Talia Cotton


I am a designer, coder, and educator specializing in the intersection of branding and technology. I use coding as a medium to make design more fitting and relevant. I am currently leading the design and development of data-driven and algorithmic brand identities at Pentagram with Michael Bierut and Giorgia Lupi, and teaching Advanced Interaction at Parsons School of Design. In 2019 I started “Intro to Coding for Designers,” a workshop catered to boost the advancement of the study of code-as-design for the design community. Before Pentagram, I led my own independent design and coding practice, and led digital brand design and development at Champions Design. Through the classes I teach, the talks I give, and the projects I publish, I am committed to educating the design community on what’s possible with code, helping them understand how it can be applied successfully with wit and reason, and inspiring designers to pursue the study of code fearlessly and sensibly.

Tell us how and why you became involved in socially responsible communications, any thoughts on why design can be an especially effective tool for this goal, and, if you wish, give us an example of a project of which you are proud.

To me, design is socially responsible when the design is Good — that is, when it truthfully and effectively represents the themes and values of the subject. I think right now, companies are being challenged to dig deeper in what they stand for, and as such, designing truthfully and effectively (Good design) is a little more of a challenge. How do you design something that fairly represents the unique qualities of individuals? That is altruistically driven by community? That resiliently evolves over time? And does all this while staying true to itself? My work is driven by code— less as a method to attain an aesthetic or increase the visual capabilities of the design, but rather as a method to truthfully provide design solutions to the deeper problems that companies face. This is not a common approach (in fact I don’t know anyone else who approaches coding from this angle) but to me it’s a no-brainer that is necessary for the future of design.

As far as projects go, GBA is a particular favorite. I was challenged to create a logo that represents the underrepresented, undiscovered artist (typically a minority). No designer should ever claim to truthfully be able to represent an entire population of people different than themself! Relying on code to generate a unique handwriting style for each version of the logo sacrificed my hand and gave it to something other than myself — the computer — without losing the critical elements that make the brand recognizable.

Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does this moment in time present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?

I hope the above ramble answers this, but in a word: design now needs to address the more complex values that are driving companies due to recent social and political evolutions. But there’s a catch. Although the advancement of technology has potential to benefit designs now and in the future, it also could be in and of itself an obstacle. We are seeing more and more designs that are driven by technology, but so many of them look similar, many leaning into the functions that coding lends itself to because they “look cool.” I think the danger is in that latter part. When a design “looks cool,” it runs the risk of distracting its viewers (and its maker!) from its purpose: to truthfully and effectively represent something visually. I pray that in the advancement of technology as design, we are able to collectively discover that code’s contribution to design is so much more than looking a certain way, and instead, represent certain deep-rooted concepts.