A conversation with Talia Cotton

Published by Tim on Tuesday April 9, 2024


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During OFFF Festival here in Barcelona, many interesting people come around! This interview with Talia Cotton came about almost by coincidence and super spontaneously. She came to our studio space Glashaus in Poblenou and we had a great conversation about designers who code, her studio Cotton Design, teaching and much more.

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Transcript (generated with happyscribe)

[00:01:07.820] – Tim

Thank you for joining here. We are in the Glasshouse right now, which is my co-working. Beautiful space. This is a super improvisable That’s the setup, by the way. I told you about that. But there’s my computer. Hello, guys. Hi. You are on my computer. I have this phone. I don’t know if I should put this phone here, maybe.

[00:01:24.690] – Talia

It’s very resourceful. Let’s just assume it’s going to work. It looks like the soundbars are- Check, check, check, check.

[00:01:30.540] – Tim

Hello. Great. I don’t want to scream, but I think it’s going to work. Maybe I’ll put it a little bit further to me. No, I don’t do that because the table is going to break. Anyway, great. When did you land?

[00:01:44.780] – Talia

I got here just a few hours ago. I took a little nap. I took a few meetings, and then I came on here because you texted me.

[00:01:51.830] – Tim

A few meetings before this meeting? Yeah. Okay. There’s a lot of stuff going on for you, right?

[00:01:56.750] – Talia

Always, but I love it.

[00:01:57.910] – Tim

That’s cool. Yeah. You found a studio?

[00:02:02.040] – Talia

I did. A little over a year ago. We had our first birthday last month. We’re a little baby right now, and it’s going great. We’re big baby.

[00:02:11.300] – Tim

Amazing. That’s so cool. You have how many people working there now?

[00:02:14.570] – Talia

We’ve got two designer coders who love what they do, which is the best part of my job.

[00:02:20.830] – Tim

So you are now a CEO?

[00:02:23.590] – Talia

Let’s call it executive creative director. I’ll be comfortable saying that when I have maybe multiple things going on, then I’ll feel more like a boss.

[00:02:33.010] – Tim

Also, how do you say in English, the Jack of all traits, that’s how I am as well? There you go. Doing everything yourself. Sometimes I source a lot of work out as well. Yeah, it’s a lot. I can imagine. But I love your work since a long time already. You’ve been at Pentagram before already, right?

[00:02:49.220] – Talia

Yeah, I did three years at Pentagram. Cool. Then I did my own thing.

[00:02:53.890] – Tim

Cool. Nice. How did they react when you said you’d leave?

[00:02:58.280] – Talia

That’s a good question. They were diplomatic. I think a lot of them saw it coming. I think it was no surprise. The year before I left, I had already been doing so many things outside of Pentagram. I was giving talks everywhere, doing external projects that were sometimes getting more publicity than the projects I was doing at Pentagram. There was a little internal stuff I had asked for. We were talking about what that would mean for my role at Pentagram. It just made sense because there It wasn’t really the right role carved out for someone like me, the designer coder, the boss, the leader, that thing.

[00:03:36.170] – Tim

Okay. I have to catch up on this because this is very interesting. It’s something that I observe a lot in the industry. Yeah. Okay. Cool. And then you now feel more like, liberated? Is it like something you can do your own thing?

[00:03:49.950] – Talia

Yes and no. Yes, definitely. I can do my own thing. At Pentagram, I was already doing my own thing. I was in a very special position there I was on two teams. Oftentimes, I didn’t have to run my work by Michael Beirut or Georgia Lupi before I showed it to the client. I was very client-facing. I was leading pretty much every project that was on. So I still had the flexibility there, and I had the leadership there, the autonomy there. But I think that still, I liked the idea of creating a space where I could focus almost 100 % of my attention on this new thing of designing using code as the primary medium. And so far it’s been great. So far it’s been exactly what I wanted.

[00:04:36.840] – Tim

That’s amazing. I have three questions in mind. I have to decide which one I ask next. So maybe let’s talk quickly about this gap between technology and design, which is like it’s existing everywhere. That’s my feeling right now. So how did you pitch ideas that are built based on code to a branding project?

[00:04:57.080] – Talia

Yeah. And the gap is not to abort your question for a second. The gap is getting smaller. It’s a lot smaller now than it was one year ago and a lot smaller than it was five years ago. When I first started out, there was no such thing as a designer who coded. And now everyone who’s graduating college knows how to code. So that gap is getting smaller, but there’s still there’s a gap in the education of the senior designers and the creative directors because they didn’t have the coding. So there’s that figure out. What was your question again?

[00:05:33.430] – Tim

Actually, you already answered. No, wait, you’re done. I was asking you how you pitched an idea that was based on code, let’s say, an identity project or something.

