The Battle Within | David Whetstone
David has been a product designer I’ve always admired. His process (that he shares on the regular on his IG account) is very simple yet emotional with an expert level of precision. What I find most unique about David is that he works for a Product Design Firm. I’ve always felt that working for a firm was an incredibly brave move because it was an area that was so unknown to me.
It may have been where I chose to attend college (CCS) but it seems like you always heard of these amazing Product Design Firms but never met anyone that worked for them. It was like this mythical journey to get to this land of product creation that only a few could find. David’s journey led him to Astro Studios in San Francisco where he is able to work on a variety of products. From tooth brushes to record players to Footwear, he is able to spread his creativity and thought process across many products.
Davids discussion on courage below is beyond accurate and really shows a true challenge of all designers: self esteem. Check out his story below.
“Courage is getting started and continuing forward. It’s inevitable that each project carries specific challenges that can lead to moments of self doubt and present opportunities to give up.
When briefed a project, I almost immediately have a vision of what the final “thing” should look like, but all that’s in front of me is a blank page. The empty space is terrifying, and most often, the first visualizations do not align with the image I’ve rendered in my imagination. It’s frustrating as it’s right there in my mind, but I’m unable to communicate it to myself. There is no formula to get me there, or guarantee I’ll find a path I’m passionate about. I can only rely on the foundation I’ve built over years and invest hours, days, or even weeks in following the process and “doing the work.”
At a micro level, this same fear can be applied to each phase of a project or exercise within a phase. Applying details, choosing color and material, or creating communication assets are all unknowns that have to be faced head on. Leaving works undefined and ultimately unfinished has been my crutch to keep them to myself, safe from criticism.
Sharing work can be even more terrifying than beginning a project. What if people don’t like it? Even worse, what if the people that matter to me most don’t like it? A product or idea that lives in the world can be critiqued. It’s either “good” or “bad.” Only you know the compromises made with manufacturing, or the compromises made with clients. You can’t say, “but the intent was better.” All you have is what’s there, sitting on the table. It’s a vulnerable feeling to leave an object on its own unable to stand up for its value.
For me, these fears are the driving force. I obsess over details so the “thing” that lives is a “thing” I believe in. I want to people to love what I’ve contributed to the culture, and I believe it’s my responsibility to make it happen.” – David
The Battle Within | Salehe Bembury
Salehe is someone I admire at a very high level because to me he represents what courage is in his decision to represent himself in footwear. The trend is definitely getting larger where designers are opting to be their own brand so to speak and work for many companies or solely create their own vision. But Salehe was one of the first incredibly talented designers I saw breakaway from the mainstream and figure it out for themselves.
It is not an easy decision to make and often times comes from failing and learning. But once you gather the information needed and learn the craft, your courage can become your vision.
Salute to Salehe for creating his own path.
“The most initially intimidating aspect of design is the consumer. Most, if not all aspiring footwear designers (and I was no different) are obsessing over primarily design, color, and lines. However, if one is lucky enough to reach the professional level, it’s almost a rude awakening to realize the “after school sketches” you’ve been doing your whole life now need to be sold to “human beings”. A theoretical graduation occurs where the final destination of your drawings transitions from parents refrigerator to store shelves.
In the early days of my career, this transition immediately made me second guess all of my decisions. A good or bad design decision ultimately creates a snow ball effect until it reaches the consumer (if it even makes it that far). Incorrect design decisions could result in higher costs, lower sales, or unsuccessful marketing. It’s kind of like pick up basketball. If you’re not performing on the court…you not picked. I spent 2 decades drawing sneakers where “amortization” wasn’t even a word I knew the definition of, so it was new territory to say the least.
I believe that my courage comes from my experience. The brands and products I have been fortunate enough to work with have given me more and more confidence that maybe I’m “OK” at this footwear thing. The from “my pencil to your foot” conversation is still, and probably will also be an intimidating one, but it also fuels the process. If I can continue to “learn” and “experience”, then hopefully the courage will continue to increase. I find it fascinating that most designers I know are minimal, humble, and soft spoken people. But when they “create” you see their energy, passion, emotion, and courage…So maybe design is courage. Or maybe I’ve tried to end this on too deep a note haha. I love my job! Thanks for your time!” – Salehe
The Battle Within | D’Wayne Edwards
As I have explored deeper into how you find the courage to create, I often find that you have to find courage to stand up and lead. Leading can come in many forms. Sometimes that form has to be leaving.
