In the beginning there was Antirom

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The Antirom art collective was formed in London in 1994 as a protest against “multi-mediocrity, ill-conceived point-and-click interfaces grafted onto repurposed old content and repackaged as multimedia”. Led by interactive pioneer, Andy Cameron, they had the radical vision to explore interaction as a media in its own right, rather than as simply an interface to existing content.

I was lucky enough to be taught by Antirom at the University of Westminster’s Hypermedia Research Centre in 1997. Antirom taught the practical side of the course, the theoretical side was taught by the equally inspirational Dr Richard Barbrook. I asked Richard at my interview the difference between multimedia and hypermedia, he replied “Multimedia is computer science, hypermedia is rock ‘n roll”, I was sold on the spot.

Antirom were certainly rock ‘n roll but they were also a highly sought after commercial agency, working with the BBC, Levi’s, The Science Museum, Sony and many others. Developed rapidly by multiple authors, Antirom’s interactive experiments often revolved around a single idea, such as sound mixing or scrolling. Although always entertaining, these playful, interactive toys could deliberately confound, forcing the user into an active relationship with the media.

Through these projects they extended the language of interactivity and were fundamental in establishing the practice of interaction design.  Not only did Antirom lead and inspire the first generation of web designers, they demonstrated that commercial projects could be as creative and engaging as any art piece. The interactive kiosks and window displays Antirom created for Levi’s are a great example of this. Incorporating webcam toys, sound mixers, drum machines, live video-editing tools and networked games, they were created purely to engage and entertain. Although a commercial project, commerce was not the immediate consideration. In Andy’s words, “It’s all about audiences, whether you’re working as a fine artist, or a designer, or as an advertiser or whatever. If you make an interactive piece and people don’t interact with it, then you’ve failed.”

Levi Kiosk by Antirom

Antirom disbanded in 1999 but its legacy lives on. Its members went on to found or join companies including Animal Logic, Fabrica, Poke, Razorfish, Romandson, The Rumpus Room and Tomato Interactive. The individuals and agencies they influenced are too many to list but my agency, Story Worldwide and before that Large Design, are certainly two of them. As Brendan Dawes, granddaddy of interaction design himself, says of Antirom “nothing was the same in the world of so called multimedia ever again”.

Antirom were Andy Allenson, Joel Baumann, Andy Cameron, Rob LeQuesne, Luke Pendrell, Sophie Pendrell, Andy Polaine, Anthony Rogers, Nicolas Roope, Tom Roope,  Joe Stephenson and Jason Tame.
 

7 Responses to In the beginning there was Antirom

  1. Jefferson Bailey says:

    Nice post! Alongside the need to preserve the technologies of the past is the need to remember that innovation is a process, not just a product. As important to historians will be the records of the stories, correspondence, and ideas that lead to these inventions — the process captured in the records of institutional/organizational archives. A quick (and lazy) search didn’t turn up any archival collections of Antirom’s original records and while the oral histories can capture some of that past, we can all acknowledge the mutable, mercurial nature of memory.

    Projects like the DotCom Archive (http://dotcomarchive.org/) and Business Plan Archive (http://www.businessplanarchive.org/) have attempted to capture some of the primary records of the companies of this era. While Antirom was a collective and not commercial, I think this point still applies — that preserving the story of the operational history of these groups is as much a part of digital archaeology (and in many ways a harder part) as preserving the technologies they produced.

    I’m enjoying the blog. Keep up the good work!

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