As a kid growing up in Pasadena, I would frequently ride my bike to ArtCenter. I thought of it as the place where people designed cool cars. Many years later, I decided to leave the USC Marshall School of Business and start my first term at ArtCenter. I reasoned that my creative dreams could no longer remain dormant. I wasn’t going to have a career as a banker; I had bigger plans than that.
I dipped my feet in the ArtCenter pool by taking ArtCenter at Night classes. At the same time, I was working at an architecture firm while clocking part-time hours at the College bookstore. I used all the money I made through my bookstore hours to buy textbooks for the Environmental Design Program.
I was attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit that I saw at ArtCenter.
My job as a designer is to synthesize my identity through products that speak a universal language. I’ll give you an example: during my time at ArtCenter, one of my more divisive projects was a table inspired by lowrider car culture. Growing up when I did in Southern California, lowrider culture was the height of elegance.
This undertaking was partially inspired by a neighbor I had growing up, who swapped out his lowrider for a new one every couple of months. My friends and I would offer to wash his car on weekends just so we could be in the vicinity of what we perceived as luxury. My table had all the lowrider fixings: candy paint, a polished veneer, etc. My teachers didn’t get it. It became about the reference, as opposed to the finished product.
One of my next projects was a re-interpretation of a traditional Nigerian stargazing chair. In Nigerian culture, these chairs are to be used for communicating with ancestors or for giving birth, which many Nigerians see as a form of ancestral rebirth. I turned this very specific object into a 21st century concept that anyone could understand, and I did it without losing the essence of what made the object itself unique. I took my own cultural language and translated it into something universal. This one went over a lot better with my instructors.
In addition to design work, music is one of my primary passions. When I was at ArtCenter, I would bust out my MPC sampler during an all-night session. While working on a project, I might make seven or eight songs in place of sketching. I often use music to navigate my way out of a creative block. The objects I create are meant to encapsulate the mood I feel through music.
When it comes to the stressful, clock-is-ticking hours, I’ll put on something a little frantic – like, say, Mobb Deep or the Wu-Tang Clan. If I’m in a more reflective mood, I’ll listen to Slum Village or Madlib. It goes back to when I was an athlete: you listen to music before a game, or while you’re in the gym working out. It gets you in the zone. Don’t overthink it – just execute.
In the same way that I would thread a sample from one song into a new work, my philosophy involves sewing my cultural influences into the larger fabric of dynamic products that speak a universal language. I truly believe that everything that exists – and will ever exist – came into existence at the same time, and remains in existence forever. In order for us to communicate existential truths, we create something you can touch or hold. It becomes a pure transmission of truth and energy – something people want to have in their pocket, in their home, or on their wrist.
In a way, it’s a language without language. Language is slippery – it can be easily misunderstood. We must ask ourselves, as creators: what are we trying to communicate here? For me, if I can express one clear and potent universal truth through a piece, then I will have done my job.
CEO, Design by Ini
BS 12 Environmental Design
2019 ArtCenter Alumni Award Recipient, Young Innovator