A Reason D’Être

When we started Fieldwork three years ago, it was an umbrella for anything that Loz and I wanted to do collaboratively: client work, personal projects, big greasy Koffee Pot breakfasts, anything. It didn’t have a purpose or any sense of direction other than being an experiment in what might happen when we work together. We wrote down some shared ideas about the way we want to work, which helped guide us initially (and still do to this day) but that was the extent of our thinking around any grand vision.

Things have changed a lot since then. We’ve taken that difficult journey from two collaborators into becoming a company and growing a team. It’s not a big team, but it’s enough to make this thing significantly bigger than the two of us, and it takes regular and focussed attention to keep steering it in the right direction.

We’ve had growing pains over the last 18 months or so. Thankfully, we’re good at assessing and adjusting course in the face of these problems, so we’ve incrementally hired and implemented systems to overcome most things. There are certain points, though, at which it feels like we hit a brick wall, and these seem to boil down to articulating what we do and why we do it.

Fieldwork doesn’t have a clearly stated reason d’être.

We need a way to talk about ourselves. First, and most importantly, so that we can communicate this to existing and future members of the team, and they, in turn, can communicate it with others. But also, of course, so that we can communicate with clients and a wider audience. This stuff has always been there, but not easily communicable — Loz and I struggle to articulate it in conversations between the two of us. We need to know how to talk about Fieldwork in a way that allows like-minded people to decide whether they’d like to join us, be it as a member of the team, a client, a Twitter follower or a customer for some future, as yet unknown, harebrained venture.

This is a delicate area for us. We don’t want to post-rationalise a purpose that has never really existed — this has to come from within Fieldwork as we are and have always been. It has to be a distillation and clarification of the things that drive us. We definitely don’t want one of those lofty, grandiose purpose statements about saving the world one beautifully designed user-experience at a time. They sound either disingenuous or naive, and can’t be taken seriously (see purpose statements for Starbucks’ or just about any Silicon Valley startup). We want to strike a delicate balance between aspiration, inspiration, and understated pragmatism.

This is in there somewhere, buried inside our harried brains. Fieldwork started as a vessel for our collaboration, sure, but there’s a reason we wanted to work together and continue to do so. Something drives and excites us. The simple pleasures we find in making, realising ideas, and doing things well. The excitement we have for technology and design, and how people interact. The sense of potential in mixing complimentary skills within a team of creative people. We need to externalise these driving forces, and make them into motifs that others can identify with.

There’s no way to communicate all of this in a single sentence. Who we are and why we do what we do can only really be communicated over time and through a lasting relationship, like the ones we have with our team, our clients, our collaborators and our friends. But we can extract a simple, clear starting point. A way to start those relationships. To begin with, we need a simple and concise way to define our focus, summarising, at a high level, what we do. This should give the team a sense of direction and a foundation for approaches to problem solving, idea generation, new projects, content and communication. It should work externally, inviting like-minded clients, friends and followers to participate.

Fieldwork exists to explore the intersections of technology, design, people and places.

This is deliberately broad because we don’t see Fieldwork as a design studio. We think about ourselves as a company that might one day produce tools for creatives, run spaces for people to meet and experiment, organise events, or produce physical products. The statement works — Fieldwork is about experimentation, the cross-pollination of interests and creative ideas — but we have other important driving factors too, so we need to expand.

We don’t want to seem self-righteous about making the world a better place, but we do want to instil a quiet confidence in the knowledge that the act of making, of producing even the most insignificant things, causes a small change. It gives the maker the power to affect the world around them. We might not change the world — we might not even improve it in any measurable way, only the future will tell us that — but we understand that what we do holds potential. There’s a lot of power in making things.

Invention changes the world in some way, however big or small. This is the magic of making things.

The pleasure we find in making things is another important drive for Fieldwork. From having ideas, through the process of design and production, to releasing the end result into the wild, we get a lot of satisfaction from our day-to-day work. This isn’t just a by-product of our daily activity, it’s something we actively pursue, and it makes for a creatively stimulated team who learn quickly, adapt constantly, and care deeply about the quality of work we produce. Team happiness is a priority.

The most creative ideas and the best execution come from those who embrace the joy of making.

These three statements, along with our existing principles, help us define Fieldwork’s foundations. Of course, the words mean nothing until we build upon them with creative output. With a new sense of direction, though, we’re feeling more inspired than ever to do just that.