Talia Cotton departs Pentagram to launch Cotton, an agency specifically for coding and design

Spotting a “catch-22” around coding in design, Cotton Design is ushering in a dedicated space for the medium to illustrate its potential.

16 February 2023

In Talia Cotton’s time at Pentagram, she lead on data-driven and algorithmic brand identities and websites, with a number of her projects hinged on pushing what was possible with design through coding. With access to such impactful projects, starting a new company “was never an option”, says the designer. Yet, at the same time, Talia was witnessing how coding was received in the industry. It's received with curiosity because of its “potential impact”, but frustration too, with many not knowing “how to get there or even what’s possible”. Cotton is Talia’s answer to this issue: a new agency situated at the intersection between design and code.

Talia hopes the company will work to close the gap between the two mediums at a few points. Firstly, the company will serve as a home for designers who love to code, in a time when “more and more designers are graduating with the basic knowledge – and passion – for how to code”. Secondly, Talia wants Cotton to be a collaborator for agencies who aren’t currently working with the medium, or at its fullest potential.

Talia says there is a catch-22 in the design industry’s uptake of technology like coding. Despite the increase in those with coding skills and the uptick in digital-first companies, agencies have been slower to embrace it. Talia explains why this might be: “Firstly and most importantly, their code-less processes work and have worked for decades. (And if it ain’t broke..!). But secondly, for those agencies and design leads who have that curiosity for the exciting potentials of coding, many design leaders simply don’t have the background to understand how to guide those projects; it’s a skill that takes years of exposure to become an expert at.”

Cotton launches with a new website and campaign which, of course, needed to demonstrate the goods, showing people “the infinite number of ways” coding can be used as a tool to enhance design. The identity also does something to counter the preconception that coding is intimidating and better off not bothered with as a result. It features interactive typographic treatments of Cotton, including a Tetris and balloon-based iteration. Talia tells us there are 20 treatments in all that will be released gradually. “We did this to firstly show off the many different ways a brand or design can successfully be made digital and, secondly, to show off,” she jokes.

When we ask Talia the kinds of projects Cotton hopes to welcome in its first year, she points towards branding: “that’s where my experience – and fascination – exists”. The capabilities of the agency also allows for new scope in the field, where coding offers untapped benefits.

For example, this could be applied when a brand is technology driven. “Instead of using the overused tropes of pixels and monospaced typefaces, you can use technology itself to illustrate technology,” Talia poses. Or, when the brand has a "complex abstract theme that is hard to represent with colour and typography alone”, technology might provide new ways address it, “resulting in design that is simply more authentic".

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Talia Cotton: Cotton Design (Copyright © Cotton Design, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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