Future Insights: The Urgency of Now


Future Insights: The Urgency of Now


A conversation with designer Mike Kus about how design can convey the urgency of the climate crisis, and how age can influence your perspective.

In this series of short interviews, we ask the HOO KOO E KOO Council to share their hopes, fears, and predictions about the future.

Mike Kus

Mike Kus is a UK-based designer with a worldwide client roster, whose work is often featured in design-related publications. Mike is also a regular speaker at design and tech conferences.

0. Tell us a bit about you. Where are you living right now, who do you live with, and what you are currently working on?

I live in a town on the south coast of Chichester, about 50 miles south of London with my family. I specialize in branding, visual identity, web design, and illustration. I’m working under my own brand that I established about 10 years ago. I do quite a lot of photography as well and I show it on my Instagram.

Branding, illustration & web design work created for the music of British composer, Tony Kus. Author- Mike Kus

Branding, illustration & web design work created for the music of British composer, Tony Kus. Author: Mike Kus. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/dnqHK

Has your design style changed significantly since you’ve started?

You’re always evolving as a designer, and you have to contend with trends in design. When I started designing in the Web industry, which is very trend-driven, my work was quite distinct from the trends. I spent several years on illustration work, and so I earned a reputation for myself, bringing a more artistic, illustrative kind of web design to the table.

Illustration designed for Tony Kus

Branding, illustration & web design work created for the music of British composer, Tony Kus. Author: Mike Kus. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/rGK19

Logo, website, and supporting brand assets for Epic — custom travel specialists. Author: Mike Kurs. See the whole project here.

Logo, website, and supporting brand assets for Epic — custom travel specialists. Author: Mike Kus. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/rGK19

1. What are your hopes for the future?

I have some personal hopes for the future, which are just to feel relaxed and happy.

Obviously, this is a bigger question. I was thinking to myself, what are the biggest threats right now? And I wasn’t thinking about the pandemic or anything in particular, but rather about climate change. It’s a weird, sort of insidious kind of threat. I think everyone understands it, yet it still has its skeptics, because it’s not a tidal wave coming up your street, it doesn’t pose an immediate threat.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of how do you communicate the urgency of something like climate change to people and leaders; How do you use the skills we have to help communicate to everyone the message about how we treat the planet?

I think it’s becoming a huge challenge for the future to make the right use of communication and design for the right purpose.

It seems to be an uphill battle to communicate the urgency of the problem with any real impact because of this weird creeping nature of climate change. It has a lot of effects that people just don’t feel first-hand. So effective communication of the urgency of the problem is absolutely key.

I guess one of my hopes for the future is that we can increase the urgency in understanding issues that don’t have an immediate effect on living beings but are posing a threat in the long run. We must do it in a way that actually hits home with people so they can put pressure on governments and organizations to change their behavior and take action to slow down the damage, or hopefully, even reverse it.

Branding, website design, and visual communications designed by Mike for Beliyf which specializes in organizational culture and identity. See the whole project here.

Branding, website design, and visual communications designed by Mike for Beliyf which specializes in organizational culture and identity. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/rGK19

I was actually going to ask you if you feel like when working with your clients, you can sort of transfer this hope of yours into your projects.

I’m lucky to work with a lot of clients and organizations who do care about what they do and how they impact the world. For example, the skincare brand that I’m working with right now. They only source ingredients from certain regions, and for the packaging, they have a nice-looking vase that you use afterward for a different purpose, so that their packaging isn’t just chucked away. However, it’s only recently in my experience that a lot of people seem to be concerned about these things.

There’s another weird thing to this as well. A lot of companies, in the bigger picture, jump on the bandwagon because they see an opportunity in being pro-something that’s popular right now. While the message may not be wrong, you can question their motives sometimes. Unfortunately, the real ultimate goal is promoting themselves. Even though you could argue that the impulse is a good thing, to me, it trivializes the issue. It is a lack of sincerity from people taking on a banner. These big organizations, when they take on this banner, they really have to mean what they’re subscribing to and their actions have to back it up.

I really appreciate your outlook on that because it shows that whatever you do, whatever your job is, you can still do something to help combat climate change.

Exactly. Especially in design and communication, you’re able to do a lot of good in a lot of areas. And even if you can’t always do it directly in your job, you definitely have the opportunity to bring it to your clients. It’s nice to think you can have some kind of minor impact even if you’re not directly on the front line.

Posters designed by Mike Kus

Posters designed by Mike Kus for Getty Images. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/rGK19

2. What are your fears about the future?

My fear is that everything I’ve talked about doesn’t happen. But when I think about it, I guess my main fear about the future is completely unrelated to design. It is that there’s a lot of ramping up of tensions between different countries and there are many who say we will end up going to war again. I just don’t think people take it seriously enough — that the prospect of this happening again is possible and it happened twice in the recent past. I think people take it for granted that it probably won’t happen. But if it did, it would obviously be an absolute disaster for the whole world.

Poster designed by Mike Kus for Getty Images. See the whole project here.

Poster designed by Mike Kus for Getty Images. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/rGK19

3. What are you most excited about 10 years from now?

I don’t really live my life thinking constantly about the future. I just very much live in the present. I don’t think I’m a very big future planner. So I’m simply always trying to do my best now and I’m excited to see what happens in 10 years.

I have just written a photography book, and it’s getting published this October. It’s just based on hobbyist photography But I’m excited to see if that goes anywhere or takes me in a slightly different direction. Because I live in the present and don’t think too much, normally, what happens to me, is that things just happen. It’s like you go off on a tangent completely unexpectedly. So I’m quite excited to see what those tangents might be. I guess you can sort of make the tangents happen in a way.

