Interview with Philip-Michael Weiner

Winner of Sustainable Product Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Philip-Michael Weiner shares insights


Interview with Philip-Michael Weiner at Tuesday 1st of May 2018:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
PW : I hail from a long line of designers. My grandfather, Verdun Cook, is my design hero. He was a typographer, photographer, and also an animator in the early days of television. He became famous for his work with Motown artists and his iconic design of the I Love Lucy heart title sequence. My mother took after him and attended Pratt at 16 years old. She’s been an artist and graphic designer for 60 years. When I was young, I studied acrylic and oil painting at the Corcoran School of Art then divulged into music. The best advice given to me was not to study design at university because it was already inside of me. All I had to do was sharpen my eye. I always had an interest in brand development so instead studied economics and math at the University of Maryland. Economics laid the foundation for my understanding of positioning, cultural tension, and consumer behavior. Since then my design education has been shaped by experiences, failures, pain, joy, and observation. I now build brands and products – both tactile and digital. I started off my career by failing at starting companies until I succeed. Now I’m on number 5. I’ve won many awards, have many leather bound books, I’ve been fortunate to work on some fantastic products and collaborate with some of the fascinating entrepreneurs on making the world more livable and equal through design.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
PW : I am an entrepreneur first and a designer second. I see a perfect world. Therefore any imperfections stick out like a nose on a face. That’s what drives me to complete the puzzle. As a kid, I would look at the cereal box and wonder why the cereal company chose a particular character. This innate curiosity is what has transformed me into a designer.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
PW : I chose to become a designer. I have a lot of other talents and passions. I used to play in bands and then went into sales and after a short but successful career in outside sales. The design is the best thing to have when trying to communicate something when you have limited resources. And often when you are getting a company started. I started using it to solve my problems, and after a few big wins applied the process, I use to develop my brands to working for larger and larger companies.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
PW : I would like to design more experiences and build artist brands. I love the way in which you can inspire, motivate, and induce calm or happy (or other!) states with physical experiences. Designing in the physical world could help people decompress from addictions we have, particularly to screens.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
PW : The first thing young designers should do is to learn business. Now that design has entered the c-suite, they need to build core skills that allow them to translate their design beliefs into the measurable impact that can deliver business value – along with a You-ifying their design. Young designers need to understand the unit economics and the value chain of the vertical they ware working in. Otherwise, they cannot price themselves effectively, which in turn will kill their confidence. That comes out in the work. The second is to learn what it is about their personality that makes them a particularly unique designer and position themselves as an expert strategist in the space. If you have to create multiple storefronts for you portfolio, do it, but having a focused body of work to show to clients will help you land business. The third is that they should copy copy copy (but never steal!) until they find their own original style.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
PW : Great designers figure out how to solve problems and create value with a design that imbues meaning purpose. Those are the designers create social constructs. A good, sound designer makes things look beautiful.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
PW : Good design keeps itself from the trash can, drawer, of the chopping block. I evaluate good design from the perspective of the stakeholder, customer or beneficiary.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
PW : Good design creates value. For stakeholders, customers, and the designer.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
PW : I would design an experience for the voters in the United States to be able to ensure that their message gets across in a way that politicians can receive and understand it.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
PW : The Planter – my mission is to empower everyone to have a choice about how their food gets on their table and where it comes from.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
PW : The secret ingredient is positioning and solving the root problem. The root cause is where the genuine need is. All good design needs to be positioned. The designer must know who it is for, what they need (not want!), the one key benefit that you are offering with the design, and be able to show how is it different.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
PW : I don't get a lot of inspiration from design masters. Much if my inspiration comes from legends like Yvon Chouinard, Abraham Lincoln, R. Buckminster Fuller and my grandfather.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
PW : I love the lighting and furniture by David Trubridge. I think it shows #1 how you can apply a pure art process to design. As well as making a product that is not only environmentally friendly but also has an excellent user experience, ships easily and is simple to install. His products like the Body Raft encapsulate and integrate biomimicry from the sea. I also appreciate his philosophy on business. He finds a happy medium between impact and scale.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
PW : My greatest design is the identity I crafted for Richard Branson’s 100% Human at Work initiative. This piece led to real-world impact. For example, adjusted salaries to ensure there was equal pay parity – ultimately my highest impact ROI.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
PW : The first thing is to understand what it is about your personality that makes you a good designer and then to inject more of yourself into your design based on your experiences. Second to ask more questions about how they can create value either for their customers, clients, or stakeholders when starting a new project. Instead of going to school for design, I went to school for economics and math to understand why and how people make decisions, what the trade-offs are. And then I worked my fucking ass off.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
PW : I’d be a musician. And/or a backup dancer.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
PW : Design is applied art. It is a way to solve problems for organizations using colors, typography, images, and materials.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
PW : My extended family and friends helped me to become a design leader. The design realm is an incredibly tough business. There was no one person, but many who would support me. Those who let me sleep on their couch when a company I started failed. Those who made introductions for me, who thought of me first when looking for work. My mentors in business, often who didn’t even realize they were my mentors. And my grandmother and great aunt.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
PW : A shit ton of failure and feedback.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
PW : The tradeoff between something being perfect and solving the problem. As well as feeling like you are not having confidence in your work. Taking feedback personally.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?