[00:05:45.390] – Talia

It all comes down to, don’t use the C word. Don’t say, Oh, and by the way, this is code. It’s like saying… Coding is, at the end of the day, it’s just the design medium. It’s just the way that you make what you’re making. When you’re pitching to a client, it’s saying, Oh, and this next direction is made with stigma. No one cares. You have to sell the idea, say, This is what’s so great about it, and this is why this represents your mission, or this is how it’s going to speak to your audiences. And then at the very end, they say, That’s great. It looks like it’ll be hard to make. How do you do it? And then the Snap is like, Oh, by the way, we already have this generator tool that we use to make this presentation for you. So it’s done. It’s coded. And that gets people excited about it and ease up at the idea that something is in this mysterious medium that they don’t know about.

[00:06:42.960] – Tim

That’s interesting. But does it mean you have to put a lot of effort into the project before you create the presentation? Compared to using a GUI tool like Figma.

[00:06:53.080] – Talia

Yeah. We do some presentations where we show eight different concepts, and every single one of those concepts is a different coded direction. And that sounds really daunting. That sounds really crazy. It takes two weeks to put together a presentation. You have to do eight different coding things. But I think, luckily, I think that’s where that gap is getting a little bit closed up now is that I’m pushing my team to be that fast at coding. And it’s scrappy. It’s a little bit like pushing things. But I think if the concept is good, The code will come. You can fill the gaps in how you talk about it. But you do a lot of coding.

[00:07:39.250] – Tim

That makes sense. I have a course in my curriculum, which is called sketching strategies, which is all about actually It has nothing to do with coding, but how to organize your files, how to put your ideas to your, let’s say, hard drive, how to name them, how to create derivatives of an idea and have a very fluid process. Because sometimes I see some students just working on one sketch All the time changing things, and then they forget like, Oh, wait, I didn’t save the other stage. I can imagine that when you work with your team on coded ideas, you have a big repository of things you already did, right?

[00:08:13.660] – Talia

Yeah. It always starts out with no code. It starts out with we’re all around a table, and we’re just like any design prompt, you brainstorm ideas just using words like, Okay, how do we represent this abstract idea using visual concepts, but then also using coded concepts, like interactivity and generativity? Then we have a ridiculous repository with a million different folders. And we usually do one branch for some reason because it’s nice to just have everyone’s work in one place. But we end up having a single default unstyled HTML landing page with links out to eight different directions and 10 different iterations on one direction just to see it moving along.

[00:08:56.750] – Tim

That’s great.

[00:08:57.560] – Talia

I love that.

[00:08:58.120] – Tim

That’s amazing. That’s so cool.

[00:09:00.130] – Talia

It’s a lot of fun. It’s really a lot of fun. We have, and then we have, of course, we have the slack channel with all of our coding mistakes. So it’s really light-hearted and fun.

[00:09:08.520] – Tim

That means you post happy little accidents to it and say, Hey, look at this. I completely crashed it. That’s amazing. I love that. It’s super, super cool. It’s super fun. Okay. Yeah, that’s great. I had a question in mind. I just forgot it. My goodness. It was a good question. I’m sure it was. I hate forgetting good questions. I agree.

[00:09:30.380] – Talia

It’ll come back to you.

[00:09:32.090] – Tim

Yeah, true. So that’s great. I have the feeling that the whole thing gets way more popular. Things get really fast right now. My personal thesis is that this has a lot to do with AI. People started because before this AI shock, that’s how I call it, the thing that happened 2022, when people started to see that there’s a command line, like an interface where you can prompt things. This was mind-blowing for many people. I mean, we as coders knew some of the stuff probably before I did. I was on some blog checking on that. But I see that the students even adapt the esthetics. It was unimaginable years before. They adapt this coded esthetic. I love that. I think it’s really important. How do you perceive that?

[00:10:23.870] – Talia

For the coded esthetic using AI?

[00:10:27.160] – Tim

No. Coded esthetics in general and Graphic Design?

[00:10:31.980] – Talia

Well, I actually, I think I teach against that. And it’s not to say that I am inherently against it. It’s just the methodology I use is with every single design tool out there, you’re going to gravitate more towards what is easy. What is easy in code is, say, something like a for loop. You do something 100 times, and it’s an easy thing to do. Got it. And one of the things that I constantly push my students to look past is, don’t do something just because it’s easy with code, come up with a really smart idea. Sometimes it’s just one line of code that’s a smart line of code. Then that’s where people look at it and they’re like, Oh, wow, that makes sense to me. It’s not just like, That looks cool or that looks coded. It’s like, Oh, I see what that means. That’s my own personal philosophy on coding with design. I see that there’s a whole other world of just exploring what that coded esthetic is and how that’s also pushing the boundary of design. I just look at it a little differently.

[00:11:29.460] – Tim

I I love that. I think that’s something that also gets clear in your work from my point of view. When I see, I was just surfing your website and your Instagram channel, I see that you are pretty much having the simplicity in these things. And let’s say complexity is easy with code, but simplicity is difficult, right? That’s right. That’s really, really cool. Okay, that’s great. How do the students react to your statement that they have to use code to create graphic design?

