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Behind the Scenes of Abstract with Show Creators Scott Dadich and Dave O’Connor

Recently, we’ve been able to share interviews with the featured designers in the new Netflix series, Abstract. Along the way we’ve learned about the creative processes and technologies that are key elements for designers in a wide variety of fields.

This time around, we are going to peak at the wizards behind the curtain, Scott Dadich and Dave O’Connor. They shared what it is like to produce an engaging and intriguing series. Plus, they share some of their lessons learned.

Together, you have created a series that does such a singular job of showcasing design. Where did the idea for “Abstract” come from?

Dave: For me, the idea started when Scott invited me to an event he hosted at Skywalker Ranch in 2015 called “Wired by Design.” The conference was a hand-selected group of people from various fields, including some fields that wouldn’t normally be considered design. But everyone was talking about their work from a design perspective, and it was so inspiring. I went home from that conference and started workshopping the idea with my team about how to create a series about design. We kicked it around six ways from Sunday before I took it back to Scott for his thoughts. We went back and forth on it for a couple months before we felt like it was ready to pitch.

Dave O’Connor, co-creator and executive producer of Abstract.

What did you choose first, people or topics? For instance, did you decide to do a segment on Platon and then make that your episode on photography or did you decide to do an episode on photography and then go to Platon to fill that role?

Scott: We started with people. And there were a couple of different factors we used in weighing who those people were. First of all, most of these folks were people that Dave and I had worked with quite a bit, or knew very well. So, there was an approachability factor and a trust factor. Second, their work had to touch a really broad number of people. When you see a skyscraper in a city skyline, it affects every inhabitant in that city. Or with sneakers — everyone wears shoes. We looked for instances where the design work itself was broadly applicable. Third, they had to be, if not at the peak, approaching the peak of their talents and doing some of the most important work of their lives. Lastly, if you’re going to spend an hour of your life watching this person practice their craft, you have to want to be around that person. You have to want to like them. So, general charisma and approachability was also important. They had to be likable.

Platon and Scott Dadich behind the scenes in Greece.

The response to the show has been extremely positive and recognition even comes from far outside the design community. When you were putting the show together, did you think it would achieve such mainstream popularity?

Scott:I hope it has become mainstream. One of the goals of the series is to illuminate processes that are opaque to people, so reaching an audience outside of the design world is important to us.

Dave: We also tried to figure out ways to tap into different communities of design-adjacent audiences so we could build bridges between those worlds. Our hope was that, if we delivered compelling film on a topic that was engaging, they would stick around to learn about people and disciplines they may not have had any initial interest in.

Dave O’Connor with camera operators in Greece.

What are your personal favorite moments, and what lessons did you learn?

Dave: On a personal level, in each film there is at least one moment where we saw something magical unfold before our eyes. That was incredible, and I think the biggest lesson I learned was just how much design thinking could be applied to my own life and my own work. I learned just how much design thinking I do without even knowing I’m doing it.

Scott: I often struggle to externalize my internal thought processes. When you imagine something, you see it in your mind’s eye, and it’s hard to share that with another person. So we came up with this idea — I call it “design hallucinations” — where you see designs in your mind and, through the use of graphics, visualize some of those abstract concepts. Like what you see when Platon talks about his struggle with dyslexia or when Tinker describes a shoe that would automatically lace itself around your foot. I love those design hallucinations.

What important realizations do you hope audiences will take away from “Abstract?”

Dave: Our grand hope is that people open their eyes to the world around them and see that behind all of the messaging, the products, and the information, there is that process of creation. Things don’t just appear magically before us; there are people everyday who are creating those things, and those people are just like us.

Scott: Our hope from the very earliest days was that people would go back to their daily lives with a brand new sense of discovery — that you won’t look at things around you in the same way anymore. That you shouldn’t lace up your shoes in the morning without contemplating the choices of color and material. That you can’t go to work in the buildings we inhabit without an understanding of why buildings are designed the way they are. That during just about every part of your day you can have a new, and a renewed, sense of discovery about the world around you.

Haven’t seen the series yet? Catch “Abstract” streaming on Netflix and look for more behind-the-scenes interviews with the show’s stars right here on the Creative Cloud Blog.

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