Anyone who went to architecture or design school knows that studio is a mean but formative experience. We like to pretend we’re idea-shamans who work in a brilliant vacuum, but those so-called Aha! moments are nearly always forged in the company of colleagues. The best work nearly always emerges when you’re sitting there with others, chinking away at the problem and refining it over time. In other words: studio. Because in the end, everything is a draft. That’s why you bounce a promising idea off others for instant, unmediated feedback. That’s how ideas take shape.
A new(-ish) app aims to replicate studio culture on your iPad, minus the painfully long crit sessions and trails of presentation paper. Morpholio 2.0 condenses everything you remember from your old studio days (hopefully without the 4 a.m. sugar binges) and makes them portable for the first time.
Launched in late 2011 as an interactive portfolio app with a social media component built in, Morpholio was envisioned as both a tool and platform. Using it, architects anywhere in the world could upload and share their work, and, of course, critique one another’s designs. The Morpholio Project surfaced soon after, headed up by four architects—Anna Kenoff, Mark Collins, Jeff Kenoff, and Toru Hasegawa—who met at Columbia and forged a working partnership. They’ve now produced an entire suite of robust design apps that both practitioners and students will find useful.
The original app sported feedback via EyeTime—a time-based feature that mapped a user’s behavior to determine which image or project attracted the most glances. Morpholio Trace added drawing to the mix, so users could annotate and "trace" over projects in real time. Morpholio redux introduces five more tools to complete the studio experience. The new "Printables" operation is particularly handy: It exports any Morpholio project as print-ready files. "Palettes," with 17 interface options that each correspond to a different design subset—from interior design and fashion to automotive design and even body art—promises to broaden the platform’s reach and appeal far beyond the architectural community. That last point isn’t lost on the developers; as Morpholio co-creator Mark Collins tells Co. Design, in the last year the team has "collaborated with experts from various disciplines to build a robust design-centric infrastructure that is being used by everyone from photographers to tattoo artists."
One thing the cloud-powered app won’t do? Stifle the creative process through rigid functionalities or an overly fussy interface. "What studio culture does best is generate ideas, test them, and iterate them which requires a messy, non-linear process," Collins says. "Just like the way our brains work." Morpholio’s design taps into this "messiness," giving the designer an arsenal of flexible tools that aid in generating ideas. In "Crit" mode, for example, users can pull up several project images at once which colleagues can then freely adorn with comments and sketches. The feedback trail doesn’t stop there: In "Trace" doodles can be scrawled over a 3-D model and saved, while "Pinup" opens up individual projects and even whole portfolios to the opinions and scrutiny of the entire Morpholio commentariat.
The fact that Morpholio has already attracted more than 100,000 users speaks to the platform and app’s many virtues. Still, the team sees room for improvement. They plan to keep tinkering with the app as the project progresses. Expect continued updates, two more apps this summer, and, possibly, an Android version on the way. The goal? To lay the framework that designers can use to test their ideas and concepts in a social forum. "The app allows your work to exist outside of a vacuum," co-creater Anna Kenoff says. "Morpholio embeds critique in the design process, magnifying it through both convenience and availability, and we couldn’t think of a more powerful tool for creatives."