Creatives and scientists: How we can learn to talk, work and play together

Artist Kazz Morohashi reflects on the importance of play in the process of research communications and how this was implemented throughout EnvEast infohackit 2016.

Working on a PhD is one of the biggest and often loneliest journeys you could embark on. I know—I’m in the midst of one myself. You work your socks off and live through your work. You defend your arguments until you can emerge as an expert on the other end. Your work will, as per the condition of the degree, contribute to new knowledge. To some, this may read as, ‘you will save the world.’

Ambition is good. But blind ambition developed in an isolated environment is questionable. So, thinking outside of your head is important. Get out. Talk. Explore alternative arguments and invest time and energy in making all the right connections. But more importantly, play.

The power of play in collaboration

Play is important. It’s not just for leisure time. Play helps free the mind, relaxes the ego, and helps you find inspiring ways to look at the old arguments through a new and exciting lens. It also helps the social side. You can make friends through play. Some may become good friends who become your ally and help reach new heights that seemed a struggle to do independently.

Serving as a team leader at EnvEast infohackit 2016, I saw the full power of play in action. The event brought together PhD students from the University of East Anglia and undergraduate graphics students from Norwich University of the Arts to form eight teams. The teams competed to produce innovative and accessible graphics about scientific research over the course of a 12-hour marathon session.

While the research themes varied, the rules were simple: bring your skills and work together through talk and play. Over the hours, each team developed a host of ideas, sketches and mock-ups before creating the graphics. A delicious croissant breakfast, juicy sandwich lunch and warm pizza dinner were brought in to beat the fatigue.

Serious discussions and work sessions mixed with wacky idea-sharing and laughter. The playful discussions were essential, as one unconventional thought unlocked another. It was a chain of ‘what if…’s that helped shape abstract research data into accessible presentations of scientific knowledge.

Overcoming challenges

As simple as the process sounds, I think it is fair to say that at first it wasn’t easy for the very clever scientists to embrace. While many were excited about collaborating with creatives, not all were familiar with what a creative collaboration might be like.

12 hours with each other helped us to get over our differences and provided us with an opportunity to watch and learn as we worked towards a common goal.

It was interesting for me to watch how both academics and creatives had to reassess their relationships to one another. It was also important for participants to enter with an open mind. Scientists shouldn’t expect to become experts in Adobe Creative Suite software in one day just as creatives shouldn’t expect to become scientific geniuses in one day.

As a team leader, I felt personally responsible for maintaining a good spirit within my group. Despite the turbulence along the way, we did emerge with success. The secret to this success was time. 12 hours with each other helped us to get over our differences and provided us with an opportunity to watch and learn as we worked towards a common goal. As imagination and creative discussions started to take on a more defined shape, the team members developed a genuine sense of respect towards each other.

Working, talking and playing together

PhD science students learned not only a new visual language but a creative work process that fired their own imagination.

Imagination is such an undervalued tool. It helps you visualize something many have yet to conceive. It was rewarding to watch the PhD research topics suddenly became so clear and exciting for everyone.

Some of the scientists were humbled by the graphic students’ specialist skills and generosity. They worked incredibly hard and professionally to help present the research in a new light for a wider audience. The presented results weren’t just pretty but were a truly convincing visual portrayal of why scientific research matters.

Whatever expectations the participants initially had, infohackit was a transformational experience.

infohackit is not a niche event. Rather, it is a real-life demonstration of the power of collaboration. The result was a meaningful exchange of ideas and skills (and friendships) between academics and creatives.

Those who benefitted from the experience will refer to this practice in their academic and creative futures. Those who were open to the experience learned that being a master of a skill who can partner with other masters is more effective and enjoyable than trying to singlehandedly do everything. infohackit is a creative opportunity to address this through 12 hours of talk, work and play.

Kazz is an artist interested in creative and interactive experiences that offer wider public access to learning.

A Japanese-born American who now also holds a British nationality, Kazz is drawn to ideas about how we define our culture, identity and individuality. She enjoys working with a diverse range of audiences including children and hard-to-reach communities. Underpinned by theoretical and applied research, Kazz explores ways of creative engagement that are meaningful to our contemporary lifestyles.

She received her MA in Communication Design from the Norwich University of the Arts and also works at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, University of East Anglia.

To read more about Kazz and see her work, visit