06th February 2020

On starting a creative agency and exploring South America with James, our Creative Director.

by James


Curious to find out how KOTA came into being? James, our agency’s co-founder and Creative Director, answers all the burning questions in this interview, including the idea behind the name.

James fell in love with design when he was 17. After a stint at college where he mostly learnt that college wasn’t for him, he busked his way into the industry and had eight great years as a freelance graphic designer contracting for some of the biggest agencies in London before setting up KOTA with Jonny Bradford in 2012.

Read on to find out how James initially got into design and where he gets his inspiration from. Don’t forget to check out the video from his latest trip to Guatemala below!

How did you initially get into art and design?

A long, long time ago, in 1999 to be exact, when I took communication studies as one of my A-Levels. For one of our projects, we had to come up with the college’s music magazine title and to design the front cover. 

Whilst everyone else was using Word to create theirs, a friend of mine gave me a copy of CorelDraw. This was my introduction to digital composition using the layer system which I absolutely loved. In the end, my design concept, with an impressive (for a 19 year old) title ‘Echo Magazine’, was used monthly throughout the year. It seemed I had a natural talent for design.

From then on, I continued learning more advanced software by myself. Eventually, I hustled my way in as a junior graphic designer at a local mortgage sourcing company in Surrey, where I was designing websites and marketing content.

How did you and Jonny meet?

Jonny and I met through an acquaintance in 2012. At the time, I was designing and struggling to code, while he was coding and struggling to design. It felt like a perfect opportunity for us to collaborate on a few projects. We then started to get more requests for websites and design work, mostly through referrals. 

Ed was our first hire who later became our very talented Design Director. Having had a few more hires, we quickly outgrew our shared studio. Gradually, we started being approached by clients for more ambitious projects with bigger budgets, which allowed us to grow the team further and bring everything in-house. 

7 years later, we now have a strong reputation within the design industry and an amazing studio in Clerkenwell. Here, I’m privileged to work with some extremely talented individuals on great projects.

Why ‘KOTA’?

I’ve always loved the song ‘Kota’ by the artist Bonobo, so when it came to naming the company I did a bit of research behind this title. The various cultural meanings tied in perfectly with our approach. In Native American, it means ‘The Allies’ which relates to the strong relationships we like to maintain with our clients, while in Japanese, it means happiness and good fortune.

What was your favourite project?

Hard question – I’ve had a lot of great projects! However, if I were to choose my favourite, I think it would be motion graphics for Penhaligon’s. They always have new requirements for the videos, so it’s great to be challenged and learn new techniques. I also find working in After Effects extremely satisfying and the hours fly by.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere, really. I could be on the tube and notice a nice ad layout, which I’ll use as part of a website 3 months later or I’ll see a colour combination on some Spotify artwork and end up using it for personal work. Years ago, I was told by an artist to keep your eyes wide open (figuratively) because inspiration can appear anywhere.

Though if I’m looking for more specific ideas, I always lurk around design inspiration sites such as Awwwards, CSS Design Awards, The DNA Life and Codrops.

What are your favourite things to do outside of work?

If I have any energy left to load up Photoshop after work and the gym, I love to create digital collages. It’s like meditation to me – I get totally lost for hours while creating them. 

Being a bit of a nerd, I’m always experimenting with the latest bit of tech or geeking with my friends over the latest movies. I really recommend watching ‘1917’ as Roger Deakins’ cinematography is incredible and the continuous shot is like nothing I’ve experienced before.

I also love to ‘Flash-Pack’ whenever possible and my last trip to Guatemala was absolutely amazing. I’ve seen more than half of the South American countries and hope to tick off some more next year. Here is a film of my latest trip.


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