Feature Friday #015 — Matt Hamm

A CB OG joins us for Feature Friday #015. He's founder and co-owner of the Supereight Stuidio, a rock star in the making, and a crack Star Wars designer (always a CB fave). You can read more about his awesome work and see a full collection of products at Supereightstudio.com. Or you can shop his Cotton Bureau collection here.

Hey Matt. It's been 8 years since we last did this. So tell me, has anything changed or is the world exactly the same as it was in 2016 for you? You up to any new endeavors, projects, or hustles?

In some respects EVERYTHING has changed and in others, nothing.

In 2017, Supereight co-founder Pete Orme decided to work full-time for one of our clients, it was very amicable, so I bought him out and continued to run Supereight Studio on my own.

The company went on from strength to strength and we managed to secure some really nice retainers which keep everything running smoothly financially. We also got into a position where we could run the company remotely. I still worked at the co-working space in Witney, Oxfordshire with Ed Hicks, Jon Hicks, and Wes West, which was a perfect setup really, we had a lot of fun in that office and shared many ideas.

In early 2019, my wife and I made a huge decision to move the family to Spain, before Brexit kicked in. We were looking to move houses anyway, but property was so expensive in the UK and the cost of living was rising. Because I was already effectively working remotely we could, in theory, live anywhere, as long as we had good internet access.

My wife is Venezuelan and is a native Spanish speaker, so Spain made sense for us. The weather was better and the cost of living was lower and it was still close enough to fly back to the UK in 2 hours.

We rented our house in the UK and found a beautiful villa to rent by the beach in Javea, Spain. I am still able to run Supereight Studio as a Ltd. as a UK company, as many of our clients are international. We've been living here in Spain for nearly 5 years now and things could not be better. There is a great digital nomad community here from all around the world.

I did work for a couple of years from a co-working space in Javea with some friends Dennis, Kieron & Linda, but now I just work from home in a nice little office space I have created in my house.

More recently we've been working closely with Cambridge University for some of their research departments and a Cybersecurity firm based in Atlanta, called Apptega.com. We are currently designing a website for a US based Music Label, which I'm pretty excited about.

Gotcha. So outside of becoming a sole business owner, moving to a new country, and starting full time work from home not a whole lot is different. Just your standard life altering experiences, huh?

I have quite a few questions about Spain but before I get to that I'm super curious about your work with universities and companies. Has it been significantly different than your early work at Supereight Studio? And does it vary at all from projects you normally handle in Europe or is it all pretty much the same process…

I've always found that the desired design aesthetic for US based companies is different from the UK, there has always been a difference in the direction taken. From my experience our American clients tend to like things more a bit more 'in your face' and flashy, where as the UK clients preferred design choices which are more subtle and perhaps more typographic led. But those differences, more recently are becoming more homogenous.

It all gets worked out with the same process though. You just have to trust the process.

That's super fascinating to me. It seems like the subtle approach is in line with contrasting design thoughts between the States and Europe in general… city planning, architecture, marketing etc. Does that feel accurate to you and what factors do you think are most responsible for the design differences?

That's a hard question to answer, as there are probably many factors involved. It's all about context. Design does differentiate from region to region and country to country. I have found the Spanish design aesthetic is actually very different to the UK, since living here, I notice it a lot more. It's more colourful, illustrative, playful and with different typographic approaches.

Americans tend to generalise Europe, but it's much more diverse than you think, especially in terms of design and marketing.

The USA is a very large country and although this is harder for me make a judgement as I have never lived there, there must be subtle differences between west coast, east coast, mid, north and south American design. Which will be down to history, market competition, weather, attitudes, politics, and all sorts of things.

Death Star Interior Lighting embroidered hat by Matt Hamm. Now available on Cotton Bureau.

That's a fair point. There's variation across the States (and especially across NA countries) but just like anything, once a trend starts it's picked up everywhere. Judging from your answer Europe feels a little more unique and culturally rooted. I'm sure that keeps you on your toes when working with a new client!

What else have you learned about Spain that was unanticipated? Regardless of how much I research a city or country or culture it always feels different than I expect when I arrive. It makes for a better experience because I love that discovery process, but it's also less impactful when on vacation. Committing to live in a new region is vastly different, I'm sure. Were there any crazy culture shocks, positive or negative, that really stick out when you think about your transition from the UK to Javea?

