Some folks come to the creative path later in life. I knew that this path was the one for me as soon as I was old enough to draw a picture.
I was born in Monterey, California: a place where all you needed to do to get inspired was take a walk to the nearest beach. I found Monterey’s coastal beauty to be intoxicating. Growing up there, creativity was everywhere. My parents also kept books of work by Leonardo Da Vinci and Ansel Adams around the house, which only added fuel to the growing fire of my artistic yearning.
My dominating passion as a kid was music. I had no one favorite genre: I was into the raw passion of rock n’ roll, the dexterity of jazz and the grit of soul and the blues. I was into it all. It didn’t hurt that music was literally in my blood: my father was a daytime businessman and evening jazz drummer, while my uncle was a lifetime musician who played with Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughn in the early days of classic Las Vegas.
It was when I was drumming on tour with a fusion band at a Newport Beach restaurant called The Red Onion when I first had opportunity to visit ArtCenter College of Design and finally see firsthand what the legendary reputation was all about.
I called my friend Joe Ferrante – who, at the time, was working at an industrial design consultancy in Burbank. He had mentioned ArtCenter to me before, and I told him I would be thrilled if he would take me on a tour of the campus grounds.
What I couldn’t believe upon first seeing ArtCenter with my own two eyes was the notion that you could somehow go to a school and learn how to literally design your dreams. At the time, it almost seemed like science fiction to me, but it wasn’t – it was truth, as plain as day, staring me right in the face.
I left ArtCenter that day knowing that this place would drive the next chapter of my life. I went back to the Red Onion, played my gig and literally started sketching ideas for my portfolio the very next day.
Fast-forward to a few years later and my ArtCenter graduation project, with endorsement of Marty Smith, landed me on the radar of the legendary Chuck Pelly, founder of DesignWorks/USA (which was later bought by BMW and became their California design center). Chuck took me under his wing. My early days working for him were almost entirely about understanding the process of design: on learning how everything in the design world worked on an intrinsic level.
While working for Chuck, I began to chart the path that would lead me to my position as Chief of Design at Nokia. When the question came up of where Nokia’s new design headquarters would be located, the answer was obvious: Southern California. Where else was I going to find such a rich pool of talent, many of whom were ArtCenter colleagues?
Since my days gigging as a drummer, I’ve always believed that creativity can and should make people happy. In that regard, I haven’t changed much. Working for Nokia, and since, I always want to ensure that all my products are designed to make people’s lives easier and simply more beautiful. Driving the delightful fusion of fashion and technology has led to me becoming a kind of target for a lot more traditional, classically minded designers – many of whom are locked squarely on function. So be it. If you’re going to try to forge a new artistic dialogue from scratch, you have to be willing to take hits and challenge traditional mindsets.
These last few years, I have continued work in LA and around Silicon Valley offering my council to a younger generation of rule-breaking innovators. In the process, I have seen a glimpse of what the future may hold. While it’s hard to say exactly what the next big leap will be, it seems clear that the next major mobile computing platform will be intelligent, wearable and focused on sight.
And yet, another part of me thinks that the next big wave is still undefined. We’re still forming our future together. To my fellow creatives: keep fighting the good fight. Keep stirring it up and breaking rules. Keep working to design and build from that of your most delightful dreams.
BS 86 Product Design
Honorary Doctorate, ArtCenter College of Design
2008 ArtCenter Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award Recipient
Honorary Trustee, ArtCenter Board of Trustees
Former VP and Chief of Design, Nokia