Wunderman Thompson’s senior creative technologist on his mentoring experiences, coping with imposter syndrome and talking about dyslexia, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani
At 22 years old, Jonothan (Jono) Hunt is a senior creative technologist at Wunderman Thompson where he actively channels his confidence, forsaking any impending ‘imposter syndrome’ feelings that may creep up. While he mentors people, gives talks on AI tools, emerging tech and ethics, and shares his unique experience with dyslexia, Jono still loves to learn more about his craft as the industry continues to change.
Growing up, Jono and his family lived in and managed a house for adults with learning difficulties. As a child, he was fascinated with electronics and often spent hours taking things apart, “Everything from hairdryers, cameras, TVs -you name it - and then I repurposed them.” Jono’s curiosity for technology meant that he taught himself the best and most creative ways to wire new life into electronic objects. “One particular project that comes to mind was an answering machine which I converted into a customisable doorbell that spoke back using the audio storage chip on it.” As he grew older, his teenage years were spent coding games and apps by using old computers and Raspberry Pi systems that he had won at competitions. His curiosity, unwavering.
Knowing the potential of his electronic skills, Jono began to venture out further, “One of the more unique hobbies I had as a kid was recording my own TV shopping style ads on my MP3 player.” While this was a good way to keep him busy, he soon realised that he could in fact be making some money using his PowerPoint skills. “When I was 15, I started making posters for local shops. I charged three quarters the price of a local legitimate marketing business - except mine were made in an old version of PowerPoint. Nobody noticed.” Having a continual stream of ideas, Jono explains, “I spent my childhood with people of hugely varying interests and abilities.” But even then, he was able to dip a toe into the world of advertising. He says, “I did work experience at a small ad agency in London and I helped them to win some work - but unfortunately, I was too young to leave school and join them then and there, so back to school I went!”
Honing his energy up until he finished his education, Jono then made the move to London at 18, on a government and education grant: “For a while, I lived in a variety of small rooms, some of which I’m fairly sure were not entirely legal accommodation, so I could afford to learn and land a job.” Admittedly a fan of the outdoor space that later came with the outskirts of the capital city, Jono’s move did provide useful as, “That year, Marc Lewis at The School of Communication Arts took a risk on me as the youngest student.” During his time at SCA, Jono gained some much needed confidence, eventually writing emails to many of the UK’s advertising agencies.
“Imposter syndrome can be so intense,” says Jono, as he explains why it’s all about having confidence. “I was promoted recently, I’m hiring, I’ve been asked to write about myself here, I mentor people with far more life experience than I have - and I’m 22.” Jono has experienced both the negative and positive sides of the creative industry, which led him to advocate having confidence in his own abilities. “I’ve witnessed people writing others off without even communicating with them, I’ve experienced being written off based on my age, my dyslexia, my questionable social abilities (fair enough on that last one),” he says. Alongside this, part of his mentoring came from Mike Nicholson at SCA, who he says, gave him the confidence to call himself a creative technologist. “This title gave me the conviction to accept new challenges, in the knowledge that I can go away and learn something new to solve the problem”.
A standout project from Jono’s experience so far is the pitch he worked on for a prototype of a voice-controlled experience. The project was a win with his ECD’s and Jono even made sure to spend a little extra time ensuring it was fit for global implementation: “As a little extra, I set the deck and demo up with a little hack to allow the teams to edit the copy and design for their regions without affecting the rest of the demo. The next day I was told it meant that teams were able to have a proper night’s sleep before the pitch.” Jono uses everything he does as an opportunity to learn more and meet new people, which keeps him excited about each project.
As a creative technologist, AI is something Jono is all too familiar with, so when he was asked to give a talk on the democratisation of creative AI tools, he was happy to oblige. In minutes, he had a live model created, “We trained the model so that when hooked up to a camera and billboard at a car charging station, it could detect cars that were dirty and flash up a car wash voucher - or detect a delivery van and recommend food to go.” From there, Jono has been asked to give talks and work on projects from far and wide but the ones that are most rewarding are those where he shares his experiences. “Some of my favourites have been sessions about having dyslexia, both with parents and kids. It’s honestly the best thing ever when they leave feeling genuinely excited about something they felt insecure about before,” says Jono.
When you’re passionate about something, it’s difficult to know where to reign things in, which Jono has a sense of when he reflects on some of the challenges of the industry. “As someone who loves to learn, and as a creative technologist, there’s a line between getting really good at building with specific tech versus having an overview of the landscape,” he says, “For instance, right now I’m working on virtual productions in game engines, developing Augmented Reality experiences, prototyping Machine Learning projects, creating virtual worlds among others.” Even though aspects of his job can be tricky, Jono can’t help but be excited by the experimentation of new technologies, “Spending time in related communities; teaching and getting people excited about tech; and mentoring people from all over the world on how to make Extended Reality experiences - it’s a scene that’s really booming and I’m really enjoying being a part of it,” he says.
Jono is however, very aware that to get to where he is, he has had opportunities that many don’t have the privilege to experience. “I’m a straight, white, young man. Statistically speaking, someone without any one of those attributes wouldn’t be as privileged as I have been - that’s not to say it’s been easy, but I don’t have to face the societal biases and exclusion that people that aren’t ‘like me’ face in the world— let alone in the tech space.” Jono believes that tech ‘needs people from more backgrounds with more viewpoints’, to encourage accurate representation, alongside many other things. His aim is to instil confidence in the people he supports, which he plans to do as Wunderman Thompson expands their creative tech team.
“To make work that tangibly improves people’s lives,” says Jono, when asked what his ultimate goal is. Taking on people's opinions, researching for hours on end and taking the time to listen to people within the industry, makes him sponge-like in the way he plans to carry on. Citing several people as inspiration, when it comes to craft, author of Mismatch, Kat Holmes, Extended Reality creator Ommy Akhe and machine learning developer Noland Chaliha are a few of his go to names. Heavily influenced by fellow creatives at WPP, Jono also mentions Stephen Pretorius, Christina Malon, Perry Nightingale and Di Mayze, for several reasons but namely for their willingness to educate and passion for the work they create. He says, “Having whittled down this list, I’m just so crazy thankful that I get to spend time with and learn from most of the people above and all the other brilliant people at WT, our network and the other communities I’m lucky to be part of!”
Part of the fine balance between work and general home life is having hobbies that keep you fresh and excited for the days ahead. Jono doesn’t stray too far from his roots and is currently working on ‘making VR games, developing Lenses and effects for Insta, TikTok and Snapchat’, apparently, his horse riding filter is all the talk of the town at the moment, garnering millions of hits. Jono also creates animated music videos, designed in PowerPoint (much like his childhood days), he’s created an app and enjoys sewing things from recycled materials.
Often found on Reddit and Medium, Jono says, “I listen to food and tech podcasts and game soundtracks whilst doing other things. When I get the chance, I love a good adventure or puzzle game. Currently enjoying community Portal 2 campaigns and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.” And pauses before he adds, “Oh, and I also like to bake bread.”
While he jokes that he gets ‘way too invested’ in everything, it’s his creative abundance that gets him noticed. Jono says, “For me it’s all about learning. There’s nothing more exciting than learning about people, the environment, tech— and then connecting the dots and making ideas out of them.”