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Meet Michael DiTullo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael DiTullo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michael. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
When I was 13 years old, my parents asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up. My answer was “I want to draw stuff from the future”.

Almost 30 years later, that might be the best description for what I do. I grew up about 2 hours North of New York City on the Hudson River. It was an interesting place to be a kid. You were surrounded by rural areas and farm towns but there was this amazing gravitational pull of the city. Just a train ride away was museums, Broadway, arts, culture, music, architecture. I went on to study Industrial Design at the Rode Island School of Design (RISD), Domus Academy in Milan, and the Cleveland Institute of Art where I also did a focus in automotive design. I also met my future wife at RISD, Kristina Bell DiTullo. We have been together since my sophomore year. She is an amazing fine artist and a constant inspiration to me.

After school, I worked for a small innovation consulting studio in Connecticut where I started working with clients like Nike, Bose, Hasbro, Timex, and Chantal Cookware. Nike recruited me to be a designer in the world headquarters, located right outside of Portland, Oregon. Kristina and I immediately realized we were born on the wrong coast! After Nike purchased Converse they asked me to move to Boston to be design director there. After nearly 8 years designing hundreds of shoes, bags, and accessories for Nike I accepted an offer to be creative director of frog design in San Francisco. You may not have heard of frog, but they have designed many of the most famous products dating back to the late 60’s. They even designed the Apple Macintosh. There I designed products and brand experiences for Motorola, Google, Sephora, Honda, and Braun.

One of my clients at frog was DEI Holdings here in Vista California. The board of directors there asked me to move down to San Diego and start up an internal creative agency at DEI as their first Chief Design Officer. I renamed the audio division of DEI as Sound United, redesigned the headquarters, and built a team of multi-disciplined designers that developed a long-term strategy, design language, designed all of the products, packaging, and retail displays, as well as digital and print advertising, product videos, and trade show booths.

It was an amazing experience, and just what I was looking for before my next adventure.

It was during this time that Kristina and I fell in love with Leucadia. We bought a fixer upper behind Haggos Tacos where both of us could have our own studio and be a short walk from Beacons Beach…. and Coffee Coffee. That was important to us. We have been renovating our space for the last 5 years. Our outdoor space just one best small residential remodel of the year in 2017.

After 20 years as a practicing designer across many industries, I was ready to start my own design, strategy, and innovation consulting studio. Naturally Kristina and I wanted to stay right where we are in Leucadia. Since founding the studio in April, we have worked on several vehicles designs for an upcoming Hollywood Sci Fi blockbuster, a concept car for an Asian car company, a line of luxury luggage, an e-bike in collaboration with one of the most legendary names in mountain bikes, and a couple of exciting medical products. Most of my clients are outside of the region, some outside of the country, but we did design a high-end chef’s knife for Leucadia Custom Knives, and a mixed use architectural project slated to be built next year right on the 101 in Leucadia!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There is never a clear path to becoming a designer. Most parents want their child to grow up to become a doctor or a lawyer or maybe an engineer. Industrial design is a profession with little public awareness, yet it literally touches every object you have ever used. The very decision to become a designer is a small act of rebellion. We make our living with our creativity. We harness it to make the objects people interact with every day work better, easier to use, more joyful, and more special.

It can be difficult at times to convince decision makers to take what can be viewed as a more risky approach to their product portfolio. Of course, the biggest risk in creating a new product is not to take a risk! From a pure data analysis point of view, it can be very attractive to repeat what successful companies have already done, perhaps 3% better and 3% cheaper. Of course, the entire marketplace is moving all the time, and looking at rearward facing data is only one side of the story. My job is to show companies what they could do if they opened up the throttle on creativity. It can be very challenging to convince the right people to move forward with this approach, but the results always prove out the process. I’ve had to learn how to have the difficult conversations and to persuade people using the language they are most comfortable with it, be it engineering, marketing, or business administration. I view my role as a consultant to help my clients reach their full potential.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We design iconic, industry leading products and brand experiences for some of the best companies in the world. At its core, I go back to that prophetic statement I made when I was 13, “I want to draw stuff from the future”. In more detail, we gather as many parameters as we can from the client, conduct first and second-hand user research, then we selectively temporarily ignore or contradict some of the parameters to ideate new solutions that a company might have a difficult time generating in-house. Working with our clients we select a single or multiple ideas to develop and bring to market. Sometimes our clients do that part themselves, sometimes we help them to do that by building 3D CAD models, physical prototypes, and working with factory partners to transition the idea from a concept to a real product.

I think what sets us apart is that we won’t stop until we have something we are truly proud of. In my opinion, a good design obeys 3 rules:

1) It solves a real problem for real people. Many things don’t actually do this.

2) It helps our clients. It has to be profitable in order for it to exist in the market and solve that real problem.

3) It has to have some kind of larger cultural significance.

That last point is very unique to us I think. My goal is to make things that are not only relevant now, but 5, to years from now and beyond. Have you ever come across something from the 50’s or 60’s in an antique store and thought “They don’t make them like they used to”? I want to be making things that provoke that response in 50 years from now.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We established the studio in April of 2017 and the business took off a little faster than I anticipated. We have about 10 clients and manage up to 3 active projects at any one time. Right now, we fluctuate from about 3 to 5 people depending on the projects and what we need done. Based on that, my goal for the studio may seem very counterintuitive, but I want to stay small. I’d like to be no more than 5 people, keep about the same number of projects but continue to be more and more selective about the work we take on. We already say no more than we say yes and I like it that way. My focus is on always increasing the quality of what we do. Quality over quantity, and I want to be personally involved in everything we do. That is why it is a namesake business in the fashion of architects like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. When I started the studio, I wrote down a simple principle, “Do great work for people who want great work”.

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