Occupation: I call myself today a “technology designer.”
Location: San Francisco
Current projects: Some of the ones that I can speak of are Fitbit trackers; Sproutling, which is a new type of baby monitor; and Project Ara, the modular phone by Google. And then we have a variety of yet-to-be-announced projects for very large technology companies and very small budding startups.
Mission: To assimilate technology into the broad society in the most captivating, democratic and cultural way possible
Project Ara is a modular phone system that allows users to swap in different CPUs, screens, cameras, batteries and other components.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? I was born into a family of architects, so I’ve been designing—or playing with design in my dad’s studio—since about age two. But I officially decided to pursue industrial design at around age 23.
Education: I studied industrial design at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, in Jerusalem.
First design job: As an intern model-maker at Scitex, an Israeli tech company that built really large computers.
Who is your design hero? I don’t have a design hero, per se. I admire certain work by certain people. I definitely admire the story of Apple, and Steve Jobs’s intuition and insights. I wouldn’t call him a great designer, however, because he wasn’t exactly a designer; he was a great entrepreneur.
Otherwise, I lean more toward the Italian side of design heritage—Mario Bellini and Ettore Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi. Those are my inspiration for the energy of objects. At the same time, I’m definitely enamored with a lot of the colder, more German designs, whether it’s Dieter Rams or Jony Ive.
Inside NewDealDesign's studio in San Francisco
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Describe your workspace: We have an open environment where a lot of things are placed on the walls. These are a combination of tack walls, where we can place hand sketches, and whiteboard walls—they’re basically painted to be whiteboard, so we can actually sketch on the wall itself.
Within this space I have a small office where I can talk on the phone without interrupting everyone else. This office is dimly lit and has very nice couches and is more of an intimate, secluded area.
Other than the computer, what is your most important tool? A pencil. I have yet to find any tool that is comparable in value to a good pencil or a good thin pen in terms of creating ideas, or conversing with yourself about ideas.
What is the best part of your job? Being able to influence really large technology endeavors in a substantial way
What is the worst part of your job? Dealing with stubborn and conservative individuals
Lytro is a device for creating "living images"—photos that can be focused after they're captured.
What time do you get up and go to bed? I usually get up around 6:45 to 7:00 a.m. and go to bed at 11:00 p.m. or so.
How do you procrastinate? I’m not a big procrastinator; I’m actually a very actionable guy. But I do spend time ruminating through issues while I’m either running or cycling. This is my best time to reframe issues, if you will.
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? Leaving the issue. My best trick is that if you get stuck in a problem, you should leave it for a day or two and come back to it. That has proven itself time and time again. Find something else to do in the next day or two, and once you get back to the issue, you’ll find yourself coming from a different perspective and most likely you’ll make progress.
What is the most important quality in a designer? The ability to listen and understand not only the verbal cues but also the subtleties and undercurrents of a conversation. You could also call it emotional intelligence.
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? That we deal with styling or fashion. Most people don’t really understand how deep we go and how significant our input is to what engineers are doing. Most people think we do just the external skin—picking colors and so on.
Sproutling tracks and predicts babies' sleep patterns and optimal sleep conditions.
TYLT is a line of mobile-charging accessories with a "vibrant, urban aesthetic."
What is your most prized design possession? I have an original Bird Chair by Harry Bertoia, which is my favorite chair. That’s where I start my weekend, just chilling, getting my cup of coffee, looking at my beautiful garden on my Bertoia Bird Chair.
What is exciting you in design right now? I think we are in a very dynamic era, with a lot of mergers of software and hardware, and of cultural and technological values. The richness of the object vocabulary we deal with is amazing—not only in what we call form factor, but also in interactivity and the objects’ ability to influence the lives of people. Dealing a lot with wearables, for instance, and dealing with wearables that are more and more medical and more and more able to guide you through your life—that level of relevance to actual human experience has never been there before.
You know, a chair—let’s say even my Bird Chair, which I like a lot—it’s still a relatively innocuous object in its relevance to my life. However, the mobile phone and the data that is on my mobile phone and the experiences that are embedded or channeled through it are a lot more essential to my life today. And this is just going to increase more and more. So to some degree, what I do now is more relevant to human life than what designers have done 50 or 100 or 200 years ago.
If you could redesign anything, what would you choose? Every second object I see, more or less. For instance, in our office we have a water cooler with these big, heavy jugs of water. And they have the most horrific handle on them—the type of handle where, basically, when you pick it up, it cuts your hand. So just yesterday we sat in the kitchen here and started having a discussion about how we would redesign this damn thing.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years? More or less what I’m doing now, but with more ability to influence bigger endeavors. There are a lot more complex issues now, and I think we’ll probably have increasingly complex issues coming on the boundary between technology and the human experience. I hope to be in a position to influence these positively.
Lastly, who's more fun to have a drink with: architects, industrial designers or graphic designers? I gotta say graphic designers. I think they have more emotional quirkiness to them, and they’re somewhat less full of shit compared to architects. I think industrial designers tend to be relatively good guys and somewhat dry. So if I’m talking about having a drink with someone who is jovial and having a lot of fun, I’d say graphic designers.
Mason Currey is a former Core77 editor and the author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Previously, he was the executive editor of Print and the managing editor of Metropolis. His freelance writing has appeared in the New York Times and Slate, among other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.