Unlike design firms that employ people with similar degrees and backgrounds, the 22-member team at HUSH is a curiously quirky, diverse one. On the fourth floor of the former Grand Union Tea Company warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn, you’ll find experts in varying disciplines (like architecture, filmmaking, sound design, and typography), working together in one room, bound by a single guiding principle. “Design is the core, so we’ve curated an interesting mix of people who can look at design through really different lenses,” says co-founder David Schwarz. “They’re people who’ve studied something, have a strong point of view, and are hungry to see how their skills can be turned into something else.”
HUSH’s creative director Jodi Terwilliger agrees, adding, “People also think of us as a technology company because there are people who do similar things that we do, though they lack a design perspective.” While much of Hush’s work does involve multiple forms of technology, ultimately it’s intelligent (and not just good-looking) design that informs everything. “We won’t do something because it looks cool—only if it’s the smartest way of doing it,” says Terwilliger. And based on Hush’s client portfolio, which includes Nike, Google, and Uber (whom Schwarz loves working with because they’re “innovative, really want to push the boundaries, and have risk-taking abilities”), it’s evident that the marriage between discerning design and innovative technology is poignant and powerful.
For example, after collecting extensive data on the world’s top hundred tennis players over the course of eight years, from the points won on Novak Djokovic’s first serve to Serena Williams’ longest baseline rallies, IBM sought a solution to present those complex bits of information in an accessible and fun way to U.S. Open spectators in 2013. IBM knew that simply flashing facts in front of fans—as they do with the typical screens and large-scale visuals at sporting events—wasn’t going to cut it, so HUSH was brought in.
To engage Open attendees, HUSH researched nuances of the sport and subtle gestures ardent fans would pick up on. The resulting 15-foot interactive wall brought the data together in a highly visual and stimulating user experience. Imagine neon-yellow tennis balls prompted by a touch and swipe; the sound of balls bouncing on a hard court; and bright, compact infographics powerful enough to captivate even the most data-averse. Essentially, the complex and tech-driven installation could only be made as successful as it was with the help of intelligent design.
As for as their approach to new work, there’s one thing HUSH is adamantly against, and that’s brainstorming. “Brainstorming stinks,” says Schwarz. “You can’t just bring in a bunch of smart people, expect them to magically assemble, and come up with ideas.” Terwilliger agrees. “The loudest voice gets all the attention and the tendency is to go for lowest-hanging fruit, ideas that are widely accepted and safe. It’s not bad, but we like to challenge that stuff.”
To illuminate their point, Schwarz recalled a lecture he attended last year. The professor asked the audience where and when they get their best work ideas. Some said before they go to bed or on their way to work. But not one person said a brainstorming session.
A project that beautifully illuminates HUSH’s non-conformist approach is a data sculpture and musical instrument called Made By Numbers. For every week in 2014, Hush collected internal data, from the number of computers in use, to the number of hours spent traveling, even to how many late-night snacks were consumed. The information was plotted on a five-point graph to create curved shapes, one for every week of the year, which was layered on top of each other. Sound and light was then programmed to be triggered by the placement of the user’s hand in front of the sculpture. “It was typography, print design, creative technology, sound design, form creation, animation, fabrication, everything,” says Terwilliger. “And it was all done here by very few people. Every component was a muscle flexed, and it’s turned into real, client work for us.”
“Everyone now talks about data, how it can be cool when it’s visualized,” adds Schwarz. “But you wouldn’t think of something like this if you thought of data in a traditional way. This is the only team that could do it.”