Behind the Scenes of Abstract with Show Creators Scott Dadich and Dave O’Connor
Recently, we’ve been sharing behind-the-scenes interviews with the featured designers in Netflix’s new series “Abstract.” We’ve learned about the creative processes and technology that go into designers’ work in a variety of fields.
In this post, we get to peek behind the curtain and see the wizard — or wizards — behind the series: Scott Dadich and Dave O’Connor. They shared what it was like to put together this groundbreaking series and some of their own lessons learned.
Adobe: You guys have created a series that does such a good job showcasing design. Where did the idea for “Abstract” come from?
Dave: For me, the idea started when Scott invited me to an event he put on at Skywalker Ranch in 2015 called “Wired by Design.” The conference was a small group of people — just a couple hundred — and they were all from various fields of design, 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 turn this into 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 years before we felt like it was ready.
Adobe: Did you choose people first or topics first? 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 this 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’s skyline, that affects every inhabitant in that city. Or with sneakers. Everyone wears shoes, so we were taking factors where the design work itself was very 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 really important. They had to be likeable.
Adobe: The response to the show has been extremely positive and goes way beyond the design community. When you were putting the show together, did you think it would get such mainstream popularity? Who was your target audience?
Dave: We tried to figure out ways to tap into enough different communities of design-adjacent audiences that we could sort of build the bridges between those worlds. Our hope was that, if we delivered compelling film on a topic that someone was interested in, they would stick around to learn about people and disciplines that they didn’t necessarily have any particular interest in to start with.
Scott: I hope it has become mainstream. That was definitely one of the goals of this, that we could illuminate processes that are opaque to people.
Adobe: Did you have any personal favorite moments? Lessons learned?
Dave: On a personal level, in each film there is at least one moment where I was present during the filmmaking process and 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. And how much I did it without even knowing I was 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.
Adobe: What is the most important thing you hope that audiences 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 moment of creation. That things don’t just appear magically before us; there are people every day 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 they wouldn’t look at the things around them in the same way anymore. That they couldn’t lace up their shoes in the morning without contemplating the choices of color, materiality. That they couldn’t go to work in the buildings they inhabit without an understanding of why buildings are designed the way they are. That during just about every part of your day you would have a renewed or a new 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.