[00:11:59.750] – Talia

They are petrified. I think what every coding student has in common is that they all think they’re the worst in the class. And what I do on the first day of every class Of my advanced class is I give them a pop quiz, and then I- A pop quiz?

[00:12:21.000] – Tim

What is a pop quiz?

[00:12:22.140] – Talia

A quiz is an unexpected quiz that they don’t have time to study for, where I give them a few different coding prompts just to see where they are. And then I make them do a a challenge where they all write five lines of code in a group, and then they switch, and then they go to someone else’s computer, and it throws them off. At the very end of the class, I say, How many of you feel extremely intimidated right now? Or I say, How many of you are impressed by your classmates today? And they all raise their hand. Then I say, How many of you are extremely intimidated? And they all raise their hand. I say, Well, that doesn’t add up. You can’t be impressed by everyone around you and also be intimidated because that math doesn’t a few. A lot of it is just encouraging them a little bit more, and it’s an ego boost. I like to let them lean into what they want to do, what their art direction is, and how they want to do it with code. I’m there almost as a boost to help them strategize and make it happen.

[00:13:19.890] – Talia

But a little bit, I’m trying to make them come up with the concepts themselves.

[00:13:24.260] – Tim

That’s not great. You asked them to create own concepts. What concept could that be? Like an identity or?

[00:13:32.260] – Talia

Yeah. In my advanced class, it’s… Go ahead.

[00:13:37.500] – Tim

Some water. Do you need water? I do.

[00:13:39.200] – Talia

I was going to… I think this is fine. Okay. Thank you.

[00:13:41.770] – Tim

No worries. Maybe I take a quick look at the curve here. Session two. Talia and Tim on the sofa at Glasshouse. Amazing. Okay. So we’re talking about teaching. Yeah. What do you enjoy more? Teaching Are you working on working for clients or working on our project, own projects?

[00:14:03.370] – Talia

I think it depends on the day. In general, I love the work that we do. I love the agency life. I love working on client work. I’m weird in that regard, I think. I think most designers don’t like clients. I think the people skills is half of the job, and understanding what they need, even if they can’t articulate it. Some people are really hard to do that. So I love that side of things. I don’t know which one I like. I think I like working more, but don’t tell my students that. You are life. But I love teaching. I love It’s hard. It’s hard. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I would never quit.

[00:14:48.740] – Tim

I have to say, when I’m in Elisaba, for example, I’m teaching there, sometimes I feel like the first hour is okay. The second hour is a disaster. It becomes a disaster. I feel very exhausted. Oh, my God. Do you feel the same?

[00:14:59.690] – Talia

No, never.

[00:15:00.410] – Tim

Because my perception is that the class is full of different personalities. Yeah. That’s teaching. Yeah. With different skill levels. And when I explain, for example, especially life coding stuff, it’s very difficult for me to find the common ground, right? To find out, Okay, how far can I get? And who are those people that I lose right now? And sometimes I feel like, Okay, I wrote this line of code, maybe a four loop, and I see, Okay, I lost Sophia. I lost Michael. At that point. That’s something I have a… I feel like I have a radar for this thing.

[00:15:36.620] – Talia

It’s good to have that radar. Do you feel that sometimes you tend to teach too easy or do you tend to teach too hard?

[00:15:47.640] – Tim

Too easy, I guess.

[00:15:48.980] – Talia

I’m the opposite.

[00:15:50.480] – Tim

You are American.

[00:15:52.420] – Talia

I am American. I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, though.

[00:15:55.920] – Tim

I don’t know. I know a lot of teachers in America who teach easy.

[00:16:01.090] – Talia

I have an ongoing argument with an old teacher of mine who underestimates his students, and I tend to overestimate that.

[00:16:09.920] – Tim

I think this is an interesting topic because I guess there is a difference between the students in the US and in Europe.

[00:16:19.060] – Talia


[00:16:19.630] – Tim

Because in the US, well, it doesn’t really apply to Elisaba, maybe, but in Germany, I’ve been teaching in many different universities there. My feeling is, first of all, they are not sensibilized for the power of coding anyway. For them, coding is like something super weird. I try to push them to make them aware of the culture, aware of things that are really interesting about, that things they can learn beyond writing code into a code editor. This is something I find super important. But my feeling is it changed a lot in the last years. But how I started to teach was like, Okay, there’s this alien guy who wants us to do something ridiculous. We have to write code, which is… That’s how I felt a little bit. I tried to make it as cool as possible, make programming cool again, which is a weird I don’t think to say these days. It’s hard sometimes. But I don’t know. It’s difficult.

[00:17:22.600] – Talia

It’s interesting, the American versus European student thing. I’ve given a few workshops for European students and given a few talks But I guess I don’t know enough of that dichotomy.

