Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell give their insights to Ruth Hamilton on life as part of Pentagram, and why they still like to take the long way round on projects
Luke Powell and Jody HudsonPowell give their insights on life as part of Pentagram
Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell’s approach to design has been to come up with a great idea, then teach themselves the skills they might need to bring it to life. This willingness to explore and embrace new technologies has led to an incredibly diverse portfolio of work, and often sees the brothers melding together different processes to reach their final outcome.
In late 2015, the brothers became partners at Pentagram, where they’ve been able to apply their unique approach to bigger projects and higher-profile clients. We caught up with the duo after their talk at OFFSET Dublin to find out how life has changed since joining the world-leading design consultancy.
Since joining Pentagram, you’ve worked on the identity schemes for a couple of seasons of London Fashion Week (LFW). Where do you start with each season?
Luke Powell: When the project came about they had this need to unify all three of the events [LFW, LFW Men’s and LFW Festival] because they were becoming more and more separated – yet they needed their own individual identities. Then we have these loose themes that get us kick-started on an idea. Last season was ‘discovery’ and this season is a bit more about gender equality.
Jody Hudson-Powell: It has to be fairly loose because it’s an umbrella of so many people doing so many different things. It’s about an energy more than being too topical.
That branding extended across lots of different touchpoints. Were there any applications that worked particularly well?
LP: After doing the first one we understood that, ‘Yes you guys have lots of screens, it’s really worth pushing how motion works within this identity’. This season it was part of the way we thought about the whole identity right from the start. We actually threw ideas out early on that we really liked because we realised that they weren’t going to be successful in motion.
What do you think motion brings to an identity that a static scheme can’t?
LP: You could say it only adds something if it’s necessary, and if there’s a place for it to live. When you’re working with something like LFW and a very large amount of our opportunity is
“Motion can become part of a palette for expressing something about a brand”
with screens, motion can become a behaviour of that identity. It becomes part of a palette for expressing something about that brand.
JH: You can infer a lot by the way something behaves and moves, which allows you to not be as brash with the other elements you’re showing. We work quite hard with figuring out what the pace of the brand is, what’s right for it. Would it move in a very fast and quick way or is it soft and fluid? If you start to land those kind of things, then you can just use a bit of motion and fewer of the other elements and you’re still making it feel that it’s come from that brand.
For your Graphcore branding, you built a shape generator the internal team could use to create assets. How did you feel about handing over control of the identity like that?
JH: Graphcore didn’t have any internal design resource – they’re a bunch of engineers trying to do something really fucking complicated. So in that moment it’s necessary to create useful things they can work with and they can generate themselves. If you don’t do that they end up not knowing how to use this expensive thing they’ve just bought from a design company, and finding Creative Commons imagery to use in its place.
The shape generator is partly random and partly weighted. Did you feel a risk in leaving some of the identity scheme up to chance?
JH: That’s great for us. We love it. We initially created the tool internally to allow us to work with the pattern we’d conceived. It’s actually quite hard for humans to iterate with lots
of randomness, so it was taking a long time crafting every single piece. There’s a lot of things that are very considered about it, like shapes and colour and how small the grid can get and how big the grid can get, but within that very prescribed set of parameters there’s a nice texture that comes from random; there’s a kind of unconsidered consideredness.
The other thing is when it doesn’t work the user just doesn’t save it. There’s still a human at the end of the process who’s gauging whether it feels right or wrong.
On a number of projects you seem to take a complex route to quite a simple final outcome. Do clients ever question your efficiency?
LP: I suppose we pick our clients for those sorts of things! That’s one of the fantastic things about Pentagram – as long as we’re turning over what we need to be profitable, there’s a freedom to work on whatever project we would like to. There’s also this creative responsibility to be doing interesting work.
JH: A lot of the time we kind of take the hit on that. Sometimes we’re just doing that stuff in the background and the client doesn’t need to feel it, but it means we’re working in a way that feels interesting, and that we’re pushing our ways of working.
You’re also pushing boundaries in print…
LP: We’ve recently done a really interesting project on a book called Watch This Space. It started with our relationship with a printer called Boss Print, who had this idea floating around of adding violet to CMYK to get a five-colour process. The book’s about screen-based art and obviously RGB has a wider colour gamut than CMYK does, so this was a really interesting print process to use.
On top of that the book has this 2mm thick plastic on the front and the back. The whole thing feels like a VHS or an iPad, to represent the materiality of the hardware.
“At Pentagram we can do the great idea and stay really involved with the client and see it through”
When you’re working with cutting-edge tech, does it worry you that the speed of progress might mean your designs date quicker?
JH: We use a lot of technology as a vehicle for a larger creative thought, which hopefully means we don’t fall into any of the obvious trends that can accompany new pieces of technology.
We slightly had that worry with Graphcore, because we’d been playing with some machine learning stuff and we could have gone down that route to create the identity. But the field is moving so, so fast that anything we could make with our rudimentary understanding would feel dated within a nanosecond. So we took a different position which is: it’s reflective of the technology but it’s not born from the technology.
Your portfolio is very diverse in terms of disciplines. Has it always been like that?
JH: It’s funny, when we first started we had probably three different folios: a design folio, a digital folio and a motion thing. It was only through us taking the long road round – where motion and interactivity could feed into print, and so on – that we had proof [it] was the right way of doing work. Over time we’ve blended all of these things together.
What do people come to you for as a studio?
JH: Sometimes we still have to put on our design hat or our digital hat, but for the most part we quite quickly try and move into a more comfortable position where we can use all our skills, and we’re just having a creative conversation and trying to solve something.
LP: We very much think the only responsible way to be as a design practice is to be able to think about all the possible mediums. Without considering all the places something might exist, you’re cutting off options for what might be the best solution. So many students are coming out of college with these great, mixed portfolios, which is fantastic because it feels like that didn’t really exist when we were leaving college.
JH: For us it’s really important – it’s the way that we feel comfortable working, across all of these different mediums. [At Pentagram] we’re working with bigger clients and it allows us to reach the edges of what that business does. We don’t need to hand it over to a third party or find other agencies, we can do the great idea and stay really involved with the client and see it through to all those points at which it’s actually going to meet somebody. LP: We might just be control freaks actually. JH: I never thought about it like that.
Above: For 10 years Jody and Luke successfully ran their own studio, Hudson-Powell, taking on everything from branding and motion graphics to immersive experiences and art pieces.
This page: Luke and Jody have created identity schemes for two seasons of London Fashion Week, with two more to follow. The aim is to unify the three events while giving each their own individual identity, and reflecting the umbrella theme for that season. The number of screens at the events means motion plays a key role in the schemes.
This page: The pair have a history of pushing boundaries in print. Watch This Space is a book by Francesca Gavin that explores the impact of screens on society. Luke and Jody used an innovative print process that added violet into the CMYK profile, as well as adding a 2mm thick plastic over the cover, giving the book the feel of a VHS or iPad.
This page: The Garden Museum is dedicated to gardening and the culture surrounding it. The pair created a visual identity that felt organic. “We don’t always distinguish between moving or still things,” comments Jody. “We think even the still stuff should reflect the behaviours that happen through time.”