Matt Keen and James Rogers did such a wonderful job on our Reality-themed issue 2. We're thrilled to announce that they're back for issue 3! Design is magic and a massive part of what makes a magazine what it is. We really thought you should meet these wizards.

Introduce yourselves!

We're Matt and James, designers of Hack Circus issue 2 (and beyond). We both studied Graphic Design at Sheffield Hallam and specialised in typography. We met during a collaborative project in our second year and we’ve been working together on and off ever since. Our interests include language, technology, photography, print and of course type – both using and designing typefaces.

Where did you go for inspiration when you working on issue 2 of Hack Circus? We looked at magazine design in general, with a particular emphasis on the ones which were visually striking. Then we read all of the articles several times, picking out any possible visual elements that we could work with, and brainstorming any ideas that occurred to us along the way. We designed each article to have its own character according to the content.

Oh, and we watched the Matrix as 'research'! That was where the colour scheme for this issue's cover came from.

Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 14.47.47

Which is your favourite spread or piece of design work in the issue and why? M: Mine is probably Staying Alive, the emulators spread. I love the way the diagonal lines interact with the text - we took them from the ZX Spectrum's original logo.

J: Mine would be The Clock Of The Long Now just because the diagrams of the clock are beautiful. I love complicated technical diagrams and the ones we were provided with for the article work really well in contrast with the simple, sans serif text.


Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 14.47.21

Tell us about a great piece of design you often find yourself referring to, or find particularly inspirational at the moment. There isn't really one specific piece of design which we continually refer to because we're constantly looking for new ideas and we find new things which inspire us every day. It depends what kind of projects we're working on at the time, although obviously as typographers we particularly love anything print or type based.

Do you subscribe to many magazines yourselves? Which ones? We have a joint subscription to Eye magazine – it's pretty much the gold standard of magazine design so it makes sense for us as editorial designers to keep up with it. And it's beautiful.

What would your ideal design job be? M: I'd love to be a graphic prop designer for films. So designing things like all of the documents that characters hold, or books they read, or street signage that they go past.

J: I'd like to work in a small, type-focussed design agency. Somewhere I'd be able to work within print design, typography and typeface design all at once.

Check out their online portfolios: Matt and James.

AuthorLeila Johnston

Well, Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY happened! (Or did it? etc) And thanks to the speakers, the audience and the marvellous Site Gallery (who gave us their space and equipment and helped us out all evening) we had a fantastic evening. It was a fine way to launch issue two of the magazine. We learned there's an overwhelming likelihood we are nothing more than computer simulations that think they're people; the secrets to manipulating emotion through music, why people like miniature things; how technology has been lying to us for years; how to dance with code – and a lot more.

Here are some photos and tweets from the event... more pics on Facebook.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.42.12

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.47.16

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.30.37 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.31.11 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.31.24 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.31.36 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.32.42 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.33.24  Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.30.13 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.29.33 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.29.07 Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 14.28.51


AuthorLeila Johnston

Last summer, Anjali Ramachandran visited London's Barbican Centre for a hack event with a difference.

In 2013, London’s Barbican – a wonderful, airy grade II-listed public building built in the Brutalist style and one of the city’s most well known arts – celebrates its 31st birthday.

The building opened its doors to artists and technologists for the whole of August, a period when the Barbican experiences a summer lull and a temporary break in its relentless year-long arts and culture programme. A group of talented people described on the website as ‘theatre performers, computer scientists, sculptors, hardware hackers, teachers, musicians and everything in between’ were brought in through a programme called Hack the Barbican.

The idea started as a conversation that happened towards the end of 2012 between representatives of the Barbican and entrepreneur and sociologist Charles Armstrong, founder of the Trampery, a London-based social enterprise that designs and manages social workspaces for multi-disciplinary communities in east London. The Barbican team wanted to put the building’s cavernous open area to better use in August, and Mr. Armstrong’s recommendation was for the task to be handed to a self-organising group of passionate volunteers rather than one or two people.

It was the right time for something like this to happen. With the city’s Silicon Roundabout getting more attention and investment over the last few years, Hack the Barbican was envisioned as a showcase of the best of London’s art and technology community, cementing the city’s relationship with creativity further.

One of the core members of Hack the Barbican’s self-organising committee, Lloyd Davis, sat down with me and chat about his experience with the project in the peaceful surroundings of the Barbican’s public terrace, as the month-long event wound to a close.  

When close to 50 people decide to take it upon themselves to give some sort of shape to a programme of this scale (there were more than 300 participants), all sorts of issues rear their head. No one person was really ‘managing’ the show, but a representative was needed to channel communication between the Barbican’s team and the volunteers, for example. And as anyone who’s worked with a big organization, whether corporate or non-corporate, might expect, rules and regulations – practical ones, most of the time – did make an appearance. Open yet firm communication became a skill; the rules had to be dealt with patiently and delicately to ensure that they were not completely at a tangent to what the programme’s ‘hacking’ ethos was hooked on.

