Thomas Cabus: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass is Thomas Cabus. Thomas is a Parisian born creative director, designer and photographer. He has worked for top companies like Oracle, Orange and Air France. He has worked for big Hollywood studios like Warner Brothers, noticeably on “Syriana” and “Blood Diamond” movies.

He’s a Badass because he also uses his design talents for social good. Thomas worked to design this very blog and the entire look and feel of The Line Campaign. He’s worked for “Out and Around”, a queer political venture documenting a lesbian couple travelling the world in search of “Super Gays”. He is a fine art photographer, focusing on the urban street, and his work has been in shows in Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco and published widely. He studied design for 1 year at “Les Ateliers de Sèvres” in Paris, then for 4 more years at “EPSAA” (Ecole Professionelle d’Arts Graphiques et d’Architecture de la ville de Paris), where he graduated with honors. He splits his time between Paris, San Francisco and New York.

You can see a full overview of his work here.

Circle of 6 is his first mobile app.

Here’s what he had to say to us!

What made you decide to design Circle of 6?

When Nancy approached me about this project, and told me that, according to White House statistics, 1 in 5 young women will be sexually assaulted in the course of her studies, I was absolutely shocked. Joe Biden and HHS created a technology challenge, which gave us the opportunity to play our part and try to change this, by designing an app that would empower people and help prevent violence before it happens. We ended up winning the challenge, which was awesome.

I saw this as a way to help young women, of course, but also people at large. Everyone that may be in a dangerous situation due to their gender, race, or sexual orientation.

She told me about the team that would be involved in the project: Nancy, of course. I have known her amazing work for years now. Deb Levine, founder of ISIS and the Sex Tech Campaign, and Christine Corbet Morand, an MIT alumni, organizer of TedX Zurich, Physicist and developer. It all sounded like incredibly interesting people to work and make a great product with!

I had never designed an app before, so I thought it would be fun to take on the challenge. I really believe in the cause and don’t shy away from a challenge – so coming on board to design the user interface of Circle of 6 was a no brainer. Now I’m the Creative Director and in charge of everything visual related to Circle of 6.

How did your prior experience designing the look and feel of a sex-positive anti-violence campaign like The Line Campaign influence your awareness of the issue and how to approach it visually?

I’ve known Nancy as a friend for years. We worked closely to design the The Line Campaign logo (the sexy legs!), the stickers, the website identity and even motion graphics.

Working on all this with her really got me closer to her story as a rape survivor, and the outpouring of stories from students, it became so clear to me the necessity to create awareness about sexual violence in a positive, empowering way.

As a gay man, I find many bridges between Women’s right, gay rights, and all forms of oppression and bias. It’s all connected, it’s all the same pattern. I strongly believe that we should work for each other’s “causes” whenever we have the opportunity to do so. That’s the best way to educate and empower each other, and I was inspired to lend my design talent to the cause.

Going back to design itself, for The Line Campaign, we went with a very clean, uncluttered, gender-neutral but also sexy art direction.

The focus is the content, all these people doing an amazing job sharing their experience. We want it to be easily accessible and not distract from by overdesigning.

The whole campaign is about positive empowerment, so I wanted something contrasted, bright and luminous. Hence a lot of white space, with just a few dashes of red accents, and a Sans serif font, for an overall clean and bold look & feel.

How did you apply this to designing the User Interface for Cirlce of 6?

For the circle of 6 app, although it tackles the same kind of issues as the line campaign, the design challenges were very different.

First, it had to be a very simple, efficient, tool. Chances are that people will have to use it when in a situation of stress or danger, so we wanted to make it as straightforward as possible. Once you set up your circle of chosen friends, you just have one, big, central button. Tapping it will trigger the 3 options helping in the scenarios that we thought were the most important. Help is 2 taps away. The actions are represented by big icons, which keeps it simple and private from prying eyes.

Second, it had to be engaging. Our goal is to address to and help young students in their 20s about a serious issue. I don’t think a super dry design or a scary, danger oriented one is the right way to do so. Since our very first discussions with the team, we agreed that it’s all about positive empowerment, trust and friendships: my friends have my back, and in return, I’m here for them. The design had to highlight the tight knit social relationships of the targeted age group.

So we came up with this idea of a circle of protective people around the central action button. They’re your friends, your family, anyone you really trust. They’re on screen when you launch the app, ready to be triggered for help. It may sound like a small thing, but I think that creates an immediate, positive emotional connection with the app, which is important when you’re in an uncomfortable situation.

The colors are bright and fun, purple and green, not too girly as, again, we want to be as gender neutral as possible. The purple theme might come from my weird obsession with Prince, though! I was listening to him when working on colors for this.

Overall, it looks more like a social game app than a “personal safety” app, which is very conscious from our part. Beyond the targeted users engagement problematic mentioned above, it was really important for us that a potential offender peaking at the screen wouldn’t really know what it is about. That is true for these moments of immediate danger, but also in some less hectic situations. You’re on a date or talk to a person at a party, say. It starts to get weird and creepy. You feel uncomfortable, you need an interruption. You use the app to trigger your circle so your friends call you and pretend they need you. It would be really awkward if said creep looks at your screen and sees a big, red, danger button. That would be a sure way to escalate the situation in a potentially dangerous one. Not to mention the scenario of a person actually harassing you.

We put a lot of attention and craft in its design, to make it easy to use, engaging, and private. Designing the App created the basic visual recipe for the whole circle of 6 brand, which we implemented on the website, print marketing materials, social media pages, educational toolkits, etc.

What’s next for you?

We just launched the Android version of the app, which we’re very excited about. I can think of a few ways to make it even better, visually and feature wise.

Also related to circle of 6, we will soon launch an educational toolkit for universities. There’s a lot to be done design wise on it.

In other news, I’m currently working on two big campaigns for Oracle, a regular client. I recently finished a website for Orange France, called It’s a high quality content space, that provides in-depth articles by journalists, thinkers and artists on how communication technologies impact us and our societies.

I also just finished art directing the branding and UI of, a great tool created by Mike Kascel, that helps musicians find band mates and share projects, using social media and location based technologies. This launched a few days ago.

I have a few new apps projects under development, and need to refocus on photography, which I had to put on the side lately due to lack of time.

Right now, putting all the Android design assets in place – I’m ready for a drink 😉


Thank you for your time, and enjoy that drinbk! 🙂


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