Meet Martin Christoffel, a Seattle-based experiential designer whose latest work can be seen at MoPOP’s new Minecraft: The Exhibition through Sept. 7, 2020. Christoffel’s field is a mix of environmental design and visual storytelling.
Here, he answers a few questions about his work.
What do you do? I call what I do experiential design, a term that encompasses a wide variety of work, from set design in the theater to surprising, thematic installations and museum exhibits. My field of design is similar to that of an architect or interior designer, but the work is temporary and fleeting and revolves around making memorable experiences.
For Minecraft: The Exhibition, I worked collaboratively with the exhibit’s curators to develop the schematic concept and then integrated other designers, technologists and fabricators into the process. One of the great things about Minecraft the game is that it is richly detailed and exceptionally multilayered. The most enjoyable challenge with this exhibit has been bringing the game to life while informing visitors and showcasing all the game’s depth.
How did you get started in this field? My path to this field began in college theater. I wanted to be a set designer for stage and screen, which I pursued. My life took twists and turns along the way, as life does, and I learned that my design sensibility and training could be applied more broadly — first by stepping into design for corporate productions, then into exhibits, and then on to all sorts of other work.
What’s a typical day like? I typically begin my day skimming through inspirational websites or magazines, and I often (while dealing with a pile of email) duck into Pinterest or go down a rabbit hole with Atlas Obscura. The breadth of interesting stuff at our fingertips is astounding. Daily, my job may involve creative brainstorming, sketching concepts, 3D modeling and rendering, researching materials or making samples, drafting plans, and, during installation, being present at the site to carry out the design vision.
What’s the best part of the job? The best part of the job is the variety. From one day to the next, and one client to the next, I seldom repeat what I do. I might go from dreaming up a huge rubber ducky made of miniature rubber duckies for a corporate client, to developing video projection content for a stage musical. Or, in the case of Minecraft: The Exhibition, figuring out ways to bring video game elements to life. Take the crafting table, for example. We can’t make objects pop out of thin air, but we can use holographic and RFID technology to simulate the experience and clad it in the Minecraft skin.
What surprises people about what you do? Everyone thinks differently; one of the things that I’m able to do is see some crazy idea in my head, translate that onto paper, then into the computer, and ultimately have it realized. Folks who see those earlier stages of the process are often amazed that the interesting thing I dreamed up translated to the interesting thing in real life.