[00:17:33.870] – Tim

Probably the places where you’ve been are not represented for the mass of different universities. So I’ve been teaching it like bigger ones, but also smaller ones. And the smaller ones have the problem That means that they are very regionally organized. That means they have to actually cover lots of things with just a few teachers, and they’re not really specialized or don’t have a strong profile, I guess.

[00:17:58.250] – Talia

I find that I’m just replaying all of the different universities I’ve been to and taught at, roughly. And I think what it comes down to really is getting them excited about seeing what the product can be in something that they recognize. I think it helps if it’s just like an… And this continues the theme that we keep coming back to is that if it’s just like an isolated cool thing encoding a for loop or just something that looks cool, It’s not as effective as you can make this logo or you can make this poster, or you can make this graphic and apply it in a context that the design students are like, Oh, this is something that I’m working on in my other class, and this is a way to make it a little bit more anchored. So again, it always comes down to what are those projects and how do you encourage that coding is just the tool to get there, and it’s just a different a tool.

[00:18:55.410] – Tim

To be honest, you make me really think about the the outlines of my upcoming classes because maybe my students know that. But I always have been emphasizing the liberty of more playing around, experimenting with the things without having a very clear concept because they already do that in all their classes. But what you tell me, it sounds really interesting. I’m in doubt with my ideas right now with that.

[00:19:28.380] – Talia

I think they a little bit of both. I know at Parsons where I teach, I have another colleague who teaches another class. Do you know John Provencher? Do you know his work?

[00:19:40.480] – Tim

I love his work.

[00:19:41.330] – Talia

Yeah. We’re very close. We work together a while. He and I are polar opposites in our coding philosophy, in the outputs. His esthetic looks very different from my esthetic, right? Absolutely. The way that he teaches, because we have a lot of the same students, is a little bit more like, Just see what comes, lean into this thing and just lean into it. I think it’s good for the students to have both perspectives.

[00:20:07.100] – Tim

It’s like the good cop, bad cop thing, right?

[00:20:10.370] – Talia

Maybe, yeah. Who’s the bad cop?

[00:20:12.660] – Tim

In this case, I would say it’s you.

[00:20:15.850] – Talia

Yeah, you need a good bad cup. Yeah. I want to tell you, though, just to plant ideas on how that advanced class goes, because it ends up being really effective. On the On the first day of class, we ask… They already know the basics of coding. On the first day of class, we do the whole spiel of, Well, why do we code? Of course, you have to do that on day one. That’s great. Always. And they were like, Oh, the gap in the design world, and maybe you get a higher salary. And some of them are like, Interactivity? And then I really push them. And then what it comes down to is there’s two buckets of why designers should Three buckets of why designers should code. The first bucket is career, and that’s stupid. We don’t care about that in the class for the sake of the class, like higher pay or whatever, or to close that gap. We push that one aside. The second bucket is that coding can do things in design, can create new possibilities in design, in form, and in function. That’s where we talk about coding can be interactive, coding can be automated, coding can be generative, coding can be adaptive, responsive, adaptive, coding can be all the things that visually come out of code.Flexible.

[00:21:35.080] – Tim

Visual systems in.Yes, there you go.

[00:21:37.220] – Talia

That’s that second bucket. Then we say the assumption going into this advanced class is that you already know how to do the second bucket, is that you know how to make design interactive and generative and all these different things. The third bucket, which is the difficult one, is using those new possibilities in form and function, using those outputs, and channeling them into something that has greater meaning and impact. So that’s where we talk about how brands today, they want to… Brands and designs and organizations and communication design starts to need to represent the concept of diversity. And then we say, Okay, well, how can you do diversity? Well, we have generative coding. So generative, maybe you start to channel that into something that looks like it represents diverse voices or brands that want to show that they evolve over time. So then we say, okay, use an API and make it timed with some data, and then you have something that evolves over time. It’s relevant. We talk about design empathy and how you can use interactivity to literally use the user as part of the design, and that creates empathy in the output of the design.

[00:22:42.420] – Talia

And the list goes on. It’s an ever-growing list. And throughout the semester, we build on that list of what are those new possibilities in meaning and impact that benefit from those possibilities in form and in function in that second bucket. And it’s interesting.

[00:22:58.840] – Tim

That’s very interesting. I think I see a fourth element there, which is, to be honest, for me, coding had nothing to do with just making design. It was more about thinking about the word, right? So Creative coding or actually programming in general enabled me to think, to explore new territories of thinking. I started to think through programming and learning, Okay, this how the things work. The very basic elements. I started to think way more critically about digital structures. I was getting more into web development. I was able to build my own platform, to liberate myself from all the tools that we have out there, which are actually funneling the the the the outcomes into a specific direction. So I just perceive learning to code as a very liberating thing. Also, something that just brought me into, let’s say, philosophical spheres that I never, like I never dreamt that this is existing. I found this super interesting. To use all these, explore all these new ways of looking at digital, at software.

