action station: josh nguyen of imagist labs

Joshua Nguyen, Founder of Imagist Labs

I’m very happy that our next Action Station is none other than Joshua Nguyen, an old and dear friend who has inspired me often with his unflinching sense of adventure and his curiously creative spirit. Over the years, I’ve seen Josh dream up all kinds of ideas and pull all the pieces together with what seems like great ease. A seasoned world traveler / photographer / designer with a mind for business, Josh consistently creates delightful experiences for people everywhere. It is a joy to know him.

And with that, I’ll hand the mic over to Josh…


Who are you and what do you do?
I just founded Imagist Labs, a mobile application company. Before this, I was Head of Product at Tumblr. I’ve also dabbled in travel writing and photography a bit. I’m a bit of a mongrel, but mainly, I work with digital media and design.

a bird's eye view of the Joshua Nguyen's action station

a bird’s eye view of the Joshua Nguyen’s action station

What do you create?
I love building communities so people can express themselves creatively and freely. There’s so much exploration to be had in the world, and if you can somehow encourage people to take inspiration from the things they experience, change it up, and come back and make their own ways of looking at the world to pass on to the next person — I just love that. More aspirational, I’m always halfway done with a novella of some kind. One of these days, I just need to finish!

What inspires your daily work?
My current work tries to get people to see photos as composed stories, so I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration from the work of Sebastião Salgado, a documentary photographer based out of Paris. Each of his photographs has such a compelling narrative – you see that there’s a great sense of empathy for the people and landscape in his images.

The other part of my work deals with communities: how people behave, assign status and share things online. Since 1997, I’ve been a member of this sports BBS called Clutchfans. The forum has grown from just basketball talk to include different sections where members can talk about anything. It’s a great place to hang out and observe online interactions.  It’s kind of silly to say, but most of what I learned — the tribes, customs, evolutions and personalities that we migrate to online — I’ve learned from this BBS.

As far as design, I really love Olafur Eliasson’s creativity around light and space and colors.  He’s best known for his large scale installations that force you to think about nature in some way. Lighting, in particular, are both practical and emotional points for our interactions with the world, and we’re starting to see digital designers think more about lighting in their work.

How would you describe your creative workspace?
It’s pretty basic. Basic laptop for me to get on email and Photoshop. Basic Samsung monitor. A notebook for quick thoughts I need to jot down. I don’t like a lot of clutter around my work area. I get a bit obsessive — one of the biggest annoyances for me is having to clean up my apartment before I can sit down to work. Also big windows. Just being able to look outside resets my brain a bit to be more relaxed and sensitive to incoming ideas.

Josh's action station is saturated with natural light

Josh’s action station is saturated with natural light

What are you favorite creative distractions?
Can I say ice cream? I’m a few steps away from my fridge when working at home!

Well, I’ve recently gotten back into taking photos again. I switched up my gear to only rely on fixed lenses — I find that I get better shots when I have to go up to people and ask for their permission instead of shooting with a zoom lens from afar.

What creative adventures do you have away from your action station?
I’m incredibly fortunate to live in San Francisco, with nature so close. I love getting on my bike when I have serious anxiety — and riding across the bridge and up Conzelman Road — there’s this one part where the road just drops like 45 degrees into the Pacific. It’s gorgeous and terrifying and liberating.

More often, I take walks through the busy parts of the city and try to relax my mind from thinking about a problem. I just try to observe everything. Walks are free! I’ve recently started to use Twitter as short form notes for my walks through the city. Last week, I walked through a dodgy neighborhood and tweeted: “Tenderloin stroll: flock of pigeons, feces, girl strumming ukelele, fedora guy, fist bumps, wheelchairs.” Kind of resets me a bit and makes me think about other things instead of my immediate work.

What do you think that every action station should have?
Ready and available water. Hydration is important! Also, music is really important to me. I have this little iBomb speaker that gives me great sounds. Oh, and good lighting. Hmmm.. I think as long as you’re comfortable in your space and establish a pattern of some kind, you really can get lots done anywhere.

... a Rubik's cube is also a fun creative distraction

… a Rubik’s cube is also a fun creative distraction


Keep up to date with Josh’s adventures by following him on twitter at @joshuanguyen and visiting his website at joshuanguyen.com. For all you #selfie addicts out there, download Josh’s latest app, aptly titled Selfie!

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