User-centered Design Hero Justin Knecht at HOW Design Live

Innovation. User-centered design. Justin Knecht has built a career on just the kinds of topics and experiences the HOW audience craves. That’s why he’s perfectly positioned to speak at HOW Design Live this May 12-16, in Boston.

Justin comes to the HOW conference from the LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh, where he uses the practice of human-centered design to help teams and organizations achieve new levels of innovation. Sounds fancy, right? Definitely.

Justin’s robust background has groomed him to be a big player of innovation, with resume highlights like Head of Creative Services at Crayola and the creation of the “Innovation by Design” program at the Centre for Design Innovation in Ireland.  Not too shabby …

As we like to do in anticipation of the big HOW Design Live, we tossed a few questions at Justin to see what’s up his sleeve these days. He was kind enough to weigh in on what’s influenced him, his creative side-projects – and even his forearm tattoo!

user-centered design; justin knecht

User-centered Design Hero Justin Knecht at HOW Design Live

It’s the classic question: Can you tell us about a favorite project?

Getting the Innovation by Design program up and running at the Centre for Design Innovation in Ireland. Much of what I’m doing today was informed by that work and the networks I created while working on the project. Even more important, we made a significant impact with the organizations we worked with in the Northwest of Ireland.

What we were able to accomplish in repositioning the Crayola Creative Services team, and get a strategic seat at the table for design, will always be a proud achievement as well.

Wow. I’m sure it will! What about the strangest or most influential thing that’s happened to you during your design career?

Serendipity. It seems over and over as I’ve moved from one chapter to another in my career, an opportunity presents itself, and you just need to be prepared to run with it. I’ve gotten jobs I never interviewed for; applied for a position and ended up taking another; picked up and moved without any idea where I’d land. I guess this is analogous to creative risks, or the moniker, “trust the process.” Perhaps it also ties into the great Joseph Campbell quote, “Follow your bliss.”

It sounds like taking risks has truly paid off! What about a pet project of sorts – a side business, passion project or a charity you donate time or services?

I’m working on it. I’ve always been fascinated with labyrinths. In 2014, I’m planning to build a walkable, large-scale labyrinth for a neighbor of my father’s as a landscaping project. My forearm now features a labyrinth tattoo I designed and had done in 2013. It’s functional, so you can trace it with your finger.

So you designed your own tattoo! Love it. When you get stuck in a creative rut, how do you get out?

Travel … no better way to change your perspective than wake up in a place you’ve never seen before.

Justin Knecht, User-centered design

What are you most excited to share with session attendees in Boston?

I think inspirational sessions and speakers are great. What I hope to get across is a few practical things people can put in place the next day with their teams.

Well, as I’m sure you already know, practical takeaways are what the HOW audience loves! 

Thinking about the span of your career, can you tell us about one event, or one piece of advice, or one mentor that made a significant difference to you?

One of the stories I tell over and over again actually happened at a HOW Design conference. The speaker was DJ Stout from Pentagram, and someone asked a question about, “How do you choose the projects you work on?” He said there was a magic triad of “Good People, Good Work, Good Money” and at least two needed to be present to take on the work. Great advice. When I reflected on desperate decisions where only one factor was in place, all those jobs were disasters.

Who are the other creative people — inside the design world or beyond it — that are really impressing you right now? Whose creative chops do you envy?

The guy who sits across from me at work, Bill Lucas. He co-founded LUMA, and before that, led the design group at our sister company MAYA Design. He’s one of the most considered designers I’ve ever met, and whatever he works on, he always comes up with that special something. We call it “Lucas Gold” around the office.

What’s your favorite:
1)    App: I live and die by 1Password. One of the best, most practical pieces of software I use, and I use it everyday.

2)    Website: – It’s a to-do list manager that manages lists like I do. (Sensing a practical bent here?)

3)    Book: I used to buy a copy of “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon MacKenzie for every designer that I hired at Crayola. Gordon worked for our parent company, Hallmark, and has plenty of wisdom to bestow on in-house creatives.

What inspired you to choose the topic of your presentation at HOW Design Live? Did it come from a lesson you learned or experience you had?

It’s really what I’ve been working on for the last 8 years and is influenced by the amazing people I’m surrounded by every day. We often refer to a great definition of design by Herb Simon, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” If that doesn’t get you out of the bed in the morning, nothing will.

Early Bird Deadline Extended! We’ve received an unprecedented volume of conference registrations and requests for an extension. Consider this our Valentine’s Day gift to an industry we really love and admire!

Register by midnight on February 14 and save $300 off the full price.

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