Cole Townsend — Thoughtbot
A product designer based in Boston with a knack for visuals. He also builds things using HTML / CSS, ReactJS, and …
In the beginning, design tools were a quick win for me to get my artwork done at university where I was studying fine art. There was no need for brushes or pens, no need to wrap a canvas around a frame. I could scribble digitally, cut and paste, make mistakes and claim them as my own doing. In actuality, I was using design tools for something other than what I had thought they were there for. The medium was totally new to me and I loved it, and I quickly became obsessed with creating this way.
I had come across artists like Stanley don Wood, David Cason and Non-Format who seemed to be blurring the lines of what was art and what was design. They inspired me to keep producing, and they also introduced me to the notion of repurposing my art, not in a gallery, but on the covers of magazines, album covers and t-shirts. I was heavily involved in the local skate scene back then, and denounced to me at the time, I had started to question why the messages I was consuming through skate culture resonated with me. I now realise that this was the precursor to me asking why people follow brands, and what it means to belong to ‘tribes’.
The skaters I was hanging around with were also artists, film makers, writers and musicians. One in particular introduced me to the editor of the student magazine- he was well read and an obsessive music head. We hit it off immediately, and he invited me to create the covers of our student magazine each month. There began my love of graphic design, I started to understand the power of ‘the message’ and branding. I had found design within skateboarding and was able to practice my art through a mixture of typography, storytelling and design. I quickly changed course and chose to continue my studies at university as a graphic designer, but always retained that fine art temperament of asking why, to have a reason for everything I created. This mindset would later shape me into the designer and company owner that I am today.
Right now it’s a bit different than how it used to be with the current situation and us all stuck at home. I used to travel a lot with work, and I would be back and forth between Hamburg and Berlin on a weekly basis. The main office for the current DB project is based there, so I would spend two days there and be back in Hamburg the rest of the week.
While running the Hyperfocus studio and directing at DB, I share my time between my home office and our design studio. We are big on rituals so a typical day would start with a standup, and team members of projects will meet to share what they will be doing that day. We also have our weekly planning on Mondays, and have UI/UX design check-ins throughout the week. Break out sessions are also typical on projects and encouraged. There can be a sense of spontaneity there, which is really great for the teams.
I typically have a lot of feedback rounds with other designers on our projects during the day. At the moment, I do a lot of planning and generate ideas for our social media channels at Hyperfocus. My day can consist of many things- from talking to developers, to springboard with other designers to test new features on products, or simply presenting work to clients.
I have two at the moment. We have a pretty spacious studio that is situated in an old warehouse with high ceilings and big old windows, which we love! We all sit around a big table together, and we share the space with a few other independent studios. There's eight of us working there, and we all work in the creative industry, which creates a really great and vibrant space. Then there is my home office, a corner at the back of our flat, surrounded by design books, sneakers and collectable toys. This is my little sanctuary and recently, it has become more and more important due to COVID. It’s a now a space I use to film videos for our YouTube channel.
These days, I am inspired a lot by creators on YouTube, because I get to see people shape and craft their passions. The people that I have subscribed to for the last few years have gained more followers, and have visually improved their disciplines right before my eyes. This inspired me, and has given me the confidence to present our work and our story in the same way. We want to give back and help to empower others through the skills we have collectively learnt over the years, which is something we are passionate about at Hyperfocus.
People like Peter McKinnon and Matti Haapoja are creators that not only help me to learn new things, but they inspire me to create content. They are also entrepreneurs who are just doing what they love, starting business and building the things they believe in, and it really inspires me! I would also like to give honourable mentions to a few studios and artists that have also had a huge impact on me whilst on the come up… Paula Scher, Designers Republic, Collins, Nigo, Para, Kaws and Jean-Michel Basquiat to name but a few.
I am not so retrospective about my work. I tend to focus on what’s going on at the moment and the products I am working on. I am particularly proud of the team, the apps, and the design system that has been developed over at Deutsche Bahn. If I was to look back over my portfolio of work though, there are a few that stand out as landmark projects for me.
Developing the branding for Coca Cola and the Olympic Games with my childhood heroes, the ATTIK, is one for sure! Being part of the team that developed the streetwear label BENCH is something I remember fondly. My first range of skateboard graphics I did for a local skate brand was a dream come true. Being part of the very small team that developed the app, brand and concept for one of the most successful media platforms for young content creators in Germany called FUNK. Most recently though, it has to be starting Hyperfocus with my good friend, Jan, has to be up there at the top of my list.
We are developing a very different approach to developing brands and experiences. We are using methods discovered from other industries, so the difficulty here is not the implementation, but more so convincing people this is a good thing. We are using our social media channels to take a deeper dive into parts of the process to make it very transparent on what it is we do. Once you’re in, it's easy to see how efficient and fun it is to work like this. Challenges that we will face moving forward will be how to scale the business and grow a consistent culture that reflects the foundation that we are laying down now.
These are all all super exciting things though, and we currently have so many things that we want to share and talk about. We look forward to all the exciting challenges that unfold as we work with new and exciting startups and established brands during the upcoming years.
That’s quite a question that I can't really answer. I have such a broad music taste. It can be anything from UK hip hop to minimal glitchy sounds, Afro beats, Ethiopian Jazz, and all the way to folk and broken beats. I generally use my time working to actually explore new music. Because I was a DJ for many years, have quite the collection of music. Music and design is my happy place.
I would say stay true to what you love. Don’t be in this game for recognition or to be a superstar designer, because if that does happen, it’s not you who decides that any way. Humility and integrity go a long way as a designer, stay humble and remember to always listen. Be consistent in what you do and above all don’t be scared to fail as your failures are actually your strength. Always be inquisitive and strive to be better than you were yesterday. Think of your career as a journey and not as a race, and focus on being the best you can be today because the present is the only place you have control over if you want to shape who you will become.
HYPERFOCUS / Lean Digital Branding
I would love to plug Hyperfocus and everything we are doing over there. Hyperfocus was born out of shared experiences over the past fifteen years in brand and digital product development. We had noticed that brands, especially digital brands, were stuck in the dark ages when it came to work flow and brand development. I had experienced a growth in tooling and process like I had never seen before in such a short span of time. The whole UX and UI scene has exploded, using sprint methods, workshop culture, validation and new types of tooling. We soon realized that with the rise of studios like AJ&Smart and Neon Sprints that we, too, could apply these techniques to branding and break the traditional approach that still dominates the market today. It made so much sense! Because the client would be heavily involved and validated along the way, it would make for much better experience during decision making. We could create a service that could be packaged in a way that empowered the people we work with and deliver branding that would allow our clients to ‘Own their own brand’.
The startup scene is something that both of us are passionate about. We want to help people with great ideas, turn those ideas into a reality. We also want to give back! This is important to us, so we are also giving away years of industry knowledge on our YouTube channel and also on Instagram. If you enjoyed this article, it would be an absolute pleasure to have you as part of our community over at Hyperfocus. Links to our channels are down below, and a huge shout out to Lovers Magazine for giving me the chance to talk about my weird and wonderful career so far. I hope this inspires you somehow to go out and follow your dreams and try to make them a reality!