Old dog, new tricks: why it's never too late to innovate

Innovation is about asking questions and putting your findings out into the world, says Brendan Dawes.

I will never forget the look on the guy's face as I stepped out of the lift, shook his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Brendan". For a couple of seconds he seemed to look around me to check if there was another Brendan hiding in the lift I'd just vacated, but as there wasn't he eventually said, "Er… oh, right. Let's go to my office."

A few weeks earlier I had received an email from someone I'd been in touch with in New York but had never actually met. He said he had a contact at MTV in London who'd like to talk to me about an exciting project. They loved my work and were really keen to meet up. Now here I was, sat opposite someone who looked, well, a little confused.

Hipster confusion

After exchanging the usual pleasantries about the weather and traffic, he confessed the reason for his confusion: "I thought you were an 18-year-old living in London." Now whilst it's probably true that I look okay for my age - which at the time was 41 - I think passing myself off as 18 would have been a stretch. For one thing, my jeans just weren't skinny enough.

Once he told me the cause of his confusion, I couldn't help but have a wry smile to myself. Here I was, sat in some swanky media giant's office in our nation's capital, being briefed on a pretty cool project and all the while the notion they had about me as a designer was completely at odds with the reality. I was over 40, with grey hair, living in a quaint seaside town in the north-west of England - not a latte-drinking hipster who arrives to work on a unicycle. And that is the brilliant thing about the power of the World Wide Web. As a New Yorker cartoon put it in 1993 - "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

One of the reasons the person had imagined this persona was largely because of the work I put out into the world. The work is the thing that not only shapes my personality online but also tells people - and prospective clients - what I'm about, my attitude to good design and the things I think about.

Putting things out there

I'm a firm believer in the idea of getting back what you put out. I never cease to be amazed at how opportunities appear from something that you may have thought was just a throwaway idea. I've had a book commission born out of a single Instagram photo, and only the other day had a gallery in Dubai commission work based on something that has been on my site for almost 10 years. I even have work in MoMA because I bothered to put it out there, rather than letting it languish on my hard drive.

To be innovative, you need to wake up every day asking questions. Why does something have to be like that? Is there a better a way to do this? Learn to love these questions. More than anything it's about being curious about the world around you.

Create new things and put them out into the world. Disrupt the status quo - you just never know who may be watching. Even if they think you're a dog.

Words: Brendan Dawes

Brendan Dawes is a designer and artist. Using an eclectic mix of digital and analogue materials, he explores the interaction of objects, people, technology and art, for himself and clients around the globe. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 228.