Tell us about you, your career, how you founded HUSH.
David Schwarz: I was always interested in art and architecture but didn’t commit to that formally until later in life. I went to a liberal arts college, got an Economics degree, but all the while also studied architectural history and studio art, which was clearly of more interest. I went on to do an intensive summer program at Harvard’s GSD architecture school immediately after graduation with the intention of applying to school more formally. I worked all day and night and fell in love with the practice of design and architecture under the tutelage of a great professor (who is now a business mentor) as I built my first portfolio.
I moved to San Francisco during the height of the dot-com boom and was swept away into a new form of “digital” architecture – the designing and building the early web. I felt a kinship with this new digital space in that the nomenclature and thought process of designing a building felt similar to designing the virtual interface. It was still about people and movement through space – albeit one of the pixels, not materials.
To dive into design in earnest, I got a scholarship to go to Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and joined the Graduate Media Design Program there. I studied a variety of things, but most notably film, motion, and interactive design – and where they intersect. I put architecture aside for the moment as these new pursuits were just as exciting to me. After graduation and many years in the freelance market as a designer and commercial director, I met my business partner, and we started HUSH. It was a manifestation of our respective journeys, with a commitment to bringing all of our skills together into the new territory of experience design.
How does HUSH innovate?
David Schwarz: Being innovative is a constant mindset. Innovation is a formal practice. We try to maximize both, but of course, there is always an ebb and flow over time as we juggle various business demands. Fortunately, our clients come to us explicitly for design concepts that exist on the frontiers – either for their own businesses or the world at large – so our core business is the business of design Innovation.
Innovation can be relative or absolute, but both are valuable. Innovation is part and parcel to our company’s ethos, which is convenient. If we provided a more commodity service, we’d have to push harder to escape the velocity of daily work to support innovation. However, as I poke around on our Slack channels this morning, even a few clicks reveal work that is challenging the norms of user experience and interaction, using materials in new ways, and creating experiences that could change the way people gather at a major arts institution, trade stocks at an international bank.
But mindset and habits are only half the battle. While we formalize our R&D program, tying it closely to both client-side needs as well as improving our own internal design processes, we continue to commit to formal internal innovation sprints. In the past several years, we’ve consistently created work at the start of the new year that we share with the industry in an attempt to shake up conventional conceptions of design, creative technology, and process. You can see some past examples at the bottom of our website’s work page . We’ve created sculptures from our own data, made it possible to create a 3d printed puzzle out of any terrain on Earth, and sent an augmented reality music player to 300 people.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
David Schwarz: The effects of the virus are significant in terms of both business strategy and company communication and culture. The cultural aspects are ongoing as our team works to improve the way we interact, communicate, meet virtually, and continue to deliver the best work. On the business side, the early days of the pandemic made the future incredibly uncertain, given the way it’s changed humanity’s relationship to real-world experiences.
In March/April, the thought of heading out to buy something in a store, or to go into the workplace, or to visit an art space was all unthinkable – or simply banned. At that moment, we wondered if human behavior might be changed forever, trending steadily towards the virtual. But hundreds of thousands of years of genetics have ingrained in us a primal desire to experience things in the real world, to venture out, and to explore.
Over the course of several months, we went from a foggy vision of our future business to an emphatic realization that what HUSH creates – incredibly unique design experiences in the real world – will become the only reason people opt to escape the bounds of the virtual. What we create will be the primary reason to go into the workplace, where dynamic interactions with one’s peers, information, educational content, and vision will be experienced – not watched. What we create will become the new expectations around cultural experience, retail, and public space.
In a way, the pandemic is helping to reinforce our company’s vision. It’s making our work more than just a shiny, impactful, beautiful supporting act, but the mainstage of the future of work, commerce, and urban design.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
David Schwarz: Certainly, the past several months have created factors that we’ve never experienced as a society, nor have we as business leaders. At times, it felt as if there was a daily barrage of new unknowns threatening the course of our clients’ organizations, our own team members, and our business. It was a daily act of triage, followed by educational sprints in which we tried to figure out new challenges under very quick timelines. Fortunately, we’ve developed an extensive network of peers and advisors over the years. I’ve never seen a community galvanize more quickly around open sourcing information, providing help and recommendations, and sharing – even among staunch competitors. I suppose the big learning was the power of a network and having strong relationships with industry peers.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and HUSH in the future?
David Schwarz: Fortunately, my business partner handles stress very well. As such, he can bottle my frenzy and package it up into action in a methodical way. Personally, I try to use stress and anxiety as a catalyst and motivator – more like an athletic point of view, where a little bit of nervousness actually helps you perform better and focus more.
Practically, I try to stay really organized and follow a strict routine. It’s not as fun as normal life, but under stress, having a ritual takes some variables out of the day and keeps your mind from having to contemplate additional decisions beyond what’s absolutely critical. Since March, part of my routine has been running or yoga just about every morning before anyone else in my house is awake. This feels like laying down a solid foundation on which to stand for the day ahead.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
David Schwarz: Competition comes from broad market forces. Because what we design is at the intersection of design, space, and technology, we have an incredibly unique market position and niche offering – which keeps us relevant and strong. We’re able to innovate within that trifecta and constantly adapt our practice to real-time information, trends, and forces within those areas. That being said, much larger companies with more reach and visibility continually threaten to move into our area of specialization. But, we’ve been the David to their Goliath for many years, and it’s a privileged position to be in.
Your final thoughts?
David Schwarz: The business of a design firm is as fascinating as design itself. As designers, we often look to the same processes of thinking, strategy, and making for solving our clients’ challenges as we do for our own business. Thank you for including us.