London-based designer and creative wunderkind Karl Toomey isn’t a cruel man by nature, but his route into the design industry, as you’ll soon discover, is littered with victims. Dogmatically conceptual, Toomey uses his personal projects to experiment with ideas too hot for clients’ tastes, giving his comedic tendencies free reign.
Case in point: he once collected a selection of woefully humourless jokes and then told them to the live-chat operators of various multinational companies. Their responses ranged from bemusement to denial and everything in between. Not content to keep this to himself, Toomey then turned the responses into a luxuriously produced book which he launched on Kickstarter—he is a very funny chap. He’s also a shit-hot designer. Over to him.
“It’s 1999 in Dublin, Ireland. A close friend of mine is in a pricey American-style diner-cum-restaurant. He’s alone in a booth, chewing his way through an extravagant burger, sides, and shake. So far, so good. It has recently been his 18th birthday, and being a thoughtful and top quality friend, I have gifted him a voucher for said restaurant. A pretty generous amount too, if I do say so myself. What the poor bastard doesn’t know is that two days earlier I had fabricated his gift voucher in Photoshop 5.5 on a G3 Power Mackintosh. It was totally fake, and it was the first thing I ever designed.
“Looking back I know it was a really mean thing to do. Bastardly mean. In my defence we had gone to an all boys Catholic school that thrived on these sorts of situations. I’m talking big, bold, industrial level pranks. Our formative years were literally packed with alternative realities, multiple ongoing set-ups, and countless confused and bruised victims (myself included—I unwittingly went out with a fictional Italian girlfriend for over six months, an episode that came to a mean crescendo in a lonely Dublin hotel room). Anyway, school was as imaginative as it was terrifying. Nothing was ever as it seemed and nobody could be trusted. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that my friend really should have seen this coming.
“He didn’t though. Instead he stuffed himself and politely asked for the bill, satisfied he’d not spent a single penny. Although I didn’t really know what ‘design’ was at the time, I definitely understood the power it had to make things happen. Specifically these sorts of things. In one simple transaction this small piece of printed paper temporarily cast my pal and his American-style diner staff into a world of surreal and confusing questions.
“From the staff; ‘Who is this guy?’, ‘Where did he get this voucher?’, ‘Do we even do gift vouchers?’, ‘Is this some secret shopper test from headquarters?’, ‘Is this guy trying to con us?’, ‘What is the protocol here?’, ‘Should we call the police?’. From my pal; ‘What the fuck is going on here?’, ‘Why is this happening to me?’, ‘Am I on a hidden camera show?’, ‘What am I meant to do?’ and finally ‘Do I have to do the dishes?’ It made for a memorable evening for everyone involved.
“Thinking about it all now, nearly 20 years later, I can definitely see a link between that voucher and the kind of personal design projects I do today. Outside my day job I love using humour and various design disciples to play with people, just in a much more positive and hopefully thought-provoking way. No more mean stuff, I’ve grown up. I’m less on the lookout for victims, more so curious and willing participants.”