[00:24:14.790] – Talia

It’s an infinite tool.

[00:24:16.970] – Tim

Yeah, but it’s not really related to design. So that’s probably why it’s outside of the three bucket thing you mentioned.

[00:24:24.050] – Talia

Would you separate in this conversation, are you separating, I guess, creating creative outputs from the bucket term design?

[00:24:33.840] – Tim

No. Okay.

[00:24:35.620] – Talia

No, no, no. So when you say it’s not design, what is it?

[00:24:38.430] – Tim

Well, it was stupid what I said. I think it doesn’t make any sense anymore to me. I was just thinking of that and it was stupid.

[00:24:47.850] – Talia

Not necessarily.

[00:24:49.050] – Tim

Well, let me think. Well, for me, I don’t know. I don’t know. What do you think? How does it- What you…

[00:24:58.310] – Talia

So what you’re describing me, and this might be just we’re getting to something. To me, that sounds like the second bucket. It sounds like the new things you can do, the new outputs, the visual outputs, the things that you see. But for you, it sounds like it’s not just visual, right? It’s also structural.

[00:25:18.050] – Tim

Well, I think I look at it a little bit more holistic. For me personally, and of course, you can have the same experience with different things as well, with sports, with reading, with whatever. But I met amazing people. I made friendships. I built a community. I make my living from teaching. All these things are, for me, in a retrospective, the reason why I got it, even though I didn’t know that these things are going to happen. I see. So I look at it like- I see.

[00:25:46.520] – Talia

It’s like a path, something that- Oh, my God. Yeah.

[00:25:49.620] – Tim

That I follow and that I really enjoy. And I love the people that, for example, when I study communication design, it’s bachelor’s. Later, I made my master in media art, but my bachelor in communication design was very… Everybody was hiding their ideas from the others. Yeah. Right? Like, very protective and it was very isolated. But what I experienced when I came in touch with the programmers, I loved this mindset of sharing, of hacking, of thinking differently, thinking about things as systems. That’s what motivates me so much to teach.

[00:26:26.130] – Talia

I think you and I are in a very special special part of design history because, and I’m sure you relate to this, that the type of people who like to design and code, or create with code, I guess we’ll say, they have a certain way of thinking. They are the ones who love the creative outputs, but they also love the systematic thinking. And until this year or until the last 5, 10 years, that this was a new way of designing, there wasn’t really a role in design or in the world for people who like to think that way. The roots were like, Okay, you could become an architect, or you could become an old-school designer. But there really wasn’t that thing that… I know personally, when I was in high school, I loved math, and I love creative.

[00:27:17.700] – Tim

I love that. I saw your scribbles on your Instagram of your math formulas.

[00:27:21.230] – Talia

That’s crazy. If you told high school me that I would be using math on a daily basis and also making really beautiful things, I would have died. I would have been like, How is that possible? That’s insane. I don’t believe you. Because it didn’t exist back then, and now it’s a thing. And it’s very exciting.

[00:27:40.380] – Tim

That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s amazing.

[00:27:42.820] – Talia

I think what you’re describing, it sounds like, maybe I’m romanticizing it, but you know about the whole New York in the 1960s, Andy Warhol and all of that creative energy and also the fun? That’s what we’re doing, but with code, right? Oh, my gosh.

[00:27:59.810] – Tim

That’s amazing.

[00:28:01.860] – Talia

We were romanticizing it, but it’s nice to think about.

[00:28:04.540] – Tim

In a way, well, when I think back when I started, I think I started to creative coding with processing. I, of course, I did some things with technology before, but 2014, And I was working as a web developer after my studies, and I had some friends who they had funded studios. And from that moment, that top-bottom relationship started with designers. As soon as I started to say, Okay, from now on, I love WordPress. I love working on websites. Because for me, WordPress, for example, was a tool of liberation. I know they are much cooler frameworks, but that was the technology I’ve learned. My website is built with it. It liberated me not just in the way I work, but even how I built my business. It’s based on WordPress. So in that time, I started to build WordPress websites, and that motivated me as well. But as soon as I I started to say, I love to be a web developer. People were like, Okay, this is the guy in the basement. We are dreaming of the concept, and we are going to pitch it down to this guy, and we are not going to discuss about anything.

[00:29:13.860] – Tim

I was trapped in that role for many years. I was working for agencies, really cool projects, amazing designers as well. But nobody had a sense of how to bridge the gap between tech and design. I felt like an idiot.

[00:29:27.900] – Talia

And that’s still a It’s very important for designers who are starting out right now who want to code in their practice. It’s very important for them to draw that line. I think it’s good for getting new clients. It’s good if you’re just starting out to maybe develop a few projects so that you understand how those websites work and how backends work and things like that. That’s important. But it’s very important to know when to draw the line to say, No, I’m not a developer, and no, I’m not going to develop this website for you because I’m a designer who codes, and there’s a difference there.

