October 5, 2022

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Michael Hindman Talks Privacy, Photography, and Brand-Building

When you think of the work that goes into building a smartphone, engineering is probably the biggest challenge you imagine. But, like any company, other aspects weigh in: There’s marketing, art, and a whole identity and culture to be built around the product. The intersection of these disciplines is the purview of branding. OSOM’s Head of Brand, Michael Hindman, is here to tell you all about what makes the Solana Saga special, why privacy matters, and how his background as a photographer plays into his work here.

OSOM is a mix of new and old faces. Some people here have been working with folk like our CEO Jason Keats since the Essential days. Others (like you and me) are newer. Can you tell me a little about what drew you to the company?

OSOM’s co-founder Wolfgang Muller and I were gym buddies when he was at Essential. I spent some time over at Playground with him and test-drove the PH-1. I liked what they were doing and liked the device — I thought it was something distinct and unique. After Essential closed shop, Wolf mentioned that he was doing something different with a new phone, which sparked my interest. I liked the focus on privacy and the direction they were heading.

About 6-7 months in during the pandemic, Wolf had me join a marketing session to talk about brand directions, and after the three-day event, he immediately decided he needed to hire me to help run brand design at OSOM.

That leads me to my next question. You’re OSOM’s Head of Brand Design. Can you explain what that means and what you do?

I was hired as OSOM’s Head of Brand to build upon and expand the company’s brand plans. That entailed everything from our advertising to our marketing to our website, building out our voice, building out what privacy is and what it should be, and how to talk to consumers about privacy when they might not understand why privacy is important. After all, privacy shouldn't just be for those in the right zip code or with a big-enough bank account; It really should be for everybody. Privacy shouldn't be scary or just a tool for the nefarious. Privacy is really something that should be top of mind for every consumer. 

Startup work can change mid-stride, and recently I’ve worked on Kibbles (that’s our dogfooding bug-filing app), had brand discussions on UI/UX with outside vendors, and built out the UI for the seed vault team, as well as helping out with illustrations in the UI. I also joined the camera team, which hits pretty close to home: I’m a photographer. 

At startups, everyone always wears a lot of hats and does a lot of varied work, but what’s your favorite thing you’ve done at OSOM so far?

Unfortunately, it’s work that will probably never see the light of day. We built out a huge “I am OSOM” brand campaign before the Solana partnership. It was good work, and it’s still relevant to what we’re doing, but it’s not the whole story any more. Still, it was a highlight for me. 

It was a really powerful campaign that spoke to this notion of choice — that you, as a customer, should be able to make the decisions that affect your privacy and that you don’t just have to accept the decisions someone else made. That’s what we were really trying to communicate: Privacy should be your choice. It shouldn’t be the device manufacturer’s choice or the app developer’s choice, but your choice. 

As an art director, you don’t always get full control. You might get to concept the campaign, but you outsource photography, or you’re the producer who puts the assets together. But I had a really awesome experience of not just concepting what would be a global campaign in-house and creating visual assets, but I was also the photographer and lighting grip, as well as location and talent sourcing. I was even craft services [Editor’s note: That means Michael did the catering], everything that went along with the shoot.  

It was two days in Half Moon Bay and one of my favorite experiences to date. It was incredibly challenging, it was demanding, and it was stressful.  

This leads me to my next questions. You’re an independent photographer and artist — we’ve talked about photography a few times, and I even convinced you to buy a new camera last month. What are you shooting on right now, and what’s your favorite thing to shoot on?

I’m loving the Fuji X100V you recommended. It’s small and compact but feels good in my hands. It’s small enough I can have it on me all the time, which is something I have been looking for. I am a big believer that the best camera is the one you have on you, whether that’s a phone or your big DSLR.

As far as my professional landscape photography work, I shoot on a Sony A7R IV with lenses ranging from 16-400, as well as a DJI Mavic 3, which has opened up a world of possibilities for me. Lately, I’ve been into abstracts, and changing my perspective has really changed the compositions I can find. 

This is a weird one, but I find it’s a fun question to ask: What’s your favorite focal length to shoot on right now? 

That’s a tough one. Because abstracts really get me excited these days, I’d say the tighter crops on my 100-400 lens are a go-to. But typically, I’m a 12mm guy. I like big expansive scenes that just draw you in. I know these are two different ends of the spectrum, but sometimes as a creative, my brain is all over the place!

What change in photography over the last decade has had the biggest impact on your work?

I’m going to have to go with the drone. At its heart, it’s still a “camera,” but it’s given me a completely new perspective and access to areas I couldn’t have in the past. I can be in one place and capture something miles away. 

However, it does sometimes change how you appreciate and take in a scene. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed moments — not missing the shot, but missing everything that’s happening around you. The drone takes that to another level because you might be shooting something that you can’t even see. You appreciate it through the lens, but you’ll never be able to appreciate it in person. There are times I’ve forced myself to step away from the viewfinder and take in nature unfolding around me. Even if what I see is beautiful, and I’m capturing it, I might not remember it as it was if I don’t take that time.

How often do you shoot in JPEG vs. RAW?

The only time I shoot JPEG is on my phone. I want to tell the computer what to do because, inevitably, there are times when you screw up. Sometimes you can correct those, and sometimes you can’t, like if — you are out, shooting the Milky Way at an ISO of 3200, then you’re shooting a sunset the next day, forget to change your ISO, and mess up the entire shoot. (Still can’t believe I did that.) Even if you can’t always correct it, you can manipulate things a little to help correct your mistakes. 

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to in the Solana Saga — what features are you most proud of?

Our partnership with Solana is creating a really cool moment with the idea of a secure wallet and the seed vault built into the device. I believe in the privacy applications that we’re continuing to build — we continually watch companies take privacy away from us, and the Solana Saga will help stop some of that. And now, being on the camera team, I’m excited to put out a camera that can hopefully rival some of the top phones out there.

I’m excited to put out a device that can not only be an amazing crypto tool but an amazing privacy tool and capture great images.