We were lucky to catch up with Michael DiTullo recently and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, thanks for joining us today. If you could go back in time do you wish you had started your business sooner or later?
I think every entrepreneur has their own path, their own origin story if you will. As a student in design school I idolized independent designers of previous generations like Raymond Loewy, Charles & Ray Eames, and Hartmut Esslinger, but I felt like I needed to learn before starting my own. After college I worked for a small design and innovation consulting group as an industrial designer. I was the fifth employee and I got to really see how the business worked, how the partners managed built trust with their clients and loyalty with their employees. We were small but mighty, working big companies like Bose, Burton Snowboards, and Chantal Cookware. From that small company I went to Nike as a footwear designer where all of a sudden I was working with thousands of people and I learned what it was like to climb the corporate ranks and contribute meaningfully to a large organization. I intentionally went outside of my lane working across footwear, accessories, and branding. I pushed hard to become the thirteenth designer to ever work on the Jordan Brand where I got to work directly with Michael Jordan, Derek Jeeter and Carmelo Anthony. From there I took a job as creative director of the legendary frog design, working with massive clients like Google, Moratoria and Honda I got to see how a global consulting firm that often did $1M+ projects worked. I took one last stop as chief Design Officer of a consumer electronics conglomerate called Sound united where I oversaw industrial design, packaging, product management, and marketing creative across 6 brands… finally, after 20 years of working I thought I might be ready, maybe.
I was pretty scared to leave my comfortable corporate bubble. So I started a little research project. I interviewed twelve business owners of small to medium sized brands that I respected. I asked them questions about starting their businesses, what they wished they knew when they started it, and if they thought I had what it takes to make it. From those twelve interviews six asked me to write proposals… I didn’t even have a plan to leave my job yet! Once I was ready to leave, on the first official day of starting my design consulting practice, the first contract signed. Three days later I had a contract signing meeting with my second client. I vividly remember them signing the contract and saying “Michael, we are so proud to be your first client”, to which I got to tell them they were already my second. We have been busy ever since.
My take away from all of this is that what had terrified me and seemed like a deep chasm to jump over was actually a natural next step, a step I was probably ready to take a few years earlier.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
In the classic sense of the IDEO “T shaped” career, my deep expertise is in industrial design. I’ve helped bring hundreds of products to production over the past 20+ years. My broad experience is in creative direction across industrial design and marketing creative. Here is where I feel I can be most helpful, telling one cohesive story from the early ideation stages through to overseeing photo shoots, packaging, and ad campaigns.
I like to say I help companies move people to action through strategic design that is iconic, differentiated, and desirable.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
I graduated from college in the late 1990’s. Before Google, before online portfolio hosting and at the very early days of online job boards. When I graduated I realized I had no idea how to get a job! I din’t know how to interview or really write a resume. I had precious few connections from a few sponsored projects and from a couple of professors who took an interest in me. I remember right after graduation I had an interview at Adidas. I walked in is dark slacks, shoes, and a button down and the creative director was wearing ripped jeans and a Steelers jersey…. it didn’t go well. After 6 months of trying my hardest to get a job I was starting to get desperate. I had no money and my family was running out of patience, so I interviewed for a job as a sales clerk at circuit city. I was feeling pretty low and starting to think maybe I didn’t have what it took to make it as a professional designer. The day that was supposed to be my first day of work at Circuit City I got a call back from a design firm, they asked if I could come in and interview that afternoon. I thought about it for a moment, said yes, called up Circuit City and quit before ever starting, and went to that interview. I got an offer on the spot and never looked back. If I had passed on that interview would I have ever have made it? I’ll never know.
Is there mission driving your creative journey?
Most people will never own a Picasso. They probably won’t look at a Van Gogh daily. They might not purchase a Brancusi sculpture for the living room, or live in a Frank Lloyd Wright home. On the other hand, they most likely will wake up to look at their alarm clock each morning, drive their car to and from work, and look at their watch countless times. It is easy to underestimate the impact of interacting with these objects. They are part of our daily routines. It is all too easy to discount them as mere products.
A person strapping on their watch, glancing at it throughout the day, every day, possibly for a period of years, has the opportunity to come to know it on an intimate level. It could be the last thing this person sees before drifting to sleep at night and the first thing they see in the morning. This person will know every line, every detail, every nuance of color and shape, even if only on a subconscious level.
From the standpoint of a designer, this is an opportunity to provide people with something above and beyond an object that performs a simple function. It is a chance to give them a work of art. A work of art that they personally interact with every day. A work that people take notice of and admire, or one that blends into the surroundings and makes its statement with a whisper. A work that is a sculptural marvel and technical feat, or one that performs a function with such clean simplicity it takes on an elegance of its own.