I don’t ever really design long-term future outcomes. I think I make future outcomes happen by the work I do here and now. Instead of planning 3 years ahead, I just rather think of what I will do this year and if it leads me onto something else that’s cool and satisfying.

Poster designed by Mike Kus for Getty Images. S

Poster designed by Mike Kus for Getty Images. See the whole project here: shorturl.at/rGK19

I’m getting a little bit older too; I’m in my mid-forties. It’s a slightly different time in your life when you’re young and in your 20s and 30s. It feels like your career will be limitless, like there’s no end to it, ever. And when you get to your 40s, you start to feel a sense of time.

A few years ago, I got offered a job at Google in Mountain View, California. I didn’t take it because it just didn’t really suit me. It was quite interesting, the idea of working for Google, but I didn’t think the role was a good fit. I just wonder now if opportunities are hindered by age. Luckily, I’ve always found that people judge you by your work, so it should be all right [laughter].

I’ve been doing what I do roughly for 20 years, I probably have another 20 years to go, so I’m halfway in. I guess that one of my hopes for the future is that I am judged by what I do and not by my age.

But you know, I’m 24 and I’m on the same boat as you are. The market is changing and sometimes I genuinely do feel too old because there are 16 year-olds who are doing business and creating their own startups. And sometimes I feel like I’m running too slow

You’re totally right. I remember my 20s. There were times I felt too old as well. I used to play in a band and that was my main thing before I actually got a proper job. We played for years. But it sort of started to fall apart when I was in my late 20’s. And one of the reasons was that I felt I was too old to be in a band. Because suddenly all of the bands playing with us were, you know, 19, 20. And I was heading towards 30. I actually felt a little bit embarrassed that I was too old. And now it feels ridiculous to me that I thought that back then.

It’s a weird thing. Even in your 20s, you can feel the youth biting your heels. And then obviously when you get older, you realize that you’re super young in your 20s.

But you know what’s funny, I never look at other people who are older, even if they’re in their 70s or 80’s, and judge them as I judged myself. I’ve never ever judged their age. Ever. You get 70/80year-old artists and designers who are still flamboyant, full of life and creating great work. So I just tell myself that and it makes me feel better [laughter].

Website and branding design for Snapsound, author- Mike Kus. See the whole project here.

Website and branding design for Snapsound, author: Mike Kus.

4. What trends do you think will form our future?

I think what’s been quite interesting in the last few years, was the NFT trend, just from the point of view of how it makes people think. I saw someone talking about creating an Internet TV show where you can literally buy the animated objects within the show. So surely people will be trying to capitalize on digital goods.

But you know, people always try to make me predict the future. And I literally have no idea [laughter]. I mean, I just try to do what I do and do my best in it. So I’m almost sure that whatever arrives, I will probably be the person who is helping with it in terms of design and communication.

5. Fast forward 30 years. What will be the key changes for humanity?

Personally, I do believe that the positive opportunities that climate change presents are true. But at the same time, I don’t believe they can be achieved without sacrifice. One of the biggest conversations around climate change for me is the idea that a lot of people want to think that it can be tackled without any sacrifice. If we can just design our way out of it completely without actually having to give anything up. There’s no doubt that there are things we can do, and the little changes like swapping for reusable containers or making a few small tweaks to packaging, are helping for sure. I just don’t think that this will lead to a huge shift in our lifestyles that is needed. It is going to need a bigger shift.

If we were to achieve the goal of slowing down climate change or stopping or reversing or whatever it is going to have to be, that will mean there will have been key changes for humanity, in 30 years. I think we will have to be living a different kind of life by that point. Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know. I don’t have a whole lot of faith that we will change a lot. I think we will change a bit. But if that will be enough or not, I can’t tell. It feels like there’s plenty of will from individuals to change but whether there is a will from governments and corporations, I’m not sure.

I remember my mum talking to me about this when I was eight years old, in the 80s. She was learning the new environmentally conscious lifestyle. She wasn’t using any aerosol cans anymore, but it was just a minor change. So this has been an issue for 40 years now. And in a funny way, we’re still talking about all the same things, and I’m afraid we’ll just be talking about the same thing in 30 years’ time.

It seems that in order for people to make sacrifices it takes an extreme crisis on a personal level where you have no other choice but to change. People who have experienced such a crisis are more likely to understand the need for sacrifices. Perhaps these big changes for humanity might happen when the crisis hits home. There’s a need for something more extreme than the pandemic to help people to stop and rethink everything that they’ve known so far.

That’s exactly right. And it goes right back to an earlier question. The challenge is communicating the urgency of climate change to people without having those extreme experiences. Because in an ideal world, you’d rather make these changes and sacrifices without people having to suffer the consequences first. But as you said, people generally react to the extreme experience, and then at some point, they might do something about it. And to me, that is a massive question over the coming years — how to make that happen?

Thinking about how you really relate this problem to any individual in any town in Poland or the U.K. How do we create a message that actually hits home? Those people, even though they’re not directly threatened by climate change right now, how can we really make them tweak? That is something I should be concerned about, and that does require a change — a big challenge for all of us for sure.

I think that’s a great ending to this interview — leaving us with a question. Thank you so much for your time. That was incredibly interesting.

Thank you for reading!

Interviewer: Justyna Cyrankiewicz, Creative Content Curator and Writer.
Proofreader: Joe Foxton, New Business.

With love, HOO KOO E KOO 💛