The area where we chose to live in Spain actually speaks Valenciano as their primary language, which is a Spanish dialect, it sounds like a mix of Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese.

They use this language in the public schools and in the government, so even though we can actually speak Spanish it's hard work getting to grips with that and understanding some things. We didn't really realise this before we moved here. But the community is quite international, there is a mix of expat English, Dutch, German and French people so English is spoken widely.

The bureaucracy is overbearing in Spain, there seems to be this layer of it that you need to work with to get anything done, which more often than not involves physical paper documents and queuing/waiting/travelling all day.

Websites and apps here feel a lot more dated than in the UK. I think the local skillset of developing, designing and securing those infrastructures is not quite up to speed yet. So it feels a little backwards sometimes. But saying that, I've got super fast fibre and it's only a small town, things are changing rapidly.

I just love the general mindset here though, where people focus more on what you do with your leisure time, than what you do for a living, or for work, it's far less important. And of course the beautiful weather and coastline.

Street sign in Matt's new hometown of Javea, Spain

As someone who took American Sign Language to opt out of the foreign language requirement in college, I think I'd have a better chance at becoming an astronaut than learning Valenciano. If you're the type to pick up and move countries I'm sure that is part of the excitement though, right? I imagine becoming fully immersed in the culture, local dialect, and community scene is sort of the point.

I'd think that same sentiment extends to Spain's philosophy on work/life balance. Do you find yourself having more time to spend on non-business activities you love? Or is it more of a change in mentality and priority than a difference in schedule?

I've always wanted to live abroad at some point, it was never the right time and at some point you just have to do it or it will never happen.

I like being slightly outside my comfort zone, like just paddling out into the sea so that your feet don't quite touch the bottom, that's where the magic happens.

My work load is up and down, sometimes I'm super busy and other times the work just vanishes. That's when I walk away from the computer and I enjoy my environment. I go hiking, walking the dog or jumping in my swimming pool or doing some gardening in the orchard behind my house.

I also play lead guitar in a local rock band, so band rehearsal always keeps me on my toes, we have our first gig coming up next month.

Next month I'm taking a few days to attend OFFF Barcelona, which is a design conference a 4 hour drive north from my house. It's got a great chilled atmosphere and they always have top notch speakers from around the globe, and you always meet interesting and inspiring people.

It took me quite a while to adjust to the slower pace of life here in Spain. At first I found it frustrating. It doesn't seem to matter if you are late or things take a while to get done, so you tend to take the scenic route and enjoy the journey more.

Deathstar Interior Lighting by Matt Hamm. Available on Cotton Bureau

Ah you've got me envious. It sounds like an ideal setup. I've found that taking actual time off and just enjoying the relaxing moments makes your work even better. The meeting tardiness would be a tough one for me to swallow though lol. Are the movie designs part of that relaxation time for you as well? They're some of our most popular on the site. Also congrats on the gig!

I'll get ya outta here on this one: What are you expecting at the OFFF Barcelona conference? I don't know whether to be skeptical, worried, or excited about the future of design. It feels like the industry is in a very precarious position as AI becomes more prevalent. How much of a role do you expect that to play both at the conference and over the next 10 years? I'm not sure if the inevitable litigation and regulations can stop the momentum (or if that's even what's best).

I love sci-fi and fantasy films. And I especially have a thing for Star Wars. I collect vintage Star wars figures too, which is another rabbit hole.:)

Most of the designs I make are just because I can't find the thing that I want, so I just design it myself.

The Death Star Lighting idea literally took me 10 mins to make, but the idea had been brewing for a while. It's insane how popular it's been, and over a long period of time. It's so hard to judge what will be sell, you just have to make it for yourself and hope that other people like it too.

AI like any new tech will change things of course. The path is unclear. It's not quite there yet but I'm sure it will be. We need to keep up and embrace that new tech or we'll all get left behind.

I already use AI daily to help my creative process to generate new ideas, create images that would normally be very labour intensive to produce, to help with writing clearer proposals or snippets of code. If anything, it just enhances what I do, it's not taking over just yet (*We're doomed!).

I know it's more of a relaxing culture in Javea but you certainly have a ton going on. Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat. Best of luck at your first performance and with the ongoing Supereight projects. We can't wait to see what you create next!

P.S. Use code featurefridayMH for 15% off all Matt Hamm products now through 3/17!