D’Wayne Edwards is the perfect example of courage. Imagine having what many of us consider a dream job creating footwear for the greatest athlete ever and for the brand that inspired most of us to get into footwear design and stepping back and saying “I am moving on”. Take the fact that it is a dream job but also a consistent income with amazing benefits that provides for you and your family. Take the fact that you are rethinking everything you have built the foundation of who you are and now you are starting over.
Next realize that you have to create the foundation for many youth trying to become the next in footwear design.
That is no easy feat.
My question is, where do you think courage comes from?
DE: I think the core of it comes from CONFIDENCE. As Designers I feel confidence is one of the most important traits you must have or develop. It can be developed from having a strong creative process that you have achieved success with. I am not talking about once or twice type of success but consistent success to the point it becomes how you create. Your creative process can be developed by asking or paying attention to other creatives respect and study how they do what they do. Extract the things you like about each of them to create your own. Now, it takes courage to humble yourself to admit you need to grow and that you can learn from others. Once you make that decision to build up enough COURAGE to do that your CONFIDENCE will increase. Your CREATIVE PROCESS will be natural and you will start to get closer to your CREATIVE BEST.
Is it internal and a part of your personality?
DE: I think it can be but ultimately we are a product of our experiences. Most of the time people are introduced to COURAGE through SUCCESS. Now this success can be small like the 1st time you didn’t shit on yourself and your parent celebrated you. most build on these types of small moments and seek more but the key is being aware of all types of successes big or small. As a Designer I would say we have more failures than successes because we are hard on ourselves(or at least we should be) but it is those moments inner strength to want to solve a problem that gives us the COURAGE to keep trying.
Is it gained through experience?
DE: ABSOLUTELY!!! As I mentioned before we are a product of our experiences. Good or bad we learn by doing. In order to reach your CREATIVE POTENTIAL we need to increase our CREATIVE INFLUENCES. It is the KNOWLEDGE we gain through our experiential journey that defines our creative results. If, you only experience the things around you will not grow. If, you experience anything that comes your way or seek those experiences that make you UNCOMFORTABLE your COURAGE to go beyond your limits will have a foundation for your genius.
How did you find your courage?
DE: It started when I stopped shiting on myself. 🙂 As a kid in my pants and as an adult in my mind. I had a combination of encouragers and haters that fueled my drive to be better than I knew I could and that others ever thought I could be. In, my opinion I needed both. I grew up in Inglewood, CA in the 80’s and if I made it to 18 and I was not in jail I was a success. Society already decided my fate so I was determined not to prove them right on top of that I had 2 older brothers (Michael and Ronnie) who were better artist than I ever was but they died before they reached 24. They were my encouragers along with my Mother (who was also artistically gifted and also passed away) to have the career they never had a chance to have. At 17 my Mother gave me a card (that I still have to this day) that gave me the COURAGE to not make excuses and I travel with this card (image below) everywhere I go to this day because knowing it is near me gives me the COURAGE to do anything I set my mind to.
The Battle Within | Michael DiTullo
When Daniel and I thought to start this series one of the first people I knew I wanted to feature was Michael Ditullo. He has always been an inspiration as he’s willing to not only share all of his process with the world but he’s also willing to build and communicate with the design community openly. He’s also a great example of someone who has designed across multiple platforms of scale and proportions and companies. This to me means that he’s willing to challenge himself to learn constantly. That’s not easy to do.
If there is anyone who has shown courage to create its Mike.
Check out his thoughts below on courage.
“I was just talking about this very topic with some designer friends at CES. I think a lot of decision making is driven by fear. Specifically the fear that something won’t sell. I’ve seen fear based, reactionary decision making my entire career. I’ve seen it from sales, buyers, marketing and engineering, but also just as much from other designers. I completely empathize with those who feel it. No one wants to be responsible for deciding to make something that is a total dud. No one wants to say we made a bad call and the result is a warehouse full of product that won’t sell and now we can’t give raises or bonuses. I like raises and bonus as much as the next person!
