Brothers Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell joined Pentagram in October 2015 after successfully running their own creative studio, Hudson-Powell for over ten years. Their multi-disciplinary practice encompassed creating brand identities, motion graphics, interactive design, creative technology, immersive experiences and art commissions.
They have a portfolio of clients that ranges from the likes of Canteen, the BBC to Uniqlo, Google and Coca-Cola, amongst many more. Alongside running their own studio, the brothers spent time working with Wolff Olins to create dynamic brands like EE, Price Waterhouse Cooper and Orange.
What did you read/play with/watch/look at/listen to as a kid or teenager and did anything particularly resonate to have a lasting effect on you choosing a creative profession?
LUKE: I was into fantasy and sci-fi books, films and games as a kid, the obvious stuff like Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, Jet Set Willy, etc. As a teen that quickly developed into skateboarding, music and more serious books and films (or so I thought at the time).
It all resonated massively and still does. Skateboarding taught me to give anything a go. Sci-fi and computer games got me interested in technology and made me excited about the future. Album cover art got me into typography and I don’t know what Conan taught me but I stand by him as an influence.
Our Mum is a painter and I think she had the clearest influence on us. Painting, drawing, weird collections of life drawing objects and art books were all around us when we were young so we’ve been very comfortable in a creative environment from a young age.
JODY: Yeah, Luke pretty much just covered it. I’d say gaming and hacking hardware also had a big impact on me. I used to make my own computer games and that spun into hacking together my own game controllers as well. That led to stop frame animation and so on.
What does a day in the life for you look like?
L: I live a good 50 mins away from the office and Jody is a bit nearer. It’s not as close as I’d like but it does give me time to wake up and figure out what’s going on that day, make notes for meetings, etc.
Daily life for both myself and Jody is mostly work and family, we both have young children so there’s not much time to fit anything else in apart from reading, films and the odd gig.
J: I have the jammiest commute when I ride in which consists of all parks and only a couple of roads. But I broke my leg while camping a few months back and that has kept me taking the tube.
The interesting thing about Pentagram is that aside from Luke and I, there are 8 other partners running their own mini businesses in the company. We’re always surrounded by creatives who approach things differently and are completely engrossed in their own work.
Outside of work, from having our own studio we have a big network of friends who work in the creative industry that we make an effort to see regularly.
Do you surround yourself in your studio with objects that inspire or comfort you? If so can share some of your favourite “things” in your studio and why you love them?
L: Not in a deliberate way, objects, books, etc… do build up around us depending on what we are working on, but I wouldn’t say we surround ourselves with too much ephemera. Things that are important or precious tend to be at home.
J: We’re always exploring new ways of working so have a lot of bits of kit around, we recently replaced one of our desks with a VR set up and that’s kept us on our feet, waving our arms around.
So you guys have had a pretty interesting year, can you describe your creative professional route to your current position as partners in Pentagram?
L: It’s a long story so I’ll bullet point:
• We are from and went to school in Bath.
• We both studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins with Jody going on to do an MSC in Virtual Environments at the Bartlett.
• We both worked for and freelanced at a number of companies in London.
• We set up Hudson-Powell in 2005 and ran our own studio for 10 years.
• About 2 years ago Pentagram approached us about becoming Partners and that’s where it all started.
How did joining arguably the most respected design “firm” in the industry come about? Was it a decision that took long to make? Did you have any doubts about it? Was it something you had aspired to and actively pursued?
L: The decision to join took a long time (almost two years) for a number of reasons. The main one being that Pentagram’s structure deems that after an initial consensus is reached, potential new partners must meet all existing partners. Whilst this seemed excessive at the time it makes perfect sense, it is necessary that each Partner has enough drive and confidence that they can succeed on their own and run a studio, but it is equally important that they have the ability to work and make decisions with the wider group. So it’s important everyone respects and likes each other to make a system like that work.
Yes we had doubts about joining, we have always enjoyed the freedom that our status as a small independent studio gave us, we were (and still are in terms of friendships) part of the community of smaller studios in London and were concerned about “selling out”. People have very strong views about Pentagram and we’ve listened to them all, ultimately though when we realised joining wouldn’t affect our practice (we still control our fees, staff, and what work we take on) and would help us achieve the goal of widening our appeal to larger clients without the need to have a big office and distancing ourselves from the hands on element of the work and the fact we genuinely got on with all the Partners, it became an easy decision.
J: There’s also the nice thing where we get to apply our multi-disciplinary approach more. With larger clients who naturally have more needs, we get the opportunity to collaborate with them on all aspects of their brand which makes the final outcome much more fulfilling.
From our connections with other partners we have learned that essentially each team operate autonomously albeit with support when you need it, did someone sit down and explain how Pentagram works? I imagine in a huge board room overlooking Central Park, everyone wearing masks…right?
J: We were actually overlooking Madison Square Park, but you’re right about the masks…
L: In the broader sense of Pentagram’s structure, yes. This was explained in depth as part of the process of joining. In terms of the minutiae of how the day to day workings of the office; printers, invoicing, booking meeting rooms, is concerned… quite the opposite. Nothing was explained to us at all and has all been learned in our first year through osmosis.
Since joining Pentagram, do you think a lot has changed in terms of your style, process, how you a approach a new project or way of thinking? Do you find clients have changed in attitude towards you?
L: A lot has changed in terms of the practical running of the studio, we have a project manager, we have people to talk to about business decisions and we’re growing a young, talented team. If we are talking about working process though not much has changed, that was one of the reasons we wanted to join. There are bolt ons if you like – to our process, that either expand it (being able to collaborate with other Partners) or enable us to respond more quickly to proposals (we’re both dyslexic and having people to help in this area has been a revelation).
J: Yeah, the way we problem solve and generally approach projects hasn’t changed at all and it feels like a really good fit with some of the larger clients we’ve worked with this past year.
With our team we do find ourselves communicating more, sharing work, testing and iterating to help foster a collaborative working environment.
Can you each give an example of a project you worked on where the others input either made you question the route you had taken or do you usually get immediate approval from each other?
J: Our skills and interests are interchangeable but over the years we’ve honed in on specific practices and that’s allowed for us to look to each other at specific moments when that skill is needed in a project.
L: One of the benefits (or not depending on how you look at it) of being brothers is that we are very frank with one another. One side of this transparent relationship is that we implicitly trust one another and so immediate approval is complete and is never half hearted or pressured. The flip side is that our disagreements and criticisms can sometimes be more brutal (and occasionally stubborn) than might otherwise be normal. Ultimately though, this means we always critique our work thoroughly which is a good thing for clients.
You guys have a seriously varied portfolio of work. What type of systems do you have in place to approach jobs of different scale?
J: We don’t aim to have a ‘look’ or single approach. If there’s one thing that is true across all our work is how we’re always looking for opportunities in projects to work in new ways to find unique outcomes for our clients.
L: Every job is approached differently according to its size, complexity, the medium we’ll be working in and our relationship to/with the client. We don’t have a one glove fits all approach, that’s one of the things you aren’t taught in college (at least we weren’t), that all parts of a project affect one another, even perfect projects can be confronted with swerve balls, and it’s your ability to work with them and be adaptable that can be the difference between a project’s success or not.
You guys are pretty skilled across the board, from coding to interactive work. How important is it to be multi-disciplinary designers in today’s industry?
L: It depends what field you work in, most designers have some level of multi-disciplinary skills. But I don’t think it’s massively important for say an editorial or book designer to immerse themselves in web design. If, on the other hand, you are working with identities I think it’s essential to be able to think across print, interactive and motion. If the projects you take on live across more than one medium you have a responsibility to be able to make it cohesive across each space.