This year marks a very significant and personal milestone; I’m celebrating 20 years of continuous employment as a trained, professional designer in our industry.
I’m not counting the years of untrained freelance work—where I didn’t know what the hell I was doing—beginning with the logo I created for a local television station at the age of 16 or the fashion advertisements I designed for high-end boutiques that got me recognized in the newspaper and enabled me to buy supplies for my design school courses. Nope, I’m celebrating 20 years of solid experience, 20 years of late nights, 20 years of blood, sweat and shear willpower before client meetings, photo shoots and press checks trying to make my ideas and passion for design come to fruition. Nine of those 20 years have been spent working in-house and even though I’ve taken a road less traveled, I must admit reaching this milestone feels really, really good.
The advertising and design industry has changed significantly. Design movements and trends have come and gone. So have the revolutionary minds that led those periods of our industry’s evolution. I truly believe we are entering a new and exciting, technology-focused period. I feel—like several of my colleagues—that we are entering the Golden Age of In-house Design. This is our time and we should all celebrate our collective hard work in changing industry perceptions and creating incredible solutions. Just look through the pages of the leading design annuals over the last 20 years and you’ll clearly see the evolution and emergence of in-house design.
I’ve invited a young designer who epitomizes this new age we are entering to have lunch with us. A young man whose parents recognized at a very early age his passion for both art and technology, supporting his explorations in design’s ability to create a fascinating future. I’m thrilled to introduce you to Andrew Kim, the young design theorist who in three days rebranded the rebranding efforts of global software giant Microsoft, gained national attention with his Eco Coke project and has recently accepted a position working on the Xbox brand at Microsoft.
I hope you enjoy our lunch with Andrew Kim who says, “For as long as I can remember, the potential of the future has fascinated me. I can remember watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and also being fascinated by my father’s first PowerBook. This eventually led me to using Palm Pilots in elementary school and chasing the latest mp3 player instead of girls in high school. I have a passion for art and technology, design was my destiny. I honestly don’t know how some of my more popular projects like Eco Coke or The Next Microsoft were able to gain attention. What I do know is that I simply do what I love doing.”
Thanks for joining us Andrew. Let’s dive in.
How do you define and determine what is good design?
Design is a promise to solve a problem. Good design is a product of that promise, a problem that has been honestly and sufficiently solved. This is an over simplification of what I believe to be good design. I’ll need to write a book to explain it.
What is your earliest creative memory?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. One of my first creative memories was drawing a pickup truck in preschool. I can remember cutting out various appliances from catalogs and gluing them to the bed of the truck.
Who do you admire professionally and look to for creative inspiration?
The two biggest inspirational figures in my life that I believe have a supreme sense of taste are Steve Jobs and Stanley Kubrick. I believe skills can be learned but taste cannot. Both of these men have the finest sense of taste I’ve ever seen. Their pursuit for perfection and their meticulous attention to detail has always inspired me.
Do the processes you employ in designing a product differ from those when designing a poster?
I believe the design process is a universal process. The fundamental design processes that lead you to the arrival of any solution (computer or poster) should be no different. My personal process has always been the traditional research, ideation, testing and refinement used by most product designers.
Judging from your product reviews on Minimally Minimal, you seem to be a card-carrying technophile. What’s your current obsession?
Technology has always been my muse. My current obsession is the Sony RX1, a full-frame camera packed into the body of a compact. I’ll be honest, it’s not a camera for everyone, but it’s the absolute perfect tool for my style of shooting.
If stranded on a deserted island, which combination would you choose in unlimited supply—option one: iPad with Paper app and stylus or option two: Moleskine sketchbook and Prismacolor pencils?
Without a doubt, option two. Although I love my iPad and the Paper app, I still carry around my pen and Moleskine for ideation. Despite the advancement and flexibility of tablets, I believe nothing beats the texture of traditional paper for use in writing and sketching.
You’ve interned at Frog, Fujitsu and Google. You could probably work anywhere and chose to accept an offer to work in-house at Microsoft. Why?
It’s true. I’ve visited many offices. It came down to two things, emotional connection and potential. First, I connected best with the people at Microsoft. Every single person I met was enjoyable and that can’t be said for every place I visited. Second, Microsoft has massive potential. It’s this potential that excites me most and was the reason why I created my rebranding experiment, The Next Microsoft.
Congratulations on your new role at Microsoft.
Okay, I have to ask. In The Next Microsoft experiment—your rebranding of the rebranding efforts of Microsoft—you chose to eliminate the dot of the lowercase “i” in Microsoft, why?
It looked better.
Hah! Touché sir.
What has been Microsoft’s feedback on your rebranding experiment?
The feedback from Microsoft has been overwhelmingly positive. This exercise took a self-imposed three days to complete, a period too short to sincerely create a fully cohesive solution. It pains me to see something incomplete get so much press. Nevertheless, I personally have many changes I’d like to make.
That’s just the life of a designer. Our work is never, ever truly complete.
Unfortunately not all the feedback on The Next Microsoft experiment has been positive. There are some who claim the experiment was actually spec work. Was The Next Microsoft experiment a personal exploration or was it spec work created for Microsoft?
In creating The Next Microsoft experiment and then subsequently collaborating with Microsoft last September on an IP, I have been accused of doing spec work. The Next Microsoft experiment—my rebranding project—was a completely personal exploration. Spec work is unethical and I believe Microsoft feels the same as I do. If Microsoft had asked me to do spec work, I would have never worked for them. The IP I created for Microsoft has been purchased—generously.
Man … how do you plan to evolve the Xbox brand?
It’s hard to say, I haven’t begun yet. I hope people will see a stronger, more cohesive brand message from Microsoft in the years to come.
You’re talented, smart and clearly principled; your family has great reasons to be proud.
Where’s your favorite place to eat lunch while in Los Angeles or in Canada?
I could live off of Italian food for the rest of my life and the guys at Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills do it right. Coffee would have to come from Caffè Artigiano in Vancouver. Their espresso has a fantastic, sweet flavor that I miss while in LA.
Finally, what advice can you offer design school students?
I’d like to advise students entering college that simply attending design school will not make you a designer. You must use the school and your education as a tool to develop independently as a designer—I could have been even stronger if I knew this from the beginning. I’d also suggest venturing from the traditional curriculum and take some offbeat courses; the school will be open to bending the curriculum.
If you are graduating from design school and have a job offer, congratulations! If not, understand who you are as a designer and create a unique and honest portfolio. There are many recent design school graduates looking for jobs but there is only one you. My personal experience has taught me that companies are most interested in what you believe and how you think.
Thank you Andrew, it’s been a real pleasure.
InHOWse Design Awards Entry
Hey folks! Do you want to join the Golden Age of In-house Design and see your work on the pages of HOW magazine? Enter this year’s InHOWse Design Awards and you could be featured in the January issue. Better yet: Take top prize and win a free trip to the InHOWse Managers Conference at HOW Design Live. I look forward to seeing you there. Good luck!
Ed Roberts is a Creative Director who has assembled a brilliant in-house team of strategic, creative superheroes. Together they develop and execute the marketing and visual strategies for ElectriCities of NC, an organization that manages billions of dollars in electric generation assets and serves over 500,000 consumers. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.