When I started this company, I had one goal: build a Sanctuary for creative people. I’d been looking around the agency space, and felt like the structural effects of capitalism created a particularly unhappy environment for artists and makers to practice their craft. I used to work at a small agency with a big reputation, called Gin Lane.
In 2012 I was young, apps were new and the Internet was exciting. We worked hard, and pulled off crazy things we weren’t sure where even possible. We would spend days living at the office, smoking cigarettes and taking turns sleeping on the couch to launch strung-together projects for massive brands, as a bunch of 23 year olds.
I learnt a lot about design and technology, but more importantly I learnt how I didn’t want to run a company. As time went on, I started realizing that we weren’t getting properly compensated for how hard we were working. I asked for profit share and equity on behalf of our team. I wanted to be the CTO of Gin Lane so I could try and turn the failing tech arm into a profitable side of the business (it never was). I didn’t get any of this, so I left.
I’m Australian, and I needed a visa to freelance, so I started ‣ Inc, and granted myself a visa through that org (a “legal grey area” in US immigration). I worked in Seoul for a while; then Berlin for almost a year with a handful of German developers I met through open source on GitHub, and we built little projects together for a while. Eventually my visa was approved, so I moved back to NYC, was accepted into New Inc, and met Sebastian at Think Coffee (the first person I ever interviewed!).
Jacob and I met at Gin Lane too. We’d been friends since 2013(?) and kept in touch. We liked to meet up and chat and support each other and talk shop (and love and other stuff too) as peers. I was a big fan of ‣ , and I loved hanging out at their storefront (annoyingly called XXXI) in the East Village. That’s how I met Jake and Elie too.
<aside> 💡 XXIX* was never founded, it happened; it grew out of a collaboration that started in 2013 in New York City. We finally admitted we were a real business in 2015 when we had to sign the lease on our own office*.
It occurred to us that, for all the time designers spend re-thinking other industries, we hadn't really looked at our own as critically. So, like many young people starting out on their own, we set out to do things a little differently*.
That worked great for a while – our studio grew, our projects got better, our work was fun – until one fateful project in 2017 opened our eyes: we realized that we had to take more responsibility for our work. That meant being more proactive about the wellbeing of our team, more transparent about how our business was run, more selective about the projects we worked on, and more thoughtful about our contribution to community and environment.
We saw our friends at Sanctuary Computer having a lot of the same conversations. We’ve always felt that technology and design should work together as a single unit so in 2019 we formalized our long-time collaboration to become 'sister studios' and eventually becoming part of what is today garden3d.
Today we’re putting our experience as a partially remote team to use in becoming fully decentralized*, exploring some new avenues for our practice, growing our immediate and extended family, and building a studio that makes us* healthy, happy, and busy.
One night Jacob and I met up in the LES in 2019(?), and he mentioned that they were at a crossroads: Jake and Jacob had worked together for years and felt like they needed to make a change, but they weren’t sure what to do. At that point I’d already started planning out Manhattan Hydraulics, so we saw an opportunity to build an even stronger design culture together.
Jacob, Jake and I decided to join our companies together, in a house called ‣ — we’d support them in growing their studio, and lend a hand with dev on their projects. They’d help build a cutting edge design discipline at garden3d, and we’d share as much inbound business as possible. We also wanted to build out XXXI into a bigger, globe spanning space, and invest in that community. The pandemic slowed that down by about a year; so instead we helped Elie launch Index (the new XXXI) as an online-first community late 2020, and this year, we’re opening our first physical location.
‣ was born around the same time, out of a frustration in working with freelance designers. We were getting more and more “soup to nuts” product work, and the right product designer was hard to come by.
We wanted to invent things, we needed a crack team of futuristic UI designers who think like computers. So I hired Brendon (who was on tour in Europe), Devin (from Twitter, lol) and Tim (an ex-org designer), gave them virtually no direction, and couple of (very big) projects to try and tackle. To this day Manhattan Hydraulics is the most democratic and self organizing group of the three, and a big part of that is due to those (challenging but rewarding!) beginnings.
Somehow, Hydro came into work every day with matching outfits. It might be that NYC black and white vibe tho.
Devin snapped this pic in our first design review, just after we settled on our studio’s name.