Although his name might strike you as unfamiliar, Murray Bell is someone who you’ve more than likely encountered through osmosis.
As the Founder & Director of global creative platform Semi Permanent – and the driving force behind the renowned Sydney-based design agency of the same name – Murray Bell has programmed countless live festivals around the world, collaborated with everyone from Google to Adobe, as well as taking the time to serve as Art Director of Dazed & Confused. In short, he’s a certified veteran of the creative industry.
Naturally, BH was keen to have a candid chat with a man of his calibre about all things design — check out what Murray Bell himself had to say below.
Murray Bell Interview
After the past two years, people are beginning to recognise how crucial their built environment is now more than ever. In terms of general design principles, what’s something you feel the average punter overlooks the importance of when it comes to the everyday spaces they inhabit?
Murray Bell: I think everyone — irrespective of their job or place in the community — is pretty damn special and is on a journey with design and creativity at a varying stage. I don’t see anything special within my environment as reflection of the position of anyone else, and I can easily track through time to recognise the things I did or didn’t acknowledge.
For me, I appreciate the reduction of sensory experiences at moments of the day. Quiet areas in the office that might be out of the way but worth a visit. I think light is important also — natural, warm, and not sterile. Can’t imagine what fluorescent lights would do to my brain…
Is there any design trend or fad you wish you could delete from existence right now? Or, at the very least, have a little less currency.
Murray Bell: Nothing offends me in the form of design, and even if it did, it’s great knowing that there’s likely someone out there that loves it.
A trend I am more interested in seeing these days is this move towards a more hybrid lifestyle and how it’s being expressed through design and technology.
The Samsung Smart Monitor is a great example of this as it really adapts to our new lifestyle norms and incorporates all the aspects of work and entertainment into one design.
We’ve reached a stage where technology and design are virtually inseparable. David McLeod recently told us how NFTs have forced him to reconceptualise how he approaches his art practice; and how he now thinks about his work living beyond the visual. What’s your take on the current landscape?
Murray Bell: It’s exciting. NFTs in their current state are a window into a much broader future. It’s just for the keen eye to see which wormholes will catch on with society and culture.
I’m personally really interested in experiences that go beyond visual design and technology, especially NFTs. Design to me is sensory.
Who are the three greatest creative influences in your life?
Murray Bell: Influence is an interesting notion to me. I can’t say that anyone influences my decisions, and if anything, that question helps me understand what I’m pretty good at — not being influenced by any particular person or object, but instead, I am extremely curious about the decisions people make and how things work. Seeing through the noise to the true essence of things.
For example, we have a group of extremely talented advisors at Semi Permanent. One of whom is Terry Savage, the former Chairman of Cannes Lions. He has a very firm opinion of many things and all based on years of experience, but he has the ability to rub people the wrong way.
Myself, I relish the opportunity to talk with him regularly. I certainly don’t agree with a lot he says, but I see infinite value in hearing his thoughts. That’s only because I open myself up to it.
Murray Bell: That said, I can’t deny Bob Iger, the former CEO of Disney. as someone who I appreciate learning from. His approach and intuition in insisting on creativity underpinning the global media empire he helped build is stunning. His approach to being a CEO is generous, energising, and inspiring.
Ruba Abu-Nimah, the Executive Creative Director I’ve only recently come to meet and know — but she is a woman I looking forward to talking with more — and someone I wish there was more literature on.
Without question though, Virgil Abloh captured my curiosity and heart the most. Across his relatively short career which led to him being appointed Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, his output was prolific. His range was diverse. A close mutual friend of ours said the other day that I reminded her of Virgil, and that stopped me in my tracks. From the limited interactions I had with him, he was a generous and beautiful soul.
Semi Permanent celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Across its entire lifespan, have there been any particularly memorable presentations you still think about to this day? What were some of the standouts – in your opinion – from 2022?
Murray Bell: 20 years of business gives you plenty of time to approach presentations and experiences in different ways. It sets us apart from a lot of contemporaries and has given us an edge in starting the Semi Permanent Studio as opposed to traditional agencies. We get to make good use of our experience, insight, and network for the benefit of our clients.
With that, the Q&A I hosted with Oliver Stone was a big moment. He was fresh from producing his documentary on Vladimir Putin.
Upon reflection, our Banksy exhibition in 2003 was a moment for our attendees to see his work before he became world-renowned.
Karen Elson, who spoke at this year’s event, was eloquent and powerful on the topic of creativity in the face of global challenges.
Our immersive NFT, light, sound, and fragrance experience with Flume was one to remember.
It’s hard for me not to mention the 2,500-piece Radiohead retrospective we hosted, which was accompanied by a bespoke two-week-long soundscape from Thom Yorke.
Where do you see Semi Permanent in another 20 years?
Murray Bell: Unquestionably, the future will be written with experiences. The experience of every touchpoint on your next trip to NYC or the experience of seeing the effect you can have on the environment around you by purchasing a product, and so on.
We’re growing as a business, but with the right opportunities and resources, I can see a future in which “Semi Permanent” evolves to “semi permanent,” and the term becomes synonymous with great experiences. Then we’re in the hot seat to do truly game-changing work.
Samsung was a partner this year to launch the Smart Monitor M8 – what has the partnership with Samsung meant for Semi Permanent?
Murray Bell: It’s a closing-the-loop moment for us. The world has changed radically these last few years and the planet has simultaneously become smaller and bigger. Great technology and creativity go hand in hand and Samsung’s new Smart Monitor M8 is a case study on how to bring the multiple dimensions of life into a single beautiful product.