Collaboration in the Cloud: How new online applications are revolutionizing our approach to design
Birgit Palma and Daniel Triendl on their creative collaboration 1,800 kilometers apart, Berlin
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Developments in virtual space promise an exciting future for creative collaborations, ones that not only change our daily work structures but also create new city and office concepts.

The time of digital collaboration as a linear sequence of back and forth communication is coming to an end. Thankfully, virtual working environments are becoming increasingly attractive, making day-to-day interaction and file sharing much easier than it used to be. Far from everyday office life and set nine to five working hours, digital innovations are loosening the rigid working models and offering an endless array of possibilities and freedoms to work remotely yet importantly, still collaboratively. The growing understanding of terms like new work, digital nomads and telework reflects how far this social change has already advanced.

Birgit Palma and Daniel Triendl hosting a modular lettering workshop at HWK

Due to the ever-increasing global network and the ever more familiar integration of online applications into everyday life, work processes and document archives are increasingly moving to the web. While installing a program by CD-Rom has already become archaic and even virtual installation is now obsolete, the future is now becoming the present with its cloud-based programs. From screen sharing options to cloud-based programs like Adobe Cloud, Google Drive or Dropbox, Pinterest, Evernote and Slack; The mix of virtual developments continues to grow and offer not only hardware-free data storage but also new forms of cooperation. In this way, decentralized work is becoming more and more self-evident by means of digital communication techniques and progressive connectivity. Creative activities are increasingly based on online tools. Collaborations can be done over vast distances and ideas can be implemented regardless of location. And because creative inspiration isn’t always available at a moment’s notice, the high degree of networking is particularly useful. Whether from a sunny beach or an urban co-working space, "new work" can be flexible and done from anywhere.

Particularly with isolated computer work (in design, for example), the digital world is opening an exciting space for direct cooperation. Such is the case with designers Birgit Palma and Daniel Triendl. Working from Barcelona and Vienna respectively, online tools like Creative Cloud have made it possible for them to collaborate in real-time at a distance of 1,800 kilometers. The creative process, which is traditionally defined by work and turnover, is being replaced by a new kind of simultaneous management. This not only makes the creative process faster but also sheds clearly defined authorship. From Barcelona and Vienna, the two native Austrians can work on designs using cloud programs. The input of one is displayed immediately on the screen of the other. According to Daniel, the liveliness of this joint creation was not always so self-evident.

In their last joint project, a modular alphabet created by workshops, Birgit and Daniel tested the entire range of existing cloud tools for the first time. Starting with the conception and leading up to elaboration and finalization, the project could be worked out together with 30 workshop participants. The result was a multi-authored typography composed of elements from the stock archive of Adobe Cloud.

The positive effects of networked thinking are can also be seen in larger creative companies. With concepts such as holacracy, crowdsourcing, co-creation, and open-source, individual specialization is being increasingly integrated into a lively, general knowledge collective. When Pixar worked on the world’s first computer-generated film, Toy Story in 1995, co-founder Ed Catmull realized that the creative process and the associated collaboration for this film did not adhere to the classic animation workflow. Instead of clearly defined roles and handing over finished parts to different departments, Pixar developed a new and holistic working model. Like today’s digital networks, the complex, digital animation process necessitated a new kind of collaboration in which individual roles were resolved and collective ideas developed by the 200-strong team.

Thirty Designers, one file

Modular Lettering Workshop at HKW Berlin

The positive effects of networked thinking are can also be seen in larger creative companies. With concepts such as holacracy, crowdsourcing, co-creation, and open-source, individual specialization is being increasingly integrated into a lively, general knowledge collective. When Pixar worked on the world’s first computer-generated film, Toy Story in 1995, co-founder Ed Catmull realized that the creative process and the associated collaboration for this film did not adhere to the classic animation workflow. Instead of clearly defined roles and handing over finished parts to different departments, Pixar developed a new and holistic working model. Like today’s digital networks, the complex, digital animation process necessitated a new kind of collaboration in which individual roles were resolved and collective ideas developed by the 200-strong team.

The realization that shared knowledge fosters innovation has long been an open secret. Plato once said in 347 B.C., “If two boys have an apple and they exchange these apples, then each will only have one. But if two people have a thought and they exchange them, then each will have two thoughts.” Birgit Palmer also emphasizes the fact that virtual collaboration has a motivating aspect to it that helps to break out of the usual approaches. Where people previously had to start from zero and talent and education were an essential foundation, it’s now possible to build on an existing basis and work and learn using universally accessible online resources. University degrees are no longer the only decisive factor for success in a creative profession.

When asked about obstacles in digital collaboration, Birgit Palmer and Daniel Treindl explain that exact schedules and good communication are even more important when you’re not in the same office. They also stress the importance of making a selection based on their own needs when it comes to the overabundance of digital tools. When used in a sensible way, virtual offices save time and work, help to reduce large distances and increase co-operation. It should also be noted that the simplification of independent work through online networks and tools doesn’t reduce the uncertainties associated with a freelancer existence. As is the case with traditional employment, one can’t count on fixed monthly salaries, paid vacation, and sick leave or count on a secure pension. A bit of initiative and organization are what’s needed. The line between work and free time also blur due to the “always on” mentality required for networking. However, can the lack of a sense of community long associated with the digital creative profession be reversed by the new possibilities of digital collaboration and new work structures?

The extent to which classic work concepts have already changed becomes clear when one looks at the number of co-working spaces sprouting up in every major city around the globe. The basic idea here is not just flexible spaces but also the creation of a common sphere in which ideas, experiences, and creativity can be exchanged. In this sense, the real world replicates the openness, freedom, and interconnectivity of the virtual world and becomes much more inclusive. Individual groups that were often not fully integrated into the labor market, such as retirees, women with children and educated immigrants, have very different opportunities through the liberalization that arises from the network mentality. They can enter the working world to the extent that’s right for them and don’t have to deal with the old hierarchies.

Through the connectivity afforded by the Internet and the subsequent possibilities of digital creative collaboration as well as the open source of knowledge, a social paradigm shift is increasingly taking place. The individual is becoming part of a whole, knowledge flows together and once rigid forms of working are opening up. The transformation, which already show drastic advantages in the creative field, will also become increasingly prevalent in other working spheres in the coming years. In this way, set job profiles and strictly regulated occupations are becoming more and more flexible and team-oriented forms of work and the implementation of individually adapted activities more and more common.

Adobe works closely with designers to understand which tools they use in their work and what they have need from programs and applications. In times when creative output is steadily increasing as we work from changing locations, there will always be a need for more fluid solutions. The Adobe Creative Cloud is constantly being enhanced with new features. You can find an overview of all new features here.

More about the modular lettering workshop and the collaboration between Adobe and the two designers on Adobe’s blog.

Thanks, Birgit and Daniel for letting us look over your shoulders during your workshop at HKW. If you haven’t already, check out more of Birgit’s work here and Daniel’s here

Text: Anna von Stackelberg
Photography: Daniel Müller