From the start, we planned the project with the different milestones including concept development, app development and graphic design, building hardware and manufacturing. I am learning a lot about the phases of such a project – how long such an app takes to develop, what is required, how the hardware is designed, and so on. But most importantly, I’m learning how to manage these overlapping phases.

After a couple of weeks, I became manager of another, quite different project. Hazendal Kids Edutainment Centre is a digital and interactive playground for kids aged 6 to 12 years. While the Hand-Print Experience is currently in its production phase, Hazendal is in its concept development phase. We are still working on ideas to present to the client.

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List of tasks for Hazendal Kids Edutainment Centre, Cape Town, Nov 2017. Credit: Formula D Interactive.

Participating in the creative meetings and helping develop the ideas is very exciting. But it requires planning and budgeting and keeping track too! This particular phase also means working with different members of the team who have different skills. The Hand-print Experience team includes a product designer and app developers and graphic designers. For the Hazendal Centre, I am currently working with two graphic designers and a copywriter.

When I arrived at Formula D Interactive, I jumped in to the role. The responsibilities put pressure on my shoulders, but mostly excitement. I had to learn fast but I was learning in the best possible way: by doing. This way, I am learning a lot really quickly and, whilst being supervised and guided by the senior project manager at Formula D, I am working mostly independently.

I am also participating in general project management meetings, project debriefs and morning huddles so as to grasp every aspect of the role and company. As a project manager, devising and making an exhibition becomes a matter of having an incredible idea, but also being equipped with good planning, budgeting, scoping, and effective communication skills. I enjoy having an eye on every phase of a project. I get to understand how things work from diverse points of view. It makes it somehow more real: I am learning how to make things happen.

Have you ever had an experience as a project manager? How was it? Some tips about managing exhibition design?

Maxime

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