It was a few hours before the party and with the team gathered in the kitchen area of our office, that I asked Chris Tobias if he had a particularly fond memory of his 15 years running Tobias and Tobias (T&T).
He smiled, and said something like this:
“I distinctly remember the day in our old office in Hammersmith when I heard the words for the first time: ‘we’ll give it our best shot boss’. No one had ever called me ‘boss’ before”.
So for Chris Tobias, it was possibly that moment in a big, ugly West London building when he and his brother Simon realised that they were well past an experiment, they were running a design business that carried the family name.
15 September 2016 – the perfect date?
It is very tempting to say that it was all planned, that we’d throw a party for our clients old and new just as everyone was returning to work after the summer with the message that we were 15 years old on the 15th day of the month.
The truth is, as we have found in business, somewhat different. What actually happens was this.
In early May, the 9th to be precise, our director Chris Millar called me from our satellite office in Cape Town with the idea of Tobias and Tobias hosting an event as a way to reconnect with our old clients. We had become really bad at this over the years.
About the same time Ofer Deshe, our Managing Director, was thinking about creating a quarterly event called T&T Talks as a way of raising our profile and connecting people around interesting subjects and opinions. On the 14th of June, he shared this thought with me.
Soon these ideas merged and we also realised that it was the year of our 15th birthday. So, we decided to throw a party and me and our colleague Woody started pacing the City and Shoreditch for venues.
We looked under old Hoxton railway bridges, in City conservatories, in ancient bathhouses and all the time trying to work out which area was best. We compromised and settled on McQueen on Tabernacle Street, which is arguably both City and Shoreditch.
As I started to write this post, I looked the Steve McQueen’s Wikipedia page and it is true that his photo is for Wanted Dead or Alive, which piloted in September (1958) and it turns out too that T&T was incorporated on 13 September 2001. So we were very close to being able to “join the dots backwards” to have the perfect story.
Why have a party?
As the idea of an event for our 15th birthday become real, I started to speak more to Chris Tobias, mainly because he decided to he would like to send all the invites out personally. We began to think: what is the real motivation for us doing this?
While Ofer was keen for us to look forward and get our clients, friends and partners thinking about an important topic that would affect their lives, Chris was anxious to ensure we celebrated the journey. This made the job of designing an invite much harder than you might expect for a UX agency!
For me, it was the hardest part of organising the party and it was frustrating, yet it gave me an insight into the minds of designers. There were really varied interpretations of the theme for the party and it was not easy to reach an agreement.
While this was going on I had been hunting for speakers that had something to say that would be memorable for our audience, in a TED-style talk. We were not sure of the exact message we wanted to share, other than we wanted it to be focused on people rather than business.
When we found a great musician Chris, a musician himself, started to get really excited and the discussion then moved to how the music should be a feature of three sets weaved around our three speakers. At this point, I began to feel that we really were about to have a party.
There was, however, one point that became a bit of a debate – should we go for the regular plastic nametags, and if so what to write on them? Instead, we dug out some stickers with balloons, with a strict first-names only policy.
A night to remember
We sent out the invites on 28 July which was well behind schedule and Chris had immediate smiles as the replies arrived fast, especially from some of our oldest clients. As it turned out, on the night many of those old names showed their faces at McQueen’s.
When Chris welcomed everyone, he was so happy to be able to open the evening by saying thank you to one of our very first clients, Jo Kelly. Another very early client, Kat Cooper, still works for T&T.
The night was really memorable as we heard from three speakers that each had a perspective on how data and technology were rapidly becoming so powerful in the possibilities it was creating for social good.
The talks covered how companies like Apple have the data (and the power) to help prevent suicide, how data visualisation is being used in the field in South Africa to enable early intervention in the HIV/Aids cycle and, finally, how robots and AI are on the precipice of changing relationships from business to customer (B2C) to B to robot to robot to C (B2R2R2C).
I really hope that last acronym never gets adopted but as I sat on the train home, it was so clear to me how far things had changed since Tobis and Tobias had started the business in a bedroom in Islington in 2001, the days when I boasted an early Nokia.
The future might be scary but we have been blessed to have very talented people work for us over the years. Looking to the future, I feel that T&T is equipped and ready to tackle whatever lies ahead. So, for now, there’s no need for us to make a Great Escape, but we might watch a re-run of that classic from McQueen in the office sometime.