A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to another edition of the monthly Cogent Crew series, where a Cogent person interviews another Cogent person and shares what they discover.
For April, our Office Manager Mary sat down with digital designer Will to talk about how he went from studying art in America to working in Berlin and eventually joining Cogent in Melbourne.
Name: Will Rockel
Job: Digital Designer
Time at Cogent: Just over 1 year
Mary: So Will, what do you do at Cogent?
I’m a designer, which at Cogent involves helping clients figure out everything from what their product is, to what problem they’re solving, to then performing user research, and continues all the way through to the final visual design.
Mary: Have you always been a designer?
Actually, I originally studied painting. I went to art school in Baltimore (in the US), and then through that got really interested in how paintings work, and visual language in general.
From there I naturally fell into design, and digital media. At the time, there was a lot of digital art stuff happening which I found really interesting. After graduation, I moved to Berlin and needed a job, so I started focusing more in that digital space. Eventually I started working almost exclusively on design and moved further and further away from fine art.
A lot of designers started out by learning more traditional analogue design — things like packaging and print design. For me, it was always digital.
This was around 2007 in Germany, so the idea of a UX designer was still rare. Agencies didn’t have dedicated UX or UI teams like some do now. I was doing digital work and it encompassed a lot of what we now call UX but it wasn’t called that then.
Eventually I was got into more service design and digital product design, and working with a more holistic view of design rather than just how something looks.
Mary: Cool. Is that more aligned with the projects you work on now?
Yes. I usually end up working on multiple projects in any given week, but I’m currently on one full-time, which is a nice change. The project is supposed to help governments run more effectively and be more transparent when reviewing policies, which is a good thing.
Before this one I was working on one that helps victims of child abuse by creating a central place where all the people interacting with the child could share progress and track the effectiveness of care. So for example, school teachers, social workers, psychologists, parents and family members.
Mary: Oh wow! What a great idea. Was this a favourite of the projects you’ve worked on?
It’s definitely one of them. They’ve all been very different projects, so a lot of them have things that are really unique or special about them. The thing I’ve loved is that they’ve all had kind of a positive social message — like with that one I can go to work in the morning and think “I’m helping children receive better care.” That’s been a huge positive of working at Cogent.
Mary: Is that what initially drew you to Cogent?
Yeah, the thing that drew me to Cogent what that it seemed to be working on the type of projects that I personally thought were worthwhile. I liked that there was more of a focus on industries like renewable energy, healthcare and education, rather than just making products that sell ads or do things like that.
During the interview process there was a lot of talk about Cogent values and if there was alignment between the kind of sustainable companies I want to support, and the ones that Cogent works with and actively invests in. It’s kind of amazing, and pretty rare to find that in a company.
Mary: Did you come across businesses like ours in Berlin?
I’m sure they exist, but I personally didn’t find companies prioritised the same things. There’s a really intense interview process at Cogent. For example, I’ve never worked somewhere that has an interview stage purely about values, or where the hiring process is so transparent within the company.
It’s basically an interview straight off the bat to figure out whether the business values are aligned with my personal values, whether we’ll get along and whether we actually want to work with each other. It ends up creating a more holistic work environment, but I think for most businesses that’s a tangential concern as opposed to a primary focus.
Mary: Do you still do art when you’re not working?
Yeah, I moved from art into design but I haven’t stopped making things in general. I make some ceramics at home and still draw a lot. My wife’s an illustrator, and we occasionally make little things together. Oh, and cooking. I love cooking.
Mary: Is that what you’d do if you weren’t a designer? Be a ceramicist or a chef?
Oh I don’t know, I’m pretty content. I think I would be very happy being one of those kooky guys, where nobody really knows what he does but he seems to be doing a little bit of everything. I think that is really my ideal life!
Mary: Is there an app or piece of software you swear by? Or is that also a bit of everything?
I feel like there’s a battle right now where there are so many apps and pieces of software that all trying to do the same thing. I like dabbling with all the new ones, but inevitably go back to the standards like Sketch. I just started experimenting with Lottie, which is amazing. It lets you create animations for the web directly from Adobe After Effects, which is great because you can add a lot of little playful things to apps that you otherwise couldn’t.
Mary: Sounds pretty cool! Finally, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Oh man, that’s hard. For 2009 me — buy Bitcoin.
For me at any other time, learn how to prioritise what you really want, or at the very least cut out some of the things that aren’t what you want. Then take action to make those things happen or make them stop.
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