Listening to Lloyd, I got the feeling that the ‘how’ was much more of an accomplishment than the ‘what’, though the ‘what’ – the hundreds of art and technology installations and activities that happened over four weeks – were very impressive indeed.

I spent a very engrossing afternoon at the Barbican wandering around the different installations, chatting to some of the creators who were on hand, even participating in a crowdsourced project. I barely got to scrape the surface of it all, but it was inspiring to see such different kinds of creativity on display. Here are just a few of them.


The Balloon

Carolyn Defrin and a group of fellow student collaborators from Central St. Martin’s put on a performance of ‘The Balloon’, which brought together live performance, small-scale puppetry, live video feed and pre-recorded green-screened film (a technique for combining two video frames). The story of a grieving pilot who had to journey through his former family life in order to take flight again, it was a bittersweet narrative that had me hooked for the ten minutes that it was performed – I’d never seen anything like it before. The Kinect is used her to great effect to create the illusion of depth, as one of the technologists on the team mentioned after the show, and Carolyn spoke about how the genesis of the show was a long-held desire to bring a hot-air balloon on stage, which was accomplished in an unusual manner using the projection techniques that were part of the story.




Contemporary artist Liz Barile-Page explained how her showcased project, a two-day collaboration with designer-technologist Stef Lewandowski, was built during the Digital Sizzle Art Hackathon in July 2013 (it won second place). ‘Cryptographics’ conceals sensitive information like passwords in physical works of art. In Liz’s case, she stitched a beautiful patterned quilt in 12 hours that was displayed in the foyer of the Barbican – an amazing accomplishment in itself, but hidden in its glorious weft was a personal secret of hers, and only she could decode the pattern.

Stef used his bank PIN in a graphic poster, an image that looked like any well-designed piece of artwork to everyone except Stef. The pair invite anyone to create a cryptographic of their own online at


The Citizen’s Office of Communications Safety


Christoph Sassenberg and Mark Durrant won first place at the Digital Sizzle Art Hackathon for their project, a digital screen that featured a live feed of devices accessing public WiFi in the area and the sites they were visiting – the idea was to highlight the boundaries between private and public information in a public space. It was (and was intended to be) rather disconcerting: ‘Charlotte’s MacBook Pro accessed’, ‘Tom’s iPhone accessed’ – you get the idea.




Mashifesto, which won third place at the Digital Sizzle Hackathon, took people’s Twitter feeds and pulled words together in a random manner to form sentences which were exhibited as Russian propaganda. Tweet @mashifesto to get yours.


Musical Cloakroom

The Barbican’s cloakroom brought out the child in me – the floor in front of the long coat racks were rigged with RFID chips and divided into squares with tapes. As I jumped from one to another, musical notes emanated from the cloakroom itself – joyful!


Archeology Project

This project aims to create a crowdsourced memory of the Barbican. Visitors were asked to imagine that London had been submerged by waves or hit by an asteroid and that the Barbican was destroyed. How would we let our future generations know what it was like? Plenty of people, including myself, shot 60 seconds of footage on their smartphones as they wandered around the building and submitted it to be made into a documentary.


Creativity unleashed

I could go on and on about the projects I saw and others that were staged through the month, but I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the range of activities Hack the Barbican encompassed.

A huge game of table Pong? Check. A story created from pictures of objects tweeted? Check – it was called Shelf Talk. Discussions on sex and desire? Check – Intimacy Lab was in fact something that Lloyd Davis mentioned as trying to do something very different, working with the community. Bikes whose riders could listen to the same music depending on how far they were cycling from each other? Artist Gloria Chang was on hand to talk through how her project Tandem worked, and was even modifying her installation in real-time at the venue.

In the end, Hack the Barbican succeeded as an example of what the space could achieve when it stepped outside its comfort zone. It wasn’t easy by any account – one person’s definition of hacking is very different from another’s, which might be different from mine – and there was always going to be a limited amount of time and energy to invest. A journey of a thousand miles does begin with one step, and I felt that Hack the Barbican was a huge, ambitious and positive step for the building.

AuthorLeila Johnston

Issue 1 of Hack Circus is all about TIME. We caught up with Austin Brown of the Long Now Foundation to hear about the extraordinary 1000 Year Clock project – currently underway in a mountainside in Texas. Lots more of this sort of thing in the first issue of Hack Circus.

The Clock of the Long Now is a monument to (and an exercise in) long-term thinking. It is an architectural-scale kinetic sculpture that will tell time for 10,000 years, housed inside caverns carved into a Texas mountain.

When do you think it will be finished?

It's been under construction for several years now, with many years of research and design before that. It will take several years more at least, long enough that we've not set an official completion date.

What sort of things have been taken into account when designing something to such a timescale?

