HUSH Cover Story of Event Design Magazine

We're chameleons by nature.

The bar has been raised on face-to-face interactive media. New technologies are erasing limits that previously defined visual effects, audio treatments, motion detection, touch activation and every other aspect of media integration. It’s a whole new world out there—and nearly anything is possible.

Leading the charge to put these new tools to the test, a number of young and aggressive studios are bringing to fruition projects that few others can even imagine. HUSH, a design agency located in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge) area of New York, is one of those companies. The work includes digital, broadcast, mobile—as well as new twists on physical installations that deliver what HUSH calls emotional articulations of brand messages.

HUSH was founded four years ago by partners David Schwarz (on right in photo) and Erik Karasyk, two former freelance creative directors and visual specialists who, after working together on a project, decided the time was right to set up a shop of their own. What sets HUSH’s work apart from some studios is that the team looks at narrative and message first—and then technology—rather than the other way around.

Tell the Story

“For us, it’s always about telling a story,” says Schwarz. Both his and Karasyk’s backgrounds are in TV and cinema content, and they draw on that skill set every day.

Everything else, however, is up for grabs. “We’re chameleons by nature,” says Schwarz. Hardware, software, media type—and even the team they bring in to supplement their core team of 10—changes based on project scope and specialties required.

For us, it’s always about telling a story.

Pre-HUSH, Schwarz and Karasyk’s resumes read like a who’s who of top brands. Nike, American Express, Coca Cola. Acura, Sprint, McDonalds, and Miller are just a handful of the clients they’ve served. And together, since forming HUSH, the list has grown to include other international marketers including Toyota, General Mills, Sony Ericsson.

Schwarz and Karasyk cemented their relationship during a large project in Argentina in which they were both hired onto a team of creatives developing a series of commercials. The pair’s month together served as sort of a courtship. Schwarz and Karasyk found themselves working nonstop, partnering with a production services company and coordinating 300 Spanish-speaking extras out of an airplane hangar. At the end of each day, the two went out to dinner and shared the glow of the day’s success over several bottles of red wine.

“It was fun and surreal. We found ourselves thinking, ‘Wow, we’re really working well together and really pulling this off,’” says Schwarz. It wasn’t long after that when the two established the business partnership.

Schwarz is the emotional and reactive one who eggs everyone on, while Karasyk is the pensive, strong and silent one who focuses on the details, technical aspects and execution. “I’ve never seen him sweat,” says Schwarz.

Schwarz also refers to Karasyk as “The Solution Man.” “I’ll come to him and say, ‘We need to…’ and Erik will already be three steps ahead.”

Pushing Limits

Schwarz and Karasyk work with a core team of about 10 which expands and contracts with freelancers and partner agencies based on the specialty talents required for each project. They look for diversity in experience, attitude and interests in order to give the overall team as much insight into as many products and industries as possible.

Every project starts with brainstorming and everyone is invited to participate. Jenn Mann, a producer who has been at HUSH for a little over eight months, says her favorite part of being on the team is the way they collaborate and look to everyone to contribute ideas. “They let us contribute beyond what we were hired for. No matter where it comes from, if it’s a great idea, they’re going to take it,” says Mann.

Schwarz has found that the event industry in general is not nearly as flexible as it should be. As relative newcomers to the event space, Schwarz now knows that event suppliers fall into one of two categories: There are people who can assemble and execute, and there are people who create content. Schwarz says he’s recognized a fairly direct correlation between the level of creativity of the solution and which group is in control. For instance, when the assemble-and-execute folks are in control, the architecture and media tend to be decided first, with the content filled in second.

These solutions tend to be less innovative than the solutions that develop when the content generation people drive the project. “The industry is missing a lot of great opportunities on behalf of clients because of how it has traditionally does business,” he says.

HUSH is typically brought into projects as a partner of a client’s agency. Schwarz and Karasyk say that this works fine, so long as they are brought in early before too much is set in stone. They’ve been known to pass on jobs when they are asked not for a communications strategy and approach, but to implement the creation of a specific, already-determined type of output such as a video or touch-screen interface.

Schwarz also feels that the event industry limits itself by becoming attached to new technologies without figuring out if they are the right solution for a particular client. One of the biggest offenders, says Schwarz, are the companies who are determined to use holograms or augmented reality before they’ve really thought it through. “I’ve seen too many instances where clients opt for technologies that aren’t the best way to communicate the message. There’s no relevance or appropriateness,” he says.

The solution? “The industry needs to ask more open-ended questions. That will lead to a much more diverse range of options,” says Schwarz.  It will work because it’s the designer’s job to know about all of the latest technologies—including infra red, motion detection, and the various operating systems—and select the best one for the job.

Consider What Others Overlook

Schwarz is a big fan of audio, which he considers the oldest experiential technology—and yet perhaps least used. “Audio is the black sheep of media but probably most impactful and dramatic in terms of memorability. It resonates in a way that visual doesn’t,” says Schwarz. It can be directional, convey and emotional tone, be coned into a localized area—and even respond to or activated by user motion or voice.

In terms of what’s next, Schwarz says the team is actively creating experiences that automatically adjust to different user modes. For instance, some of HUSH’s recent projects at trade shows have used motion detectors to activate a variety of interactive modes: one for if practically no one is paying attention to the experience, one for a single user with others looking over their shoulder, and one for multiple users.

“Sensor technologies give our interactive experiences the ability to understand and adjust to the situation. We need to utilize that to give all of our attendees, under all circumstances, the best interaction possible,” says Schwarz.