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Q&A with Jonny Gotham

Designer and engineer from NY | Gods & Monsters - digital strategy execution

Hello. My name is Jonathan Lu, better known as Jonny Gotham, and I work as a designer and engineer for various projects, products, and other brilliantly crazy ideas—mostly from others, but sometimes my own. I recently started my own shop, Gods & Monsters, which helps individuals and organizations figure out problems and build things to solve them. I also teach at Parsons The New School for Design, helping students learn how to communicate, prototype, and build ideas as their understanding of design matters matures.


I work off an 11" Macbook Air from Apple, and it surprisingly handles most of my work and project needs while still being light enough to carry at any time to cut through the city.  In my head, I call it my "blade" because of its utility and unassuming shape and size.

For software, I use the usual suspects of Adobe Illustrator for graphics and Sublime Text for coding. For project workflow, I really like using Gitbox for working with version control, switching back and forth between that, GitX, and the default Terminal; and then Kaleidoscope to see step by step changes with code commits. I build systems and demonstrate designs using Gridset and Typecast, while a lot of my typography efforts stem from Tim Brown's Modular Scale thinking and Robert Bringhurst's book.

To balance my brain out, I use Rdio for music, Day One for life notes, and Evernote to track all my work notes and studies.  I share things with CloudApp, Dropmark, and Dropbox, depending on the situation.  For teaching, I've been using Swipe for slides, which has been a great alternative to the standards.

My favorite and understandably somewhat archaic tools for the job are simply a pencil, some paper, and a ruler.  I can basically replace my whole kit as new hardware and software comes out, but I honestly can't do without those first three tools.  I still do every one of my designs on paper first (concepts, architecture, grids, aesthetic ideas), and then I start in on the computer.  A Uni-ball Kuru Toga is the mechanical pencil I'm using right now, along with one of those cheap click-eraser pen/stick things.  I usually have a Moleskine, Whitelines, or a standard, greenish-tint engineering graph pad on my desk or in my bag.  I write really small, so a 6" ruler is fine to carry around everywhere and draw things in my notebooks.

© Jonny Gotham


My current work set up is pretty ideal. I work between a small work area I have at my apartment and with friends at a co-working space, Studiomates.  I'm really thankful and amazed I have what I do, honestly, as I couldn't have imagined having even close to this many friends and options when I was younger.

But, then again... you're asking about my ideal!

If I was going to go all out, I would probably have an office constructed out of those cool shipping crates, out in the woods somewhere.  A garage for my motorcycle and the ability to blast music as loud as I want without bothering anyone.  Out-there enough that when I turn off the music, I can't hear anything but the woods and animals.  Preferably the place has air conditioning because I'm pretty terrible when it comes to heat. Oh, and a kitchen to cook... and a fridge for coffee and ice... Oh, and...


I try really hard to not look to design magazines or collections when I go about my work, just because for me, it ends up being a lot like an echo chamber after a while.  Taking in other forms of expression is really helpful though, whether it's a museum, gallery, movie, or even simpler, a conversation.

I tend to look at a lot of periodicals, mainly dealing with Fashion; Architecture; Motorcycle, Surfing, and Skateboard culture.  I definitely appreciate IdN Magazine, Mark and Frame magazines, and Monster Children.  Finally, I read a lot of comic books.  Something connects in my brain when it comes to those things, as it's a way of storytelling using static images and text, which is a lot of how I think about my work.


There are a lot of people that I admire for different reasons, as it's not so much the work as it is, for me, the person behind it and what they're really like as a human.

Jessi Arrington & Creighton Mershon for their passion to go big and deliver on what I'd never imagine to be possible, Dave Dawson for his optimism and contrasting perspectives (we're friends with very different outlooks), and Jason Santa Maria for his humility and kindness. Meg Lewis continually impresses me with her insightful pragmatism and humor. Naz Hamid and Daniel Mall for their thoughtfulness when it comes to their lives and work, and how they communicate it. Finally, Andrea Mignolo for being just a sheer force when it comes to the work and for being someone that women (and men) can and should look up to in our gender-biased industry and overall reality.