Meet a HOW Speaker: Ken Carbone

Surely, you need no introduction to Ken’s work: Carbone Smolan Agency is the creative force behind some of the world’s most successful brands. Perhaps you’ve seen Ken’s gorgeous book, The Virtuoso: Face to Face with 40 Extraordinary Talents, with its profile of creative people like Robin Williams and Dale Chihuly. Or perhaps you’ve read his always insightful design blog on

At the HOW Conference, you’ll get to know Ken the man … the guy who observes the world and captures what he sees for reference in his work. Ken’s session, Curiously Curious, seems to pretty much describe his modus operandi. We recently asked him a few questions:

When did you first realize you wanted to be a graphic designer?
In my sophomore year in art college. I had a wonderful painting teacher who felt that my highly stylized approach to painting and an appreciation for compositional simplicity could be well suited for graphic design.

What was your first job in the design field?
Upon graduation from college, I was hired by Chermayeff & Geismar Associates. It was the most fantastic introduction to a multidiscipline approach to design. I was given opportunities to work on logos, packaging, posters, exhibitions and much more. This experience imprinted me for the rest of my career and served as the model for the firm I have today.

What is your favorite design tool? Why?
I have two. A fountain pen and a 3B drawing pencil. The fountain pen is perfect for writing down ideas in a descriptive form. I love the way it slows me down and brings deliberate clarity to my thoughts. The 3B pencil is for much quicker and expressive sketching. Very rough with lots of energy.