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Role Call | Michael Rock, Creative Director

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Michael Rock, creative director and co-founder of 2×4 creative agency, says that if you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough to discover new things.

Michael Rock | Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. In a new series that coincides with the launch of BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent, we highlight some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them.

NEW YORK, United States — As brands look for novel and powerful ways to communicate their stories, values and aesthetic codes, experiential installations have become increasingly popular. Creative director Michael Rock is a graphic designer and founding partner at award-winning, New York-based creative agency 2×4, which has partnered with the likes of Prada, Barneys New York and Nike to develop a range of content-rich interactive experiences, as well as publications and websites.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

MR: I am a creative director, designer, writer, and a founding partner of the studio 2×4 in New York City. I work on all kinds of projects in the fashion industry that are crossovers between brand development, technology, content, and environment. I am also a professor of design at the Yale School of Art and Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, where I study the same thing from a more academic perspective. At 2×4, I direct collaborative teams of researchers, designers, writers, architects, and technologists to create content-rich experiences, fashion shows, events, publications, and online platforms.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

MR: I love writing and I love making things; this job combines those two activities in almost equal measure. I see design as an elaborated form of writing where you are constantly toggling back and forth between form and content. I also like working in collaborative environments, both in my own studio and between the studio and other disciplines. It’s a highly charged and hyper-creative kind of activity that is also intellectually demanding.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

MR: Having worked for over 20 years it’s difficult to identify a single project. I tend to be obsessed with whatever I am currently working on. I just completed two projects that were incredible experiences: Pradasphere at Harrods, and Art or Sound at the Fondazione Prada in Venice. Pradasphere was imagined as a natural history museum of Prada installed in the famous London department store. It involved writing, curation, branding, print, animation, interaction, environment and experience design, as well as a collaborative effort of scores of people, to tell its complex story.

Pradasphere vitrines at Harrods | Source: Prada

Pradasphere vitrines at Harrods | Source: Prada

Art or Sound is an exhibition of exquisite objects – some artworks, some musical instruments, some in-between – housed in the Fondazione Prada’s magnificent space in Ca’ Corner della Regina. The project was such a challenge, as each artefact had specific qualities and sounds that had to be accommodated. And the whole space had to work as both a kind of musical machine and a sound attenuation device. So we had to engage the viewer through every sense.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

MR: My role has changed drastically because design itself has become such a central metaphor. Now everything is designed, from genes to international alliances. In the course of my career, design has moved from the end of the process – a kind of styling – to the beginning. In addition, technology has had a profound effect on the way everything is done. And the distribution channels for content, and the ways content can be generated, have changed drastically. Our studio is constantly evolving to absorb and leverage these changes in new and dynamic ways and make work that reflects this new condition.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

MR: We once attempted a laser projection onto the moon. While that didn’t quite work out, I think the idea was still useful in making a specific point. Since we deal in rhetoric, even failed ideas can be instrumental. In some ways, for a designer, every project is a form of failure because no project can possibly live up to the image in your head. The trick is to evaluate how the final form deviates from the ideal and use that knowledge to calibrate the next effort. I think if you are not failing, you’re not trying hard enough to discover new things.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

MR: You have to find ways to maintain your creative freedom in the face of all the challenges of contemporary work. All the forces push inevitably toward clichés and banality. It takes tremendous will to overcome those forces and make something original. Originality is not always possible, but it’s the goal — to work without reference and to find something all your own.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

To explore exciting fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.

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