An Interview with Steve O’Connor

Judges Interviews

What is the single most interesting brief you have worked on during your career?

We worked with Prada and Rem Koolhaus in 2000 to define and build a new vision for Prada’s flagship stores in New York and Beverly Hills. It was a fascinating project for me because it brought very high end fashion and architecture (two things I didn’t know a lot about) together with a huge ambition to push the shopping experience digitally. We designed a digital changing room which included an RFID enabled wardrobe and a magic mirror which would let you see your 360 degree self using time delayed video. We designed and manufactured the Staff Device an early wireless tablet device that enabled Prada staff to have a better relationship with the customer. It was all about creating a choreographed shopping experience. At the opening party I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin Spacey.

Who has been your biggest influence?

I guess there are a few. My ex-colleague at IDEO Durrell Bishop has a unique way of talking about products and their interactions – his beautiful design for the answering machine has stayed with me as a lesson in understanding the mental models of how we interact with things around us. My colleague at IDEO Paul Bennett has really helped me understand how to communicate in a way that is compelling and at the same time inspiring. For ‘pure creativity’ I go and see my old friend Ash Mandrake – a musician, artist & performer.

What’s the best advice you could give to a creative student?

I think great design is all about the details. As a student you often end up thinking about the blue sky ideas. My advice is: look down more, around you – what can you see every day that makes you think about the design of things? Be a ‘wakeful designer’. Don’t sit down to design. Think of it as a way of life. It amazes me that really great design is often only a small shift in a thing – so ideas that may seem to change things in a trivial way can be more impactful than you might think. Love the small.

Where do you think the future of design lies? 

I think design is becoming more accessible to everyone through better digital tools and technology such as 3D printing. That doesn’t mean that design will get better. Web sites didn’t get better in the 90’s just because everyone could make them. It’s important in this context that good design stands for something. Designers have a responsibility to stand up for that.

How are you inspired by Creative Conscience? 

I think conscious design is more and more important in a world, where there are more and more ways to “design” and an ever decreasing pool of resources. Design should be meaningful and important. Not trivial. And not just about making money.

How does your creative conscience show itself through your work?

We talk at IDEO about “purpose” – the reason you are in business over and above just making money. It’s about what value you bring to the world and your customers. My creative conscience comes through in the way I push our engagements with clients to be more purposeful and therefore creating better design outcomes.