[00:30:00.580] – Tim

That’s a great way of saying this. That’s amazing. I love that. You are a designer who codes. Yeah, sure. Well, of course, when you’re in such a project architecture, let’s say, there’s a design team and there’s people who say, I was also having a… He was my colleague. He was making the back-end. So it was very isolated. But Ron Matzen, he wrote an amazing essay on this. Did you read it? I think it’s called something like, I don’t know, like Design Systems International. Have you heard of them? Yeah. He made the processing website, and he’s in Copenhagen. I met him there. So it’s about bridging this gap. And I think, yeah, especially in the US, I see the paradigm shift happening. And here maybe the university is adapting it, but still the big agencies still have this very rigid, very inflexible structures.

[00:30:56.550] – Talia

Yeah, very difficult. Again, I think that just comes down to the systems that are and have been in place. And now it’s time for designers like you and me to go in and shake it up and show them that it’s all different.

[00:31:08.880] – Tim

Boom. Let’s do it, Talia. Let’s do it. That’s amazing. Wow. That was a really nice motivational sentence. I love it. Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s cool. I see that when I started to teach, there was so much request. I was getting so many requests for workshops and stuff, so they are catching up. Yeah, they are. But the structures and the economy are still very rigid, at least here in Europe, from my point of view. It’s still very top-bottom.

[00:31:38.530] – Talia

It is. There is still that… People are still designers and agencies are still scared of code. The C-word is still daunting because it’s not globally seen as a design medium. It’s still this mysterious, wide How do people even do it? And that’s, again, returning back to the theme, one more reason why it’s so important to make sure that, at least as a designer, to make sure that the work that you make, it resonates and it has a meaning behind it.

[00:32:12.830] – Tim

I love this formulation. I’m a designer who codes. That’s really powerful because that’s creating a hierarchy. Sorry. Yeah, of course. I’m a designer, first of all. That’s right. But I code. That’s right. That’s amazing. I was thinking, to be honest, I was thinking about my About my Instagram bio. Because the Instagram bio, it may sound very strange. I love yours, by the way. I checked yours. You said something with a heart at the end. I’m just grateful for everyone. Exactly. That was nice. I think the Instagram bio is a space where you have to put everything into one sentence. I think maybe I-Designer who comes.I copy that. Do it.

[00:32:58.250] – Talia

That used to be That used to be the opening line of all of my talks, and I was going to take it away for this talk, but maybe I’ll throw that back in.

[00:33:07.270] – Tim

Maybe that’s the claim we have to push. Yeah, absolutely. Maybe that’s the claim we have to push. We are not developers. We are designers of code. Amazing. I love that. Cool. Wow. What’s your dream client?

[00:33:21.790] – Talia

I don’t know. I’m bad at answering that question. I like all the projects I’m on.

[00:33:27.780] – Tim

It’s a very standard question. You can… I didn’t use ChatGPT for that, by the way. It just came up.

[00:33:36.600] – Talia

Dream client. I think- A project.

[00:33:38.880] – Tim

Let’s say, okay, wait. You have, let’s say, €50,000 and you can do whatever you want with that.

[00:33:44.960] – Talia

What project-? Only 50,000. No, I’m joking.

[00:33:47.390] – Tim

Let’s say 100.

[00:33:49.270] – Talia

Anything I do with it. Maybe it’s a shame that I can’t think big right now, but I do think that in general, I’ve always… Just because I’ve done the agency life and I did Pentagram for so long, I really do love the projects that have a wide audience that get a lot of spread, like a big brand rebranding and in their rebrand, doing something that is really original and really different using code. And no, I’m not just saying building a generator and their design team may or may not use it for the assets that come out. So I think size-wise, that would be my dream. But I think it will be very important what the mission is behind that company. So mission technology, I would say, if OpenAI wanted to rebrand again, they shouldn’t because it’s an amazing brand. But if they wanted to, that’s a company that they have a very strong mission and they’re rooted in technology. So it’s a good target for, well, how do we use the technology to tell the story of the brand and tell that mission using design principles. I got it.

[00:34:58.230] – Tim

I’m super critical about them, to be I am very- You’re not alone. I’m pretty annoyed of that. Yeah, you’re not alone. I don’t know. For me, this AI thing, especially in Europe, again, it’s a different, maybe a different discussion. But for me in Europe, it’s like we are getting even more dependent on American tech, right?

[00:35:19.350] – Talia


[00:35:20.050] – Tim

It’s very interesting. Putting everything on a very fragile system. Also, I don’t know. Wait, let’s not go into that discussion. But I felt like, this is for me like… But talking AI, how do you use AI in the world? Do you?

