First Hand — Designer Harry Grundy makes his case for a six-sided practice
What does it mean to be a truly multidisciplinary creative? It’s a question that designer Harry Grundy finds himself repeatedly coming up against. Feeling undefined by a particular discipline, as a graphic-design student, Harry made the most of the freedom university offered – designing speed bumps, building furniture and writing radio ads at Kingston University. But after landing a full-time design job straight out of uni, it was only until he picked up a copy of psychologist Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man that he started to piece together an answer. He tells us about leaving behind a job he loved in search of creative chaos, and shares his learnings since adopting a six-sided life.
“Man must become comfortable in flowing from one role to another, one set of values to another, one life to another. Men must be free from boundaries, patterns and consistencies in order to be free to think, feel and create in new ways.”
– Luke Rhinehart, The Dice Man
Following graduation from Kingston University, I went straight into full-time work as a junior designer at NB Studio. I was offered the role after a really fun stint there during my second year. On my commute into work, I would read The Dice Man, one of my favourite books. It’s written by Luke Rhinehart, a psychologist who becomes bored with life’s routine and chooses a path dictated by the cast of a die. The book started a literal cult following, with people all over the world adopting a six-sided life. From 8.15am to 9.00am, then again at 6.30pm to 7.15pm, five days a week, I followed Rhinehart as his life descended into blithesome chaos, whilst mine steadied itself on the career track. Not long after I finished the book, I left the job I loved, in search of my own chaos.
I had a brilliant time at NB, and learnt loads about the responsibility of full-time work. But I have one of those childish, ‘Peter Pan’ brains that can’t stop wandering. Since leaving at the end of 2016 I haven’t stopped, with no real idea of where I’m heading. I think it all comes down to my appetite, and I don’t mean the career ladder kind. I have a taste for all different kinds of ideas and disciplines; university was the perfect place to feed on everything at once. I wrote a radio ad, designed a speed bump, built furniture and broke a world record. I suppose it’s this idea-led education that’s to blame for my opportunistic attitude. My aim with my own practice is to recreate the freedoms of third year art school, but that’s obviously very hard.
“I’m energised by the thought of writing stories, designing womenswear, typography, furniture, bridges and the cars that drive over them.”
Following NB Studio, I applied to work in the bowels of Somerset House at Makerversity – a brilliant co-working space that gives creatives a springboard to start their practices. Whilst there I worked on self-initiated work and commissions from the Guardian, Uniqlo and ME&EU. I also worked as product designer Will Yates-Johnson’s studio assistant for two days a week. The second half of 2017 was spent freelancing at Anyways Creative, working on all sorts of different projects. Since, I’ve been supporting myself financially with a really mixed bag of tricks. Gig posters, magazine articles, freelance graphic design, studio assisting, exhibition design, selling my products and so on.
Today I describe myself as a multidisciplinary designer. A term I believe is often misused as an empty self-promotion trick. But for me, it is total creative licence. Total chaos. I’m energised by the thought of writing stories, designing womenswear, typography, furniture, bridges and the cars that drive over them. I have a lot of itches that need scratching, and so I'm out there seeing what I can get away with. The Dice Man resonated with me as I attempt to creatively evade boredom. In the book, Rhinehart would write down six disparate personalities, roll the dice and become one for a month. As a creative person with a frantic mind, here are the six that I battle all at once, and what I’ve learned from switching between them:
The opportunist in me is constantly writing emails. I love throwing loads out there and seeing what sticks. Procrastination for me usually involves looking up residency opportunities or potential collaborators that I can pester. Whilst a lot of this goes unrewarded it has led to some exciting projects like a speculative bathroom modelled on Hurricane Doris that I designed for the Guardian and Geberit, or a self-initiated series of ceramic pots made with a plastic surgeon, who annotated the mistakes in my naive pottery. My advice here is to send emails like mad, and say yes to the ones you receive.
A side I wish I saw more of. My disparate projects are usually unified through consistent art direction. It’s something I was taught at art school and is probably the closest thing I have to a brand within my practice. The craftsman in me takes great care in the finishing details but is often drowned out by the time a new idea manifests. He is likely the reason why my crematorial urns and a website I designed for an architecture collective look like they were done by the same person. I love the feeling of chasing new projects, but it is important to take them seriously and give them a deserving send-off into the real world.
This guy needs to keep everyone on social media up to date about how hard he’s working. He is constantly tweaking and updating his website. It’s good to keep people in the loop and to feed into the creative community, just remember what your work is really aiming to achieve.
The source of my anxiety. I love coming up with new ideas – perhaps my reason for not specialising – and so I am constantly weighing up what ideas are worthy of my time. I tried printing them all out once and pasting them on my wall. Don’t do that, it’s frightening. It’s probably the biggest cause of madness in my working life, equally it’s something I am grateful for as it keeps me awake and excited. If you are a juggler, make sure you talk through your ideas with people – I find this works a great filter for those more deserving of your time.
‘A free-spirited and mischievous young boy who can fly and never grows up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood having adventures on the mythical island of Neverland as the leader of the Lost Boys, interacting with fairies, pirates, mermaids, and occasionally people from the world outside Neverland.’
The antagonist of my life. The reminder that I am in fact an adult and that involves financial maturity. The reality that even the most creatively free people still have to answer to someone. Captain Hook led me to set up my online shop because he’s also a bit of a wasteman. Keeping afloat financially and confident with your money is stressful especially when balancing freelance work with self-initiated projects. I find this is another case of seeking advice from a veteran freelancer and dedicating a little bit of time each week to check in with your finances.
With these six characters rattling around inside my head, like a cartoon dust cloud of fists and feet, I sometimes think it would be a relief to roll the dice and pick one. But no, choices in life are half chance so you may as well double down on the chaos and enjoy every element that a creative life affords you. I’ve learnt that I am best suited to the chaos of 100 things at once. And that by working hard, you can satisfy the whole cast of your imagination.