Jonathan Topf — ustwo Games
Lead designer on Monument Valley 2 by ustwo Games. He took a meandering journey through, film, animation and robotics …
Parents, Graffiti, Music, Code.
I grew up watching my parents' ads, symbols, logotypes, book covers, and record sleeves using different physical tools and hands, years before computers. Extremely inspiring. They made me realize I enjoyed drawing and motivated me to continue with it, which I'm thankful for today. I have a strong memory of when I was around 9-10 years on a 'Pan Am' flight. I sat in the chair drawing the Pan Am logotype on a napkin, improving the logo, hoping someone on the plane would see my "work" and that they’d rebrand the entire company based my cool logo.
Another thing that had a big impact on me as a kid, was the graffiti documentary 'Style Wars'. I remember watching it on TV and getting completely blown away by the whole thing. The playful and colorful shapes, letters, and characters in combination with amazing music. This became my life. I recorded episodes of Yo! MTV Raps and Party Zone and played them non-stop in the background.
Music has been key to almost everything I've accomplished so far. Thanks to my dad who used to be a professional jazz musician, it was easy to fall into the same music obsession. We listened, played, and produced music together from a very young age until my mid-teens. Being exposed to how fascinating music is helped me identify my own taste very fast. It landed in the electronic music category. The electronic scene really bubbled in Sweden in the mid-90s and I designed a lot of flyers for clubs and parties in Stockholm.
The last piece of puzzle that led me to what I do today, happened around the age of 13 when I got a Amiga 500+. The plus at the end is very important. That plus changed my life.
Many of my friends had an Amiga computer. They had all the cool games and I remember playing for hours on this excellent machine. I begged my parents for an identical computer and after many months of begging and whining, I got one. None of the games loaded. Nothing that I was hoping for worked. I was so disappointed but never told my parents about it. The thing was, this damn plus that was supposed to be an upgraded, better computer, forced me to think how to use the machine differently than what I I had imagined. I read about modems and how you could call to someone else's computer. I bought my own a modem and—boom— I was hooked. Day and night, I sat in front of my computer calling ‘BBSes’.
All I could think about was modems and terminals. Many people who were in this scene cared about what the BBSes had to offer. Not me. I cared about how it looked and felt using them. I remember looking at the way the more “elite” BBSes were designed using simple text and characters. Sentences were spelled like "eNTeR YoUR nAMe" and the name of the BBSes were designed using keyboard characters. The name of the style was "Amiga" or "Oldskool" ASCII art. This is where my input to the scene landed. I designed ASCII art for tons of BBSes. I also developed my own terminal software, and later my own BBS software that I gave away for free. The funny thing is, that work is almost identical to what I do today. Branding, coding and designing digital products—25+ years laters.
Outside of work, I live a routine-based life. At work, there are no routines.
Various music equipment. Leica M, Pen and paper, Ableton, Sketch, Sublime.
Aural: Plect, clubs
Visual: Pinterest, galleries
For everything else: Family, friends, and nature.
I feel overwhelmed by all the new rational products, services, and tools out there that are supposed to make our lives easier. Right now, I'm trying to find things that touch me emotionally. At the moment, I'm totally “snowed-in,” as we say in Sweden, into the art world. Finding talent and inspiration on e.g Artsy, Swedish Bukowskis, Lauritz, physical galleries, and exhibitions. Also the work from Zach Lieberman and Sarah Ancelle Schönfeld always inspires.
One thing I remember I immediately wanted on my phone was the AR version of Street Fighter II I saw somewhere—mostly because it looked great and brought me back many years.
Creating Grid—A—Licious (A jQuery plugin)
Creating Dropular (An image bookmarking tool)
Designing Beats Music (A music app)
Redesigning and designing Pinterest (An app full of inspiration and ideas)
Creating PLECT (A music discovery app)
I’m rather new at Soundtrack. I’ve been here about two months and the challenge for me is to get to know everyone and learn everything that’s been done until today. I have been charged with a tough job, to evolve our brand.
Never ever forget what brought you to what you used to be excited about. It's so damn easy to fall into the wrong path in life, especially your career. Document what and when you got inspired. Skip the negative stuff—only focus on the good things. This will help you identify your path moving forward faster and easier.
I'm in the early stage of setting up a new art exhibition project that I hope will go live in October. If you’re interested to learn more about it—follow me on Instagram.