[00:35:37.780] – Talia

Very little. A lot, but very little. I think AI has been publicly used for about a year now, a little over a year now. I think we can all admit that there have been moments in using AI in the last year where we have been so frustrated by the output, whether it is a written output or a visual output or a coded output. We’re like, No, AI AI, you just don’t get it. Obviously, it’s going to continue to get better, but I think at least right now, we’re in this place where if you are coding, coding to design, and if you are using ChatGPT or another AI to help you along with your code, you’re going to figure out very quickly if your concept is an original idea or a good idea, if OpenAI can’t help you. And typically with the work that we do, we find that four prompts in, it totally gets it wrong. And then it cannot figure out what we’re trying to do. And that’s when you’re like, yes, it’s a good idea. Let’s keep doing it. And you have to figure it out yourself at the end of the day.

[00:36:41.120] – Talia

So it helps get from zero to 10 But the 10 to 100, it’s still the work that we have to do.

[00:36:48.340] – Tim

Okay. Yeah, exactly. That makes a lot of sense. For me, I use ChatGPT for writing back-end code, especially. That’s super powerful. Yeah. Super powerful. For example, things that I had to research before. You make a prompt and you just tell it, Okay, I didn’t need a… I don’t know, a data node for my WordPress website. Boom, there it is. Great. Yeah, that’s helpful. Or making small JavaScript features for the front end of stuff.

[00:37:16.080] – Talia

Very basic stuff. Very helpful, yeah.

[00:37:18.840] – Tim

Works incredibly. Super, super good. Yeah. That’s nice.

[00:37:22.860] – Talia

Yeah. And then it allows you to focus on the stuff that it can’t do just a little bit more.

[00:37:28.060] – Tim

What do you think? Students seem to perceive the decision to learn to code like a big one. It’s like for them, like an on or off, a yes or no, a white or black. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why they don’t take on it. That’s my impression sometimes. At the moment, for me, this whole AI hype is a noise cycle. I AI is always pushing out the message. I was totally convinced that it is very valuable and 100% worth the time to learn to code. Ai seems to be something like a noise cycle that people seem to be very hesitant and very doubtful about it. What do you think how does… Let me put the question differently. Do you think a decision for or against learning to code is influenced by AI in the last years? Would you say that changed your perspective on that?

[00:38:31.730] – Talia

In my experience, it hasn’t. It’s still an innate thing. If somebody falls in love with code the first time they’re taught it, I think they’ll choose to do it with or without AI. And even more so, I think that the students who fall in love with code, they fall in love for it not because of the output. They fall in love with it because they love the process of it. That almost goes back to your community, the people that we love. We love the output, but we love the process.

[00:38:59.950] – Tim

That’s true. That’s true.

[00:39:02.300] – Talia

And that’s what I’ve seen is what makes a student want to pursue something. Got it.

[00:39:08.460] – Tim

That’s what I always push for it. Enjoy the process. That’s amazing. And you know what? When you start to learn to pursue a goal that you want to achieve and it’s difficult, and you’re facing obstacles and problems, and you have to ask people about that. That’s the real value. Because you learn to get, you get confronted with this fear of maybe failing or stuff. But overcoming that, I think this is maybe one of the most precious and valuable things you have in the process of learning to call, right? Yeah. So it’s a model for the world. It’s a model for the things that we’re confronted I move every day. It’s a test laboratory for difficult situations. I love it so much.

[00:39:51.610] – Talia

My students hate it when I say… Usually, my first-year students come to me and they say, Hey, is it possible to do such and such? And my answer is, Everything is possible. That’s nice. It just depends how much work you want to put into it, how many people you want to ask, how deep you want to go into the line of code. But everything really is possible. And they hate that, but it really is true. But what I say on… They hear that all throughout the semester, and then they hate me for saying it, but then they realize it for themselves throughout the semester. And then on the last day, we channeled that into, Well, now that you’ve been coding for a full semester, you start to get in this mindset of everything is possible. And I know that for me, personally, when I was learning how to code, I was going through some health stuff, and it really affects the way you see the world is that everything is possible in coding, in life, in the design world, and everything. It’s an optimistic way of thinking, I think. Absolutely.

[00:40:44.950] – Tim

I love that. Yeah, true. The thing is, it’s literally everything is possible because code can be used to create anything. It’s not like, again, we are getting back to the design tool funnels. It’s like, Adobe tells you how to design something by putting a user interface out there. But with code, you can make anything. That’s right. That’s cool. I had one more thing I wanted to ask you. Let me think. Again.

[00:41:14.030] – Talia

Was it the same question Did you remember the good question from before? No.

[00:41:20.030] – Tim

Unfortunately not.

[00:41:21.680] – Talia

You’ll text me after.

[00:41:22.600] – Tim

But maybe you can send me a voice message later. Sounds good. That’s nice for the collage for the video as well. I love that. We already have quite some minutes together, but there was one more thing I wanted to ask you. No problem. I just wanted to ask you, because I’ve been checking out a lot of these net art scene and so on, what role does that play for you? Is it interesting? Have you been dealing with that or the past of the internet How the early net artists were doing work and only Alina and these people, rezone. Org, this community.

