Beautiful Thinking.

Beautiful Thinkers: Immerse yourself in the world of Es Devlin

Often the mark of a beautiful thinker is one whose work you have likely encountered on several occasions, whose influence has gone unnamed, but not unnoticed. Es Devlin is one of those individuals.

After attending one of It’s Nice That’s ‘Nicer Tuesdays’ events – during which Devlin discussed her career to date – our Design Director, Seila, and Junior Designer, Emily, both expressed their deep admiration for the award-winning designer. 

As Emily put it, “everything about her – her voice, her presence – was this calming, spiritual creative”. It is little wonder that her work throughout a decades-long career of incredible collaborations, creating epic stage sets for tours with some of the world’s most iconic artists, has taken on an other-worldly presence. 

Devlin’s experience includes designing and building sets for artists including Adele, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Eminem and Beyonce (her record-breaking Renaissance Tour no less), as well as the annual Super Bowl half-time show spectacular when she brought a corner of Compton to life for Kendrick Lamar. You will also have seen her work on the catwalks of Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, during London’s Olympic ceremonies in 2012, as well as her most recent news-grabbing contribution to Las Vegas’ Madison Square Garden Sphere; her bespoke artwork for the close of U2’s show (which launched the Sphere to the masses) covered the 15,000-square-metre screen which wrapped the inside of the unique stadium, and which masked 160,000 speakers for a truly immersive experience.

“Cultural gatherings, whether they are intimate plays or giant stadium concerts, have a unique ability to bring people together”

Whilst not every one of her creations have taken place in a setting the size and scale of the Sphere, Emily noted during Devlin’s talk that in her work, she considers every single person in an audience, whether front row or back, and what their experience of the show will be. Even how she addressed the audience during ‘Nicer Tuesdays’ demonstrated her dedication to considering their experience.

A celebration of her life’s work was released in 2023 in the form of an epic, immersive monograph – An Atlas of Es Devlin – in which she devised a means of absorbing the reader in her work, bringing her designs to life again in a unique way.

The book unfolds to uncover her 122 projects – 30 years of creative work – presented chronologically at first, before unfolding thematically. Taking seven years to create, the book itself is designed to be a captivating, sculptural set piece in itself. It portrays a journey through Devlin’s processes, and her mind. Featuring sketches and notes which illustrate work coming to life, readers will not find any depictions of final, finished pieces until they reach the conclusion of the book. 

She describes the Atlas as being

designed in a way so that someone who doesn’t do what I do can imagine themselves doing it, or can imagine how it gets done.”

To celebrate its launch, An Atlas of Es Devlin also welcomed Devlin’s first monographic museum exhibition at Cooper Hewitt in the Smithsonian Design Museum, New York. It marked the first occasion when – in conjunction with the launch of her book – the intimate workings of her intellectual processes were displayed to the world, showcasing how she has produced some of the most epic set and stage pieces to be seen and celebrated by millions.

During her on-stage interview at Nicer Tuesdays, Seila and Emily discovered how she embarked upon this epic journey, with a desire to say yes to everything which came her way. When sometimes it did not work, it might lead to something else – everything became a learning curve.

Something which stuck with Seila was her years studying literature, which to her is an indicator of how intricately and deeply she delves when creating her work. She consistently creates a narrative with her work to give it deeper meaning. 

When discussing her experience, Devlin has given insights into her process which many designers – Seila and Emily included – will sympathise with strongly. Namely the immersion into another’s life or a brand, in order to bring a vision to life. This is particularly true when the collaborator is a part of a new partnership and therefore together, you must cooperate to reach a mutually-agreed final product.

“’s often a lot more comfortable to work with collaborators you’ve worked with a lot before because you know how each other moves, you can dance together, but sometimes actually forcing yourself to have to enter into a new batch of poems completely brings out really rich work as well. All of those things are also very intense and resource-heavy of my energy – you’re literally putting the mask of someone else’s face on your face and looking out through it.”

Devlin has also spoken previously of her mindfulness of working in industries which are heavily financially-driven, and her desire to offset this by inspiring a higher level of thinking and interaction with her work, as well as her personal contribution to the damage humanity continues to inflict upon our planet.

“As a maker of things, I’m always concerned that in the interest of raising awareness I am myself going to leave a large carbon footprint,”

During Glasgow’s COP26 Conference in 2021, Devlin brought 197 trees with her for the New York Times Climate Hub, each representing a country and which after the event, were replanted in Glasgow. Dubbed ‘Conference of the Trees’, she sought to drive tangible understanding of the impact that prioritising tree-covered spaces can have in improving the wellbeing of citizens in towns and cities. During her time at COP26 she highlighted the responsibilities and the growing passions of designers and artists to create work that does good for the planet. 

Ultimately, at her core, Devlin seeks to inspire and immerse, fostering connection between those who discover and digest her work.

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