Hunter Tura is the Director of Operations & Architectural Projects at 2x4, one of the United States’ top design firms. They have had prominent design campaigns with Nike, Prada, and Time Warner, as well as high-end design work, including some pieces currently being exhibited at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
Epilogue Magazine: What’s the 2x4 story?
Hunter Tura: 2x4 was founded by three partners, Michael Rock, Georgie Stout, and Susan Sellers, who were trained as graphic designers. The roots of the studio were primarily in print projects, in some form or another, although through a series of early collaborations with architects, particularly on their competition entries, all of the sudden we were working in a lot of built contexts. Increasingly, in the last few years, the work has been about the convergence of different media converge into a single project. I don’t know if you saw the "Nike 100" project we finished at the 798 arts district in Beijing last year, but there’s a situation where we developed an overall identity for the exhibition, all of the architecture and interiors, the web and interactive experiences, a catalog and poster, as well as developing an iPod touch interface which had all the information about the content in the exhibition.
There’s a situation there where all of these different areas came together into one single project. Those kinds of projects are increasingly interesting to us.
What kinds of projects does 2x4 like to tackle?
HT: We’re working on things of various scales of various media, so we’re doing everything from a identity for a friend to the on-screen graphics for a new TV network and virtually everything in between. Also, increasingly, the work varies between concepts and built things: for example, we've been developing a series of branded, interactive animations for one of our clients that play in their stores…but those things are largely ethereal because they’re not objects. At the same, we've recently finished this wine bar, Clo, at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, it’s an architectural intervention, it’s a built thing, you can sit there.
The work varies between from large things to small things but also from real things to light-based things.
How do you decide what projects to take on?
We try to be really selective of what we do. I think partly that has to do with doing things that are fun and of interest to us. We could probably double the size of the studio but we’d be doing a lot of work that didn’t inspire us. The conditions have to be right for success, we try to set ourselves up to do great work.
How is 2x4 organized?
HT: The way that the studio works is that the three founding partners who are still the Creative Directors on every project we do, and we have about 70 active projects at a given time. Then we have a group of really amazing Art Directors that help to manage and keep those projects on track, and a team of designers, architects, programmers and interns. We're very diverse and international, and we come from Holland, Korea, Spain, New Zealand, Germany....Macedonia! We’re very lucky to draw that global pool of talent.
What do you look for in potential 2x4 designers?
It’s a weird combination of luck, talent, intelligence, and timing, because we have people that will send something in blind and their work is great and maybe that’s someone we want to know more about. Other times, friends of friends, or people who are in our network. Susan teaches at Yale, Michael teaches at Columbia, so there’s also that academic network of people. The thing about being global and being affiliated with those schools is that those experiences help inform and enrich the work that’s going on.
How do you stay in front lots of people, due to the availability of design software, diving into the design pool?
For thousands of years we tried to create a utopia and then a workshop is invented. One thing that we’ve been thinking about a lot is not so much how to stay in front of people who think of themselves as designers, but rather how to deal with the increasing convergence of architecture, media, technology, hardware, software, and sometime it’s maybe not convergence, but transcendence in a way. How do you deal with that? One of the things you’re trying to create is not an object but an experience, an environment for the user. You have to think about all these things simultaneously. Anyone can just slap together something.
How do you feel about the current state of print journalism?
Something you think about a lot that’s related to print journalism is content. So if you look at like, the LA Times, they never found out a way to commodify their content. I was just reading this Michael Kinsley thing; newspapers always gave away their content, what they were charging you for is the paper. There’s a similar problem with design which is that on many projects there are components of large-scale display, pieces, there are screens everywhere. The question is, how do you keep from becoming quickly out of date? One of those things is that we’re trying to look at, what’s a broader idea of interactivity? And how can you make experiences on the screen user-driven?
The content problem is an interesting one. If you listen to Michael’s earlier lectures and talks, the crucial role of the designer is to manipulate someone else’s content. So now when you’re asked to be a content developer in a way, it’s a new and unfamiliar role.
How does 2x4 get exposure? Your involvement in big campaigns isn’t exactly overt.
We’re very lucky in that we have a great group of clients that we’ve worked with for a very long time…we’ve been lucky to work on some larger-scale, higher-profile things. We try to be in control of how we approach these things.
What inspires you to create?
I’ve worked on a number of architectural projects on very large scales, and I feel like the work that we do here you could never do that kind of work, the traditional capital “A” architect. And again, take this wine bar for example, there we’re working with our client to create an architectural space that we feel reflect their brand, and they’re fully interested in technology, so it’s an automated wine bar experience, a touch screen table. We also worked with them on their website…you can do that stuff in most cases. It’s you being holistic and expansive and thinking, “that’s great.” You do so much and a lot of conventional architecture practice is continually limited. You can’t do that because this beam runs through here. You can’t do that because there’s an air conditioner here.
A lot of architecture is characterized by restriction, hopefully 2x4 is characterized by possibility.
Do music and movies influence your work? Other areas outside of the design realm?
I think all of us here are engaged in culture in various forms. That can take the form of all those things you mentioned. We all read a lot, various things, Michael is always reading fiction, just that possibility is supplied by different fictional scenarios allows your mind to continue to develop. One of the best things about working here is that people are always talking about the new ideas, new bands, new exhibitions, our e-mail list, I think you could make that into a really interesting blog. There’s a lot of good stuff flying by the day-to-day experience.