Designer Talks Podcast: A conversation with MET Studio’s Peter Karn MCSD

The Chartered Society of Designer’s (CSD) Designer Talks podcast asks designers, how they do it, why they do it, what makes them tick and most importantly, what design means to them. The design podcast is hosted and produced by Lefteris Heretakis aCSDf.

In our latest episode, we had a conversation with the Global Director of MET Studio, Peter Karn MCSD.  Please find the episode show notes below, and be sure to listen to the full episode for more details here.

About Peter Karn MCSD

Peter is a professional ‘Experience Designer’ with over 18 years of experience working with some of the world’s top creatives and international clients. He has a passion for innovation and a strong belief in collaboration. This philosophy has enabled Peter to build a talented and professional design team from a variety of disciplines, ensuring that all projects are practical, specific to the design brief and truly world-class. He understands that designs need to continually reflect the changing market place and he has the ability to truly listen to each client and their needs, and subsequently provide engaging interactive solutions.

As Global Creative Director of the experiential design agency MET Studio, Peter creates highly innovative, interactive and immersive projects that connect audiences with stories. Peter’s recent projects have included The Singapore Bicentennial Experience, Blink: The End is In Sight Exhibition at Oxo Tower and the Mobility Pavilion at Expo 2020.

Why design?

If he’s honest, Peter believes his career chose him, rather than him choosing it. When describing his childhood, Peter explains that his parents had a Yin and Yang quality. His father was a civil engineer, and his mum is still a practising fine artist. Growing up around these two core things: structure and creativity has shaped Peter into the designer he is today. While Peter doesn’t think he’s practical with his hands, he always had a talent for drawing and imagining things.

Like many designers, Peter doesn’t feel as though he set out to become one, but instead he explored different routes and met different people throughout his life, which have led him to where he is now. He explains that along the way you can end up doing something that you didn’t even know existed or was even possible. He explains that growing up and even while he was at university, he didn’t know what ‘Exhibition Design’ was, it was something he happened upon along the way.

His most rewarding design experience

When asked about his most rewarding design experience, Peter explains that it’s hard to pinpoint just one. He highlights some projects he’s most proud of, including the recently completed Mobility Pavilion at the Dubai Expo explaining that this was a huge experimental project, where everyone involved wanted to push the envelope and collaborate. Another great moment he cites was his involvement in Sightsavers, Blink: The End is In Sight Exhibition. Which was all about raising awareness of sight loss. Peter and his team created an art exhibition that when you blinked, it destroyed a piece of the exhibition digitally.

On the importance of collaboration

Peter explains that as he’s matured as a designer, he’s realised that one individual never really has ownership of a project. When considering the projects he’s most proud of – such as the two named above – he explains that they wouldn’t have been anything like they were without all the other people collaborating. He muses that collaborations and conversations where you bounce off one another are “where the magic happens, where things crackle”.

As an experiential designer, Peter considers that collaboration is so important, as there are so many elements to a project: architecture, interiors, technology, interaction, sculpture, script writing and so much more. Because of this huge cast of experts needed to create and execute projects he considers that collaboration from the outset is crucial for success.

On curiosity as a designer

As a child, Peter would take apart radios and spend time trying to put them back together, he believes this curiosity is what led him to build the career he has today explaining that at the time, he didn’t really know why he was doing it, but it was probably his subconscious trying to understand something and how it works.

It is this curiosity he believes is something that designers can’t turn on and off, joking that you don’t enter the studio at 9 am, curious, and leave at 5 pm no longer curious. It’s a mindset that designers live with all the time – especially as design is around us daily. He adds that, unfortunately, more often than not, you notice design when it’s bad, you notice it when it doesn’t work.

When considering larger-scale design, like architecture, Peter notes that the success of design becomes a much broader expression, a much broader canvas. Because of this, he feels there is often more room to ‘show off’ a little bit more, which he feels is likely one of the reasons he moved into spatial design. However, believing that while it’s good to bring your personality into a project, ego can be a huge pitfall.

On approaching design

Peter recalls his tutor in his second year of university saying, “the scariest thing to a designer is a blank sheet of paper”, which he thought at the time thinking was a ridiculous thing to say. As a student, he felt a blank sheet of paper was an opportunity and freedom. Looking back, he considers his tutor was right because design isn’t like fine art, where you can just put yourself on a piece of paper with no direction. He opines that he needs influence and direction to create a piece of design that is relevant that works – but that this is something that’s taken him a long time to learn.

Maintaining enthusiasm and inspiration

Variety is the main reason Peter continues to feel inspired in his career, suggesting that when most designers find an agency or practice that they like, tend to stay there for quite a long time. If you find somewhere where every single day is a new challenge, every single client is different, every brief is different and there are always new people whom you’re collaborating with – it’s like having a new job every few months.

He muses that the more senior you are, the more briefs you take on, and the more people you collaborate with, there’s infinite variety and that’s not even considering how the industry is always refreshing itself too.

Overall, Peter offers that being open to change and having a collaborative attitude will always keep things interesting and fresh.