From idea to immersive multimedia experience

Murray Bell and the team at Semi Permanent turn creative ideas into real world events. Watch how an artistic vision from collaborators around the world became their most ambitious project to date: A Semi Permanent Hotel presented by Highsnobiety.

Sep 02, 2021
Posters display artists’ work from around the world
Watch how Semi Permanent creates bespoke events with collaborators, partners, and artists around the world.

By Murray Bell, founder and executive creative director of Semi Permanent

Nineteen years after starting Semi Permanent, the best way I would describe us is as an experience company. We’re not an events company, a brand studio, an advertising agency or talent management—but we’re a little bit of all those things. 

We play anywhere in the design sphere to create experiences untethered from any particular medium. It might be a sport and creativity festival for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, a global diversity and inclusion program for Google, or a release of Radiohead’s latest album. 

Today, we’re in a unique position. We only take on clients who are on our dream list of partners and collaborators. The result of that, though, is the stakes have never been higher. To gain the attention of these fantastic companies, we have to perform at a very high standard: sharp, efficient, organized.

Murray Bell standing outside the Semi Permanent Sydney office

We also work with artists who are very protective about the brands they’ve built for themselves. To work with this slate of clients, anything that leaves this office needs to be crisp and tight. That’s why we rely on Dropbox to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

I can’t remember exactly when I started using Dropbox, but it wasn’t long after the inception of Semi Permanent. I adopted it early and didn’t think for even a second of searching for an alternative. As a designer, I appreciate the form of things, and Dropbox was just so intuitive and aesthetically simple. 

Make the creative vision translate and travel

Staying organized and balancing work across time zones is a complicated challenge. We’re based in Sydney, but we’re a global company with offices in Auckland, Los Angeles, Singapore, Dubai, and Lisboa. As we got more serious about our operations—to meet the high standards of our clients—we began to integrate our operations into Dropbox. It started with hosting design files on Dropbox and then changing our workflows as we adopted Dropbox Paper.

As much as possible, we’re dialling back from email and transferring creative processes through Paper.

For our teams working with external artists, we like that Paper visually captures the tone and feel of what we’re trying to communicate. For internal work, we project manage with tasks, due dates, and comments within Paper. We’ve tried to implement dedicated project management systems like Asana, but adoption was low. For those who used it, they essentially created Asana tasks with links to Dropbox files. It made more sense to seamlessly manage everything through Paper. 

"No other platform so easily allows me to transfer what’s in my mind to another person."

​​Murray Bell talking on mobile phone

I have no problem generating ideas. The challenge for me is transferring a creative concept from my head—or a team member’s head—into a document that faithfully represents it. 

With Paper, not only can I use visual and audio cues, I can also structure the message. It allows me to create a hierarchy so I can be sharp and articulate. I also love that with Dropbox we can pull frames from a film, tag them with comments, and then turn that into a Paper file of commentary for our next edit.

Polestar LCA Installation Lobby; Vicki Lee paints a large canvas next to a cellist

Semi Permanent X Highsnobiety: our hotel takeover

We began floating a self-imposed challenge around taking over an entire hotel for an immersive experience. Instead of having 5,000 people in a room, you have five. How do you make that experience just as engaging and exciting? Being a full-fledged media company is not our bag. So we looked to our favourite media partner to help us pull it off: Highsnobiety.

For two days, we took over the Paramount House Hotel in Sydney and turned it into an adult playground. Hotel rooms and common spaces were converted into immersive experiences with the help of global artists with diverse backgrounds. We gave them the space to create and tell us about their vision for the future. 

Whiteboarding and using Dropbox to view Hotel schematics on a laptop

The process for our most ambitious project

Alignment 

It all started with an introduction of Semi Permanent and Highsnobiety. We love their brand, their aesthetic, their ambition, and attention to detail. Those early days were all about our process and brand alignment.

Curation

To plan the event itself, we start with curation and logistics. How many rooms and artists do we need, and for how long? Then comes the design phase: what does it actually look like? Early on, I like to think about the event as a poster. What is the image people will see in their social media feed, or on a website? Once you get that idea in your head, it’s easy to fill in everything around it. 

Design

What I love about experience design is the next stage: considering every single touch point along a visitor’s journey. What’s the first colour they see? What’s the first thing they feel? What’s the first decision they make?

Partnership

When we have the direction and understand the feel, we start reaching out to like-minded collaborators and contributors. We gather ideas for this hit list of partners and artists. Getting a yes gives us more confidence and momentum before we move into production. 

Production

While the whole process is complex, production is perhaps the most detailed and intricate. Dropbox allows us the freedom and mobility required at this stage. This is when our design comes to life and we continuously refine until we have an intuitive experience. When the visitor uses subtle cues to navigate the space, they become a bit of a creator themselves, and we’ve succeeded.

Collider Room is a survivalist bunker; Claudia Chinyere Akole’s blue and red whimsical illustrations

Keep Growing, Keep Evolving

What excites me about the future is that we’ve grown in the past year, and that gives us a bit more weight in the room. We’re working with clients we love, and our focus now is deepening those relationships. We want to continue to evolve. Being more flexible, nimble, and open allows us to create the experiences we would love to attend ourselves.

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