HUSH Blazes Multi-Platform Trail to Advertising’s Techno-Cultural Future
The commercial and advertising industry is quickly evolving beyond just pretty pictures and passive narratives into a realm of interactive tactility and multi-platform design content. And the NYC-based upstart studio HUSH is helping lead the charge into that refreshingly new normal.
“Over the past few years, the industry’s pendulum has swung toward utility, which has somewhat trumped form and design,” explained David Schwarz, HUSH co-founding partner and award-winning creative director of projects for Nike, Coca-Cola, American Express, Honda, and more. “The advertising industry has realized that digital tools actually do things for people. It has become hyper-objective. Now consumers and clients want utility, intellectual property and information capture. They want to get that brand photo off your mobile device, onto the internet, Twitter and Facebook onto a Times Square billboard and then into bespoke interactive environments. We’ve been responsive to these evolving demands. We continue to produce work through the lens of strong visual design and concept, but we leverage new forms of technology, applications and digital tools in compelling ways.”
The enthusiastic Schwarz launched HUSH in late 2006 with co-founder Erik Karasyk after the two well-traveled, freelancing creatives shared time together at New York’s Brand New School, only to find that they also shared entrepreneurial ambition and a collective hunger for next-gen design and production. The steady Karasyk’s background in technology, computer-generated visuals and animation for clients like McDonalds, Nike, Sprint and others perfectly interlocked with Schwarz’s formidable energy. Together, they have a yin-yang symbiosis that has propelled HUSH into a handful of companies conceiving compelling campaigns with respect for advertising’s established past and its inevitably techno-cultural future.
“We have very similar working methodologies and complementary personalities,” said Schwarz. “Each of us is pushing each other; there’s a lot of energy. We come up with crazy ideas, and we feed off of fears and question marks, because they bring excitement and the knowledge that we’re not treading known waters.”
“We’re interested in doing things that are uncommon, while also making a great business case for them.”
“From the very beginning, we were telling stories in non-linear ways,” added Karasyk. “We’re always thinking about how to get people to interact with our projects, to engage them to the point that they want to tell their friends and enjoy a collective experience. That’s really the mark of success.”
That viral thinking is central to HUSH’s core, and it all starts with Schwarz and Karasyk’s rewarding synchronicity and unwavering enthusiasm to execute their ambitious vision, as well as the needs and demands of their well-regarded clients. Whether it’s a Webby-nominated interactive installation for Infiniti at the Pebble Beach Classic Car Show, a wall-sized interactive touch-screen Prius slot machine for Toyota at the Detroit Auto Show, hyper-designed architectural spaces for Showtime’s annual SHOHouse extravaganza, arty animated microsites for General Mills or an award-winning integrated media experience equally ensconced online and on Times Square billboards for Chicco via McCann Worldgroup, Schwarz and Karasyk’s HUSH team has reliably converted out-of-the-box planning into eye-popping productions.
“It’s done so by flipping conventional advertising wisdom about collaboration, seniority and exclusivity.”
“A lot of these projects involve collaborative efforts with other companies that we don’t white-label,” explained Schwarz. “Some companies are fearful of collaboration, as if saying that using many cooks to create something incredible is a failure. We actually don’t believe that at all; we believe the opposite. We really know concept, design and story, and we know how to use technology to implement our ideas. We understand projects like Chicco and Infiniti take a lot of people with many different skill sets, so we work with the best, and lead them creatively.”
HUSH’s small but potent core team is stuffed with standout talents. After landing awards and recognition for her expansive work and exhibitions in Europe and America, Barcelona-bred art director Laura Alejo spearheads HUSH’s multi-platform design and illustration projects. Award-winning director Peter Rhoads parleyed a year-long apprenticeship with feature director Shawn Levy into a respected career of remarkable shorts like Patching Cabbage and the Grand Jury-winning music video Mr. Novocaine, and short-form stunners for NBA phenom Lebron James, Levi’s, Mountain Dew and more. Design and animation virtuoso Wes Ebelhar’s formidable skills in experiential media and design have been put to extensive use for powerhouses like Apple, Adobe, MTV and plenty more. They’re all convincingly inspired by Schwarz and Karasyk’s symbiotic leadership, which envisions HUSH as a passion rather than an occupation, a hothouse for creativity rather than a stultifying dead end.
“Our mentality is that you’re not just there to do a day job,” said Karasyk. “It’s a lifestyle. We both have always had a fairly entrepreneurial mentality in our work. As freelancers, we were always jumping on top of projects to make sure they were properly shepherded through their execution. What we most liked about each other is that we weren’t going to let balls drop.”
“And we worked with super talented people across the board on all aspects of the industry, from producers and directors to designers and developers,” added Schwarz. “But you can have the most talented people in the world, and they might not have the talent to start a brand or create a culture or place where they can really flex their muscles. Sitting in a room with whiteboards and references is only part of what it means to run a company. The other part is creating a brand, a way to speak to the world, a home for employees who want to make great things and create opportunities. The bigger picture is what interests us, and anyone can contribute, from the project director, to a junior producer to an intern.
“We mine the massive information that we collectively take in as a group, and filter that for big ideas. And we ask our clients to pop in and take a swim with us.”
And they have, from late 2006 when Karasyk and Schwarz first set up shop in a friend’s New York office to HUSH’s bustling present-day DUMBO headquarters and satellite office in Montreal, in conjunction with Moskito Films. That’s because HUSH has proven more than capable of negotiating the bleed between old-school advertising approaches and new-school experimentation, without being slaves to either. They’re walking simultaneous tightropes with skill, because industry reality demands such adaptive flexibility, rather than unchanging rigidity. And survival in the new millennium, according to HUSH, comes down to using design to exploit technology’s nearly limitless benefits, or being left behind.
“A lot of design companies know that “digital” and tech are important, but they aren’t active in it, executing internal R&D or pursuing how to hack Kinect cameras, nest multi-touch screens or refine the process of projection mapping,” explained Schwarz. “But we do. We believe design and storytelling can be even more interesting when you place them across platforms or situate them in physical spaces using multiple channels simultaneously, add interactive audio experiences, physical lighting, and so on. We’re naturally inquisitive about technology, whether it’s a cool camera strapped to a helmet, a new platform, or an open codebase that people are using to create generative visuals. We’re not app developers or code monkeys. Our interest involves making, writing, conceiving and developing visual content, but also delivering it in unusual ways that make interesting choices about medium, platform and interaction.”
“HUSH is a brand that’s associated with the digital world, with the commercial design, animation and production world, and also the agency world,” Karasyk added. “So although we’re quite small, we’re a multifaceted hybrid producing work across a large array. The biggest thing we need to convey as a brand is that it works. The renaissance cosmopolitan company is OK because that’s the way the world is working now. You have to be nimble, to turn corners, to apply your worldview and skills to many different types of work. You’ve got to be able to change quickly to survive.”
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