[00:42:07.440] – Talia

Very familiar with that group, way of thinking, philosophy. But for me, In my process and career, there was a very distinct turning point of… I think a lot of people were going in that direction. And at that time, I consciously made the decision to start working in the agency world because I knew that that’s really what I personally liked to work on, something a little bit more applied, something that has a larger audience, perhaps. In the agency world, nobody was coding. I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why my work looks the way it does.

[00:42:44.670] – Tim

That’s your niche.

[00:42:45.390] – Talia

That’s your blue ocean. But it’s interesting. We’re actually working with a sister of Rizome right now. We’re doing a brand for something similar. It’s the perfect project because it is the whole net art esthetic and philosophy photography, but it is a brand and it is a website, and it needs to have the same communication design principles that I’m familiar with.

[00:43:06.360] – Tim

It sounds like a perfect project.

[00:43:08.070] – Talia

It’s so exciting. We love it. It’s so much fun.

[00:43:10.430] – Tim

That sounds also for me like many hearts popping up here. It’s visible.

[00:43:15.190] – Talia

Amazing. It’s going to be amazing. We’re so excited about it.

[00:43:17.490] – Tim

That’s super cool. Also, I’ve been checking out the recent scene I discovered Laura Schultz. You know her?

[00:43:24.550] – Talia

Yeah. Through a hundred different overlaps. I never actually met her. My goodness.

[00:43:27.610] – Tim

Her essay. Did you read that? My website is a floating boat. She’s fantastic.

[00:43:32.280] – Talia

It’s beautiful.

[00:43:33.160] – Tim

I want everybody to read that essay, okay? So it’s an amazing essay on what a website can be. It’s poetic. I’m writing essays right now. Great. So good. I’m This is my- I wish I had time for that.

[00:43:46.440] – Talia

I want to write.

[00:43:48.100] – Tim

Actually, the cool thing is my community is super nice now. It’s working very well. People are helping each other on Discord server. Of course, it’s still a lot of work for me, but I also have some time to, let’s say, have a more altitude and look from above and also create projects that don’t just deal with the, let’s say, execution of the maintenance of the community because it works. It’s amazing. I have the time to read about philosophy, which is very interesting for me. It’s amazing. My favorite topic right now. I started with the ancient times, and now I go more into the present, and it’s beautiful. That’s great. And now I created this blog called Downgrade, Which is about downgrading. Great. Downgrading whatever. I have two posts up. I would love to hear your opinion about that.

[00:44:40.530] – Talia

God, I’d love to read that. That’s great.

[00:44:42.580] – Tim

Also, have you heard of digital gardening? That’s something I did also. Oh, my God. That’s amazing. Okay. I tell you about digital gardening. Digital gardening means that you create… Have you heard of Obsidian or these tools that you use to sort your For notes and thoughts. It’s called the second brain. So you write a lot of stuff and try to create a body of very different notes, and then you merge them together into texts. So that’s actually the digital gardening. I wrote a text on how I do that. I’ll read it.

[00:45:17.640] – Talia

That sounds great.

[00:45:19.440] – Tim

It’s a little bit off track what I’m telling you now. I could show you what I cook yesterday.

[00:45:25.850] – Talia

It’s all connected.

[00:45:26.790] – Tim

I put that as a website for And I like an intranet for my own thoughts, like my own little Twitter, maybe, what’s in my mind. So it’s really cool. That’s good.

[00:45:40.130] – Talia

Yeah. I think it’s important for designers, specifically, to branch out I love design a lot.

[00:45:48.460] – Tim

Epstein, this guy who wrote this book about generalists, he said, You always have to put one feet out of your comfort zone. I love that. Yeah.

[00:45:55.350] – Talia

Right? Yeah. And specifically in design, because very little design is about design. Most design that you see is about any other field, any other industry. It’s about education. It’s about a startup. It’s about anything else. So you have to really know nonprofits, political, whatever, education. So it’s about knowing a little bit of everything and also knowing the design principles to make it possible. So, yeah, keep it coming.

[00:46:23.640] – Tim

That’s great. That was a really nice wrapping up for this video. Thank you so much, Talia. Thank you so much, Tim. It was It’s so much fun. I wish that you enjoy Barcelona a lot. It’s an amazing city. It is. I will watch your talk from the outside of the off. Great. And, yeah, let me know when you’re around next time.

[00:46:39.890] – Talia

We’ll do. Thanks so much, Tim. Cool.

[00:46:41.250] – Tim

Thank you. And bye-bye, guys. See you soon. Bye. Wow. That was an amazing interview. I’m so thankful, grateful that I had the opportunity to talk to Talia. It was really inspiring. I hope you liked it. Let me know what you think about it in the comments. See you soon and enjoy the next video you will watch on YouTube, whatever it is, maybe one of my tutorials. I’ve got a channel with many, hopefully great, Processing Creative Coding P5JS tutorials. Enjoy and see you soon. Bye bye. Peace out..


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