I had a chat with ABC Australia Plus about “syncing Islam, virtual reality, and design”
Originally published on ABC’s Australia Plus
Award-winning designer and entrepreneur, Peter Gould has worked on a variety of digital and creative projects — including collaborating with Google Glass and building apps for Muslim kids. His interest in virtual reality began as a student at University of Technology Sydney. As a Muslim, he is always keen to bring together Islamic traditions and emerging digital technology. His studio has offices in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.
What do you do?
“I am a Dad, a designer, entrepreneur, creative, techie, and Australian. Right now, my life is all about fathering 3 beautiful children, helping people develop ideas into brands and creative experiences, and making time for coffee by the beach.”
As a child, what did you dream of doing?
“In my 1993 primary school yearbook, I wrote, “I hope to combine my interest in computers, art and drawing.” My 11 year-old self would be impressed that that happened.”
What has been surprising — about where you’ve ended up?
“Growing up, I had no idea about Islam and I didn’t have much interaction with religion and spirituality. One of the most surprising things has been discovering Islam and the deep inner tranquility it gives me. This has really influenced my personal and professional life in a positive way.”
You’ve worked with a diverse range of clients— in Australia and overseas. What was it like to work on apps for Muslim kids?
“Every day is different for my team and I. We’re blessed to be involved in a whole range of cool projects and brands from around the world. The motivation to create apps for Muslim kids was inspired by my own children. When my first daughter was born in 2008, I was surprised at the lack of variety in fun, engaging, and cool products designed for Muslim kids. So I started creating my own books, games, and apps. Seeing them come to life was a fun experience, and I love hearing from parents around the world who also enjoy them.”
What excites you about combining emerging virtual and digital technology and Islam?
“Everything about virtual and digital technology excites me! I’ve been a long-time fan of the possibilities of virtual reality (VR). In fact, my honours project at UTS in 2003 involved creating VR goggles that looked really geeky and strange at the time (they still do).
Now that I have the chance to continue my interest in VR and emerging tech, it’s almost a natural response to think about how it may intersect with certain aspects of Islamic lifestyle and tradition.
One project I am really excited about that brings together exactly that is Islam Imagined. I envision it to be a platform that encourages creative Muslims to think optimistically about the potential for emerging technology to have a positive impact on their daily practice, and improve our world for all people. For example, one topic area that I want to focus on is how we can build smarter Mosques, particularly those that are designed with preserving the environment in mind. The opportunities are truly endless.”
Can you tell us about the collaboration with Google Glass?
“My collaboration with Google Glass was a really cool opportunity to think about how such an awesome piece of technology could improve one’s daily experience as a practising Muslim. One concept that I developed was a Qur’an that appears on the lens — in order to assist the wearer to recite passages of the Qur’an in prayer.”
Your studio has three locations: Sydney, Kuala Lumpur & Dubai. How do these cities inspire you? In what ways do they influence your work differently?
“I love Sydney so much, and it’s a blessing to live here. Unfortunately it is so far away from many of the hubs of activity that are central to my work. Kuala Lumpur is one of those centres, as well as Dubai — so I’ve set up satellite offices in both places to stay on top of the action.
The people of Kuala Lumpur and Dubai have so much creativity that they draw from their respective cultural heritage and contemporary influences — it always inspires me to interact with their unique perspectives.
I love the all-night street “mamak” style food of Kuala Lumpur. If I could take Sydney’s cafe culture and coffee, implant it into Kuala Lumpur, mix in the thriving commercial hub of Dubai, that would be an almost ideal working situation.”
What do you miss about Australia — when you’re overseas?
“I miss my family the most, then the coffee, the backyards and clean air we take for granted, and walking along the beach and brainstorming with my creative team.”
What are you two top tips for being a designer and creative entrepreneur?
“Don’t take the linear path, start freelancing soon as you can and learn through action. Try to build ideas quickly, iterate, and fail forward. Make sure you read a lot. I didn’t have a mentor for years and I was getting all my guidance from books, articles, blogs, and podcasts. There are so many amazing sources of experiences and information ready for you to benefit from. I wrote a blog piece called ‘door is broken, use side entrance‘ which is all about creatively seeking opportunities.”
Imagine that you had the chance to host a barbeque — anywhere in Australia. If you could invite three Australian guests (dead or alive) — who would they be? What would be on the menu? Where would you like it to be held?
“First my buddy Waleed Aly, because he’s just a cool guy to hang out with who has something interesting to say about everything from Pink Floyd to global politics.
The unnamed artist of an Indigenous artwork I saw deep in Arnhem land, dated to at least 20,000 years. It just blew my mind and gave me perspective on this land.
Ned Kelly. The guy is a legend but I’d like to know the inside story.
The barbeque would be in a nice little picnic place I know near Cronulla in the southern suburbs of Sydney. Nothing too fancy on the menu, nothing wrong with some classic snags [or sausages].”
What would be your advice to your 15 year old self?
“Invest in Google, learn how to code your own apps, be in the service of others more, and visit a third world country soon as possible.”