Lessons Learned From A Marathon, 26-Hour Design Session

We checked back in with the studio HAWRAF to hear about the highs and lows of designing 26 projects in 26 hours.

Last time we checked in with HAWRAF, the NYC-based design studio run by Google Creative Lab alums Carly Ayres, Andrew Herzog, Pedro Sanches, and Nicky Tesla, they were about to embark on 26 straight hours of completing 26 different projects. The marathon design session was an opportunity for the new studio to tackle the learning curve of working together head on, and at record speed. And since they streamed the session live, documented the process along the way, and set up this nice little post-project page with the results, the project, called A-Z, was open for anyone to follow along.


We were watching here at Co.Design, and were curious to check back in to see what they learned. Using an online generator they built that pulled a new word from the dictionary in alphabetical order every hour, the designers created everything from the design of an entire house (word: “Cohabit”) at their most clear-headed to a card game matching famous women with their bodies of work (word: “Oeuvre”) at punch-drunk hour-12. In the last hour, they were mercifully given the word Zigzag, which coincided nicely with the studio’s wordmark. They uploaded it to the project site and, at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, called it a night.

We gave them a chance to rest, then called them up to talk highs and lows, lessons learned, and how the results fit in with Creative Accessibility, the studio’s initiative to make design more transparent, inclusive, and accessible.

A Crash Course in Communication
Any new studio needs to learn how its partners work together most fluidly—HAWRAF just sped up that process a bit. The designers already knew they worked well together; they met and started collaborating a couple of years ago while at Google Creative Lab and the studio has been open for a little over six months. But working under such a tight time constraint—they had one hour to create, document, and upload each project online—left little time for holding back strong opinions.


“We learned to trust our gut feeling,” says Herzog. There were times at the beginning of the 26 hours when all of the designers thought that the project wasn’t working, but no one wanted to say anything. By the end, they knew not to waste that time. “Now we know we need to talk through how to fix it and speak up sooner next time. To communicate with two other people in that way was a huge learning experience.”


Don’t Be Overly Precious About Your Work
Constraints on time, budget, and tools made the project an exercise in sacrificing perfectionism in service of the larger concept. “If I disagreed with a certain direction, we’d have to compromise in the next five minutes,” says Ayres. “But there would be 20 more projects after that. We were moving so quickly that we learned to take smaller risks and be okay with compromising.”

There were also times when everyone agreed on a direction and it ended up not working anyway, as with the idea for building a rubber band engine for the letter E (word: “Engine”). When that idea failed, they made a quick pivot into haiku territory. Being flexible, compromising quickly, and getting ideas on the table are valuable lessons for any project, even when you do have time to perfect the execution.


Feedback Comes In Many Forms
The concept behind the project was always to make it a livestream video so others could see the wins and losses, and hopefully learn from them. The designers ended up especially appreciative of that decision around 3 a.m., when their parents and friends were no longer leaving comments on the Facebook video, but students at a school in Australia were. The students, who were watching them on a big screen in their classroom, left the designer encouraging comments.

Feedback—encouraging or critical—is essential to any creative endeavor. And looking outside your immediate peers or colleagues can be especially valuable.


Don’t Get Pigeonholed By Your Discipline
Herzog is a graphic designer, Tesla is a developer, and Ayres has a background in furniture design, but often tackles copy writing for HAWRAF. (The fourth partner, Sanches, is a designer and coder, but he was traveling for the duration of the project.) Like most small studios, though, everyone does a bit of everything. With A-Z, that concept was put to the test; when the designers wanted to make a video for J (word: Jive), Tesla tried his hand at music-production software for the first time, while Ayres and Herzog worked on visuals.


That’s something that they want to hold onto as the studio matures, and an idea that was reinforced by the project as well. “I was most excited about the process of doing projects that tackle so many different mediums,” says Herzog. “We made tiny short films and designed a house. I would love for us to continue pushing boundaries like that: Maybe we’ll start making films now. Maybe we are interested in working with architects. The creative process shouldn’t be limited to ‘We’re graphic designers’ so we make posters, websites, and logos. If you’re a creative person, you can make anything you want that expresses an idea.”

See the projects in the slideshow above, and head to HAWRAF’s project page for more documentation and description.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.