Name: Todd St. John
Occupation: Designer/illustrator/animator. Founder of HunterGatherer.
Current projects: We are doing some ongoing work with Pilgrim, which is a surf shop in Brooklyn run by a friend. We just finished up some animation for AM Labs, which is a cleaning-product company based in Denmark. And we're working on our own product designs.
Mission: Striving to make designs that seem inevitable
From Photo-Graphics, an ongoing series of cameras rendered in wood
Cover images for a Money Mark LP and the New York Times Magazine
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? When I was younger I was interested in too many things. At some point in school, when I understood what design could encompass, it really appealed to me. Since it was so expansive, you could do quite a number of things and still call them "design."
Education: My degree is in graphic design, from the University of Arizona. Later I taught a design class for 10 years in Yale's graduate program, and I feel like I learned quite a bit from the faculty and students there. I also absorbed a lot about woodworking and engineering from my father.
First design job: In school, my first "design" internship was in Hawaii, where I grew up. I worked for a small agency, doing illustrations for a local ice cream shop and coffee packaging and things like that. Out of school, it was for a small firm in San Diego, doing identities and packaging.
Who is your design hero? The answer to that question changes. But I recently read a Jim Henson biography, and I've always thought really highly of him and how he combined communication and fun and visual innovation in ways that do great things for the world.
Inside HunterGatherer's studio in Brooklyn
Left: a skull model in HunterGatherer's workshop. Right: a moose illustration created for a Toyota Prius campaign
Identity and design for Pilgrim, a Brooklyn surf and clothing shop
Describe your workspace: We have a studio split in two parts. One is what I'd call "the clean room" and the other is the shop. So all the desks and computers are in one room, and all the saws and that sort of thing are in the other. It used to be in one room, but then you get a lot of sawdust in the computers. Beside myself we have two full-time employees and one part-time, and then we work with a lot of freelancers based on projects.
Other than the computer, what is your most important tool? I draw constantly, so probably the mechanical pencil.
What is the best part of your job? I've always tried to pivot between collaborating with people and doing our own products. When I first started, I wasn't sure if that was possible, but we've been doing it for 14 or 15 years now and that's still been a model that's worked. I feel really lucky to be able to do that.
What is the worst part of your job? Probably the really business-y side of the job—taxes and payroll and that sort of thing.
A video for REDU, with stop-motion animation using thousands of individually cut blocks
Above and below: some of St. John's abstract illustrations
What time do you get up and go to bed? I usually get up when one of my kids wakes up, which is sometime around 6:30 a.m. And I try to be in bed by 11:00 p.m.
How do you procrastinate? Trying to teach myself new things, and buying a bunch of equipment for it
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? Just having good people that work with me. One thing I've always done is try to hire somebody at least part-time who is working on projects other than client projects. Keeping them busy has always been very helpful for me in terms of moving forward those sorts of projects without a deadline.
What is the most important quality in a designer? Open-mindedness and never assuming you're right
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? Probably the word "design" itself. Everybody says it, but no two people think it means the same thing.
A folding chair and ottoman made from walnut, brass and nylon
A hand-made tape dispenser and candleholder, both in solid walnut
What is your most prized design possession? I've got an old Hans Wegner paddle-arm chair that is my reading chair. It's a little dinged up at this point, but I'd say that's my most prized thing.
What is exciting you in design right now? Although I don't do a lot of super high-tech things myself, I think a lot of what's going on with algorithmic design and generative design is super interesting.
If you could redesign anything, what would you choose? Maybe designing a contemporary library, from the furniture to the way people interact with information, the books and the space. It would span a lot of things I'm interested in.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years? Hitting my stride, hopefully
Lastly, who's more fun to have a drink with: architects, industrial designers or graphic designers? I think drinks are always better with as many different kinds of people as possible.