Five Before Five: Toben's lessons from their son

Five Before Five: Toben's lessons from their son

Toben is a Sydney studio for brand development and design. Thorsten Kulp and Katja Hartung, the studio’s founding partners and creative directors, are partners in business as well as in life. End of last year, they embarked on their biggest adventure yet – the birth of their beloved son Miles. 

“We are really just at the start of the journey, learning tonnes about the new juggling act of being dedicated parents in addition to running a business together. The design industry is long with unpredictable working hours - so it's a challenge in finding that perfectly balanced life. "

Thorsten Kulp, Co-Founder of Toben

With this in mind, we thought we'd get them to share their thoughts, experiences and hurdles. Although they're happy to admit they still haven’t found nearly half the answers they're looking for, life (and Miles) seem to be teaching them a whole lot more than they expected.

Go the team
No team, no delivery – excuse the pun. The beginning of Mile’s journey with us has been such a reminder that we rely on great partners to make things happen. If we don’t want to wear ourselves thin, now more-so than ever we rely on a great team and amazing talent at Toben to make time for the family life. To be quite honest, this has been the toughest lesson for us. We’ve always enjoyed the different aspects of the business, so we’ve never taken ourselves completely out of the equation. We call it passionate, others would probably call it obsessive. But a business and creativity can only grow with its people we figure. So this is a really great and challenging time to get the right people on board, train, grow, trust and let go.

"This is a really great and challenging time to get the right people on board, train, grow, trust and let go."

Thorsten Kulp

Trusting the ride
Having a kid is just the craziest undertaking, and sometimes we wonder how anyone in their right mind could arrive at that rational conclusion. Nothing could really prepare us for it, we knew we would be completely unqualified and challenged. And the result was a complete unknown. Who knew whether we’d even enjoy it? But needless to say, Miles turned out to be the most amazing gift we could have imagined. With all the unknowns that we face in our new life and in restructuring work, we now figure the only way forward is to trust our heart, shut out the brain for a moment, and leap. With all the planning in the world we could never truly anticipate the outcome of a project or venture, we’ve only ever been able to creatively navigate the ride.

Play
It’s just mind-boggling to see how quickly babies develop and learn. And it seems it’s not the harder they try but the more they play that makes all the difference. No pressure, just motivation and pure joy. We’ve always treasured this part in our processes at Toben (our name translates from German as ‘wild play’). With all the strategy that forms the framework of a project, we’ve always tried to build in playtime at the core of the creative approach. To weave an idea around, drop it, pick it up again, look at it from a different angle, grab a new idea, put them both together, taste them for a little… try, fall, try again. They’re inspiring little teachers. With so many more things on our plate now, it’s really important for us to maintain that playfulness.   

Relax – while we can
These months Miles is really rubbing in this lesson in a slightly varied form – sleep whenever you can. It is so easy to stress about projects in busy times, and about the business in slow times. We later learned how important it is to utilise and enjoy the break. There will always be a million things to do, but breaks are the most important part of our productivity, not to mention quality of life. This one took us a while to figure out, and we're still battling with it. We think this will be a good lesson for us to keep in mind when balancing work and family life too. There will be times that are very demanding at the studio. We just need to find those little breathers in between to balance them with equal amounts of joint downtime.

A new perspective 
Thanks to Miles, exploring the world from a different angle has given us a great new perspective. And we don’t just mean the perspective of lying on a rug, looking up into the clouds. We have lived in quite a homogenous little world in the last decade. Sure, once a year we travel overseas to soak up new inspiration, meet strangers and visit every gallery along the way. But we have never ventured out of our like-minded bubble much in Sydney. Wandering through our city with fresh new eyes again, and connecting with very different kinds of people over Miles has given us priceless moments and conversations. It’s been a really good lesson in empathy, which is front and centre of what we do, really. And it reminded us again that life itself is the greatest inspiration. 

Images by Toben
Portrait by Richard Dobson

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