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

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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.”

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