Featured Digital Lead

Talia Cotton

July 2019

Talia Cotton is a graphic designer specializing in the intersection of brand identities and technology. We chat about why she thinks designers are turned-off by coding, and the coding course she teaches to combat that; she dissects her list of summer goals from third grade with us, and we chat about the impact automation and algorithms could have on design.

Any hilarious stories about you as a kid being creative?

Both my parents were musicians with no money, and I was homeschooled in my younger years, so our household was just oozing with creativity. We wrote stories, built forts, invented games, painted, sculpted, visited art museums, wrote songs, made clothing, played music…

I recently came across a stack of creativities from my childhood and found a list of my summer goals after third grade. Between collaging, practicing piano, “making up dreams” and, yes, even teaching, central to the list is my goal to “create new things”. Not only does it give a glimpse at the mind of Tiny Talia, but it also amazes me how similar my goals are today.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

I am a graphic designer specializing in the intersection of brand identities and technology. Brand development is often designed without digital opportunities in mind, even though today the primary point of interaction with brands is on digital applications. This is where I come in. I am a designer first-and-foremost, so I know how to make a great-looking and logical system. But I'm also a coder, and with this intersection, I am able to build fresh brands and applications that are optimized for the digital world and stand out.

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Words I live by are: very few things are actually impossible. And it works for, like, everything in design. Need something printed on some crazy weird surface? Not impossible — but it might take some research and planning. Wondering if your website can do something? It’s not impossible — coding can pretty much do anything now. Have a dream job that you have no idea how to get? Not impossible! Work really hard and make decisions that are driven by your dream. And you will get it. For everything that seems impossible, the harder you want it the closer it is to become possible.

"

Words I live by are: very few things are actually impossible. And it works for, like, everything in design.

"

Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if so how it shapes your practice?

Teaching is the primary driver behind my practice. When I do the work that I do, I constantly find myself asking, “Ok, how would I explain this to someone? What questions would someone ask me about this, and would I know the answer to those? If my student were the one making this, how would I push him or her more?”

I often meet designers who are turned off by coding, and most of the time it’s just because they didn’t have a good enough teacher who got them excited or showed them what’s possible. So not nearly enough creatives know how to code… and that’s a problem! You may not be able to teach creativity, but you can teach coding to creatives. The magic happens when you see what those creatives can do once they’ve been given this new coding superpower.

I think designers have only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of what coding can do for the design world, and I think it’s up to teachers to make sure we keep collectively pushing the boundaries of design by giving our students this ability, making sure to cover not just the how of coding, but also what you can do with it.

I currently teach the Intro to Coding for Designers six-week workshop at XXXI in the East Village, and I teach one-on-one coding to designers on the side.

Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them?

I get to work closely with Bobby (Martin) and Jennifer (Kinon), the founding partners of the studio, which is a total privilege. They’re both total powerhouses in terms of their leadership, and it’s really inspirational. They expect a lot and really really kick my butt! — but in between all that, they are wonderfully nurturing. They care a lot about growing the studio and respect everyone’s personal and professional goals.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

I think the obvious and expected answer to this is “well, duh, it’s gonna be more code-focused!” But I honestly don’t know. Ultimately, coded design doesn’t make sense for all brands! And it shouldn’t be used if it doesn’t make sense. At the very least, coding can help to automate the process of generating collateral based on a pre-designed system— and I think we’re going to start seeing more and more of this. Spotify, Times Talks, and Pratt Institute are some examples of brands that are already implementing this in some of their applications, and I’m really happy to see that. It just makes so much sense because Design is, at its core, system-making— so the logical next step is to algorithmize the system. The fun part then becomes designing the tools themselves, because that’s where you get to define how open or restricted your parameters are for your users.

The way I plan on “adapting” is to continue learning as much as I can in the meantime to prep for whatever the future holds and to stay humble and open-minded.

Website: taliacotton.com

Instagram: @taliasaccount

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