A book could be written on this question, but an outline of the Clock's design principles is listed on our website here:

Here are a few examples in my own words:

The location and materials, to start, were chosen for their stability. Texas is dry and geologically calm relative to much of the US. The Clock will be made of things like stainless steel, Monel, Titanium, and ceramics. These materials are hard, strong and resistant to corrosion, making them very durable.

One thing that often surprises people first seeing prototypes of the Clock is that it doesn't display time in terms of hours and minutes. To account for visitors from a distant future civilization that may have no record of our timekeeping system, it primarily tracks astronomical events. Hours and minutes are arbitrary units that may go out of fashion thousands of years hence, but no cultural change is likely to alter the length of a year or the movements of the planets and stars.

Is the goal of the project principally to change people's thinking about the future in the present, actually communicate with the future through a physical link, make a powerful symbolic point about time and the longevity of humanity, or something else? Is this chiefly a practical or artistic work?

Well, kind of all of the above, but to be more specific, the hope is to give people (now and in the future) who care about the future something to rally around. The Clock is meant to demonstrate and inspire investment in the future. Each generation has to reinvest, though, so a durable reminder is necessary.

Are there other examples of long-term building projects that have inspired the project, or which are happening now that you are interested in?

There are quite a few, some current, some very old. Our Executive Director, and the Clock's Project Manager, Alexander Rose gave a talk a while back on some of these inspirations. He called it Millennial Precedent. You can watch it on our site:

To name a few, we're big fans of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a collection of plant seeds stored in a vault on an arctic archipelago; the Internet Archive, a massive database of books and digital culture; and Japan's Ise Shrine, a structure that's been rebuilt every two decades for many centuries.

How do you feel about the prevailing cultural idea that we are 'living in the future'? The Long Now projects seem to see things from a different perspective: the optimism of knowing we are not yet in the future but can influence it.

We sometimes quote our co-founder Stewart Brand: "This present moment used to be the unimaginable future." So, we're not immune to that perspective ourselves and wouldn't necessarily consider it a bad thing. Looking at the long-term, it's important and valuable to note how far we've come, but we're also trying to remind people that there's a long way to go yet.

How do you counter criticism around the idea that thinking ahead like this has morbid or idealistic connotations?

Clearly, considering a 10,000 year timeframe does require acknowledging one's mortality, but it's also not so vast a scale as to get into geological time. Rather than get lost in the vastness of geological or astronomical time, we've specifically chosen civilizational time - humans began transitioning from hunting and gathering to agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago - as our framework because it's a stretch, but not incomprehensible to imagine having an intentional impact at that scale.

What are some of the issues involved in creating for the future when we're limited to the technology of the present?

Well, we're always limited to the technology of the present and I think creation is always future-oriented. I recognize, though, that you're pointing out that the Clock is created, in part, for a more distant future than most creations. What's interesting is that that challenge has pushed the designers towards less high-tech solutions than if they were building for a more immediate future. New technology is often untested in the long-term and tends to rely on a great deal of infrastructure that we can't assume will remain reliable over millennia. So in a way, there's a lot of technology of the past in the Clock. But the design and fabrication has also leveraged, and even created, new technologies. The more durable an outcome you seek, I suppose, the more broadly throughout history you'll want to look for strategies and solutions.

Do you think we genuinely are living in an unusually exciting time, or is it a condition of humanity to always feel this way?

Both, maybe. Just because it's a condition of humanity to always feel that the present is unusually important doesn't mean that we're not going through some very serious times. Geologists have started discussing the idea of the Anthropocene, that our species now influences the planet so significantly that the present geological epoch should be named for humans. That's a big, unprecedented deal and whether you say it started with the industrial revolution or agriculture, you have to recognize that we're affecting the biosphere more and more deeply than ever before. And while our dominance over the planet's systems may remain up for debate, our competence to manage them is undeniably lacking. As we grow as a species, we may not have the choice to not be a dominant force on the planet. That's exciting in sort of a frightening way since so far we're exerting our influence rather haphazardly and unintentionally. But with an increasing focus on the long-term we might be able to rise to the occasion and start to take a more intentional approach.

The Rosetta Project has captured language in a very beautiful way – is it important that these projects involve beautiful artefacts and design, and what are the most important things to try to preserve and conserve about the present?

To have the intended effect, the projects must speak to people in an immediate way as well as in an enduring one. Making them beautiful helps.

As to preservation, The Rosetta Project is meant as a way to show that we value preservation and want to encourage and support it, without taking an overly prescriptive stance on what should be preserved. By trying to preserve as many languages as possible, we hope to help future archaeologists and historians access as wide a swath of human culture as possible. The Rosetta Disk is a highly durable decoder ring of sorts - it contains parallel texts in over 1,500 languages, as well as documentation of those languages. That way, any culture's textual artifacts discovered in the distant future will be more likely to be readable, even if their language is no longer spoken.

What is The Clock of the Long Now?

AuthorLeila Johnston