I empathize because I have a fear based decision making mechanism as well, but from a totally different source. My fear is making something that has no integrity. It is the reason why I put everything I design on a display shelf in my home studio. Not to show it off, to remind myself that I am responsible for making something of value. Long after the monthly, quarterly, and annual reports, that object will live on in the world. It has to function, it has to solve a user’s problems, it has to bring joy, it has to last, and it has to outdo the competition. My fear is often misconstrued as courage, confidence, or even bravado. The truth is I’m scared to death of making something that doesn’t matter. My fear is bigger than any one uncomfortable meeting where I may be the only one defending the most advanced yet acceptable solution possible. I know that this has had the unfortunate side effect of making me sometimes difficult to work with. I can name a couple of occasions where it has almost cost me a job! At the end of the product development process and the products hit the market and become successful I find that people tend to forget those conversations where they tried to block the product. Memory is a funny thing and in retrospect people forget they were once afraid of the solution. I try my best to help them remember those times when it all worked out because I’m already working on them to go with the next big idea.” – Michael
The Battle Within
The further I get into design the less I believe it is about having a “gift” or about being special.
When I was growing up my mom use to over protect me and would always be terribly concerned of me hurting my hands in some crazy way. I blame her for not having the perfect jumpshot and having to rely on this drawing skill. Just kidding. But to this day she will tell my son not to rough house with me because “my hands” are so important. He is three.
And while I appreciate her concern and her love for me and protecting what she knows as my career. I couldn’t be further from her view as to what makes great design.
Yes you need to be able to capture your ideas and thoughts and most times that is with your hands. But what really makes a great designer has nothing to actually do with your hands.
It is courage to try.
It is courage to create your own path.
It is courage to tell the world that it is wrong.
It is courage to show everyone what you believe is missing.
Over the years I have found that when I am most respected in my design projects it is because I am the one that is willing to stand up and prove why the idea is right. I am willing to sacrifice my time, my energy and my effort to take on whatever is needed to make an idea happen.
Courage has become a subject that I love to talk about and learn about. I love to hear how others over came or how they blindly found their way.
Over the next few posts you will be seeing the conversations that Mr. Bailey and I opened up to some of our colleagues that we respect the most. We challenged them to answer the subject in the most original way possible to them.
I believe you learn that courage comes in many forms.
To start the series we decided to share our conversation together. Daniel (MrB) and I tend to have quite a few in depth conversations via WhatsApp about this subject, amongst many others. This is a good representation as to what that stream of consciousness looks like.
In the post below Daniel’s comments are aligned to the right and mine to the left, in bold.
I hope you enjoy what this series is and please feel free to comment and contact us about how you find courage, or if you need some.
BG: This is actually a subject and conversation I have been wanting to have with you for a long time. Because to a large extent you inspired it for me.
As I get older in design, I am beginning, think that working for a corporation or an established “house” of design is the easier path. For surely the safer.
Not to say challenges don’t exist within that path but there is a safety net there.
So my first question for you is how did you end up going down the independent route?
MB: Going independent wasn’t initially the plan to be honest. I actually got into footwear with the goal of designing Basketball sneakers for Nike. Back in the day, that was the pinnacle for me, so I wanted to shoot for the top. At least that was the plan until I met the big homie, Omar Bailey at an IDSA conference in Philly.
I didn’t even realise that being an Indy footwear designer, or having your own footwear design/development agency was a thing till I met him.
MB: After getting to hang around Omar, go with him on trips to China and everywhere in between, working on projects for all kinds of brands, from start-ups to established companies, I realised how much larger the industry is. It’s so much more than just design if you want it to be, so that whole experience kind of opened my eyes to the development side of things.
Also to be completely honest, I don’t think I really had the skill set straight out of college to have attracted any type of serious interested from a brand like Nike or adidas, I needed the time to develop, and during that time I was lucky to see a different side of the industry and also got the time to work on my skills.
BG: What are some of the challenges that you didn’t expect that has happened?
MB: Dealing with clients