PW : Designers should always present their work in person or on the phone. They should take the client through the discovery process that they went through to understand the concept. Show three options and end with the best option. Instead of asking for feedback, ask if the design meets the goals of the business or customer needs.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
PW : I help companies raise money in consumer, in film, in music, food, technology. I would love to partner with the best storytelling designer in my network to create a business that helps people tell stories through pitch decks.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
PW : Work on a blend of business and social impact projects. Live on three different coasts. Influence policy and less self-destructive consumer behavior Fuel my passion for creating music that helps people feel.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
PW : Companies expect someone with my experience to have the ability to manage risks when implementing design within an organization or launching a new product. For example, if you are a shoe company and putting a logo on a shoe – a mess up could cost you millions of dollar and potentially even sink the company. Other younger designers following the same path are looking for mentorship and lessons learned based in my failures.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
PW : Design doesn’t create a better society or change the world. But design can influence policy and decisions and can make everyday paths more delightful, simpler, and easier.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
PW : Currently working with a company that creates technology to manage chronic pain and accelerates the recovery process for people who have experienced trauma. The company is called The founder Richard Hanbury developed a mask that puts you into the flow state, which in turn induces a state of deep relaxation. The tech applies to pain, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and sleep.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
PW : I enjoy working on projects that solve my problems. But I also enjoy projects that solve systemic societal issues. Even though I may be working for someone else, I am genuinely passionate about market-based approaches to impact.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
PW : I would like to see a requirement for designers to take ethics classes and carry a license. Design has been the enabler of damaging externalities in our society like addiction, hate, bullying, propaganda, lies, and waste. We have a culture that is defined by mass consumption and excess. Physical products are created with end-of-life in mind, and digital products are destroying self-esteem, confidence, and mindfulness. The success of these products today relies on good design to craft frictionless experiences. Designers should know when to say no.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?
PW : Design is headed towards AI which means that designers today but learn how to become more creative and do more with tools that will replace much of what they do today. But until a computer can feel pain or accidentally knock over a can of paint, we'll be okay.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
PW : As long as it takes to solve 80% of the problem.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
PW : I start with creating a positioning statement and creative brief.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
PW : No rules.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
PW : Good, different design sets the trends. Everybody else rides the wave.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
PW : Technology enables increased efficiency, speed, and better documentation of the process.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
PW : I work on a variety of product and brand development projects where the deliverables vary from tactile to digital. We use the full gamut of the Adobe Suite, Sketch and good old-fashioned code for UX work. Once we move into the brand development phase, we rely heavily on Aria lighting equipment to capture moments. The best camera to use is the one we have at the time with a set of good Canon glass, although we are quite fond of the Sony A7 R3 right now for low lighting scenarios. When shooting video, we have friends who own an Aria Alexa that we rely heavily on for catching those slow-motion, sun-drenched scenes. We design physical products with paper and pencil, Solidworks and Keyshot. We tell stories with the help of Keynote.