I was seduced in the womb and never let it go. Graphics, objects, experiences; inks, pixels; big ideas, flights of gratuitous beauty (or ugly if the solution calls for it). Blessed and cursed: the thing that I do is the thing that I am. I can’t escape it even if I wanted to. So it’s a good thing I don’t want to.
The following is a short story about all of that. With pictures if you don’t want to read. Which is cool, since the pictures-to-words ratio is well known to be in the thousands anyway.
She was a textile designer. She kept a set of Design Markers in her workshop. I loved the smell of Xylene from the colored nibs as she sketched her ideas. We lived near the City. Once a month she took me to The MoMA. Pininfarina's Cisitalia and the Bell Helicopter. Dieter Rams and Massmo Vignelli. Then, mom would take me to Sam Flax. “Go ahead love, get whatever you want.” Most kids wolfed down candy. My candy was graphite, paper, ink, guache and markers of my own.
One of my first interviews was at XXXX . At the time it was one of the most influential design centers in the business. I had a lousy portfolio, an ill-fitting outfit, and a bad haircut. The Creative Director suggested I ask my university for my money back. I thought he was a dick about it, but I dumped my portfolio in the trash and started over.
A couple of years later I was selected to be in the innaugural Young Guns show at the Art Director’s Club. My work was exhibited next to Stephan Sagmeister’s, James Victore’s, Emily Oberman’s, and others’. The XXXX Creative Director was at the opening. I thanked him for kicking my ass and for making me stronger.
He didn’t remember me.
I had a small digital company during the Dot Com//Dot Bomb era. We had a good run. The industry burned down. We closed. Thankfully my childhood design playground called. The MoMA was rebuilding from the ground up. It was the first major cultural rebirth in the city since 9/11. My job was to tell the world through branding and advertising.
I spent four years amongst my curatorial idols and some of the best designers I ever worked with. I watched the new building grow from the ground up, and helped double visitation and membership.
The Museum re-opened on 53rd Street. The cadence and type of work returned quickly to exhibition advertising. It was time to leave home and find new challenges. I met Chris Hacker, a compelling combination of Al Gore and Murray Moss. He had a vision to create a design practice within Johnson & Johnson that blended his passions for environmental sustainability and Modernist design. Packaging wasn’t compelling, but Chris hooked me with the fact that designers have the power and responsibility to transform the things we don’t like into things worth celebrating. I signed up as his first Creative hire. We built a global studio of designers and engineers. As a Global Creative Director I ran large teams and worked on almost every brand in the Consumer Division, worldwide. I learned more about my craft in those six years than I had in my entire career.
The most valuable lesson: “Don’t hate. Design.”
After six years at J&J it was once again time to leave home and find new challenges. I remembered what my MoMA colleague and spirit animal Paola Antonelli once said:
"Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing."
From 2012 to 2017 I pursued a role as a designer who makes the future that we want to have tomorrow become real in the present. I worked in agencies and for clients of all sizes and shapes, creating physical and digital brand experiences, immersive environments, visual languages, films and more, with a wide selection of outstanding partners and co-creators.
Working on big company-changing projects to “make the future” was fun. But after five years I started to feel that something was missing. It was a symptom of what I call Linked-In Fatigue: the constant pressure to robe oneself in universe-denting and clarity-defying descriptors to change the world through the power of strategic design disrupting script-flipping rapid-prototypingfuture-proofingoh--godpleasemakeit
I also decided to call bullshit on the gig economy and wanted to find a place to call home. I wanted to immerse myself and bring all of my previous experiences to bear towards a sustained, long-term purpose. But with two kids to feed and father and no immediate answers, I was stuck. That's when I reached out to one of my wisest colleague. I took the risk of full vulnerability to lay it all out there. Help me, I asked. What do I do? She responded with Zen-like simplicity:
"Who are you? What are you? What do you want to do?"
And so I answered these impossible-until-you're-ready-for-them questions: I am a New York City designer. I want to make extraordinary things out of ink and pixels, in 2 and 3 dimensions, IRL and online. I want to do this with extraordinary people, for something I truly give a shit about.
And that's how I ended up as Executive Creative Director for the City of New York in our tourism bureau, NYC & Company. Today I oversee a team of designers, filmmakers, photographers, journalists and copywriters. We get to tell the story of this city to the world and help both locals and visitors experience this town in the most mutually beneficial way.
I wasn’t born yet when this picture was taken. She was a New York designer. When she had me she turned her creative attention to feeding my head with the ideas, objects and images that pulled her to New York from Jerusalem in 1967. Because of her, there is no epilogue to this story. It’s still being written. As I teach branding to startup entrepreneurs at the SVA Groundfloor Incubator, search for the future of tourism with Art Center's TestLab Berlin, as I learn my way through getting Monday Party (my leather goods company) off the ground, as I write a long form story (novel? screenplay?) about an alternate history of the blimp industry, as I design my way through the greatest city in the world. So with no epilogues here, what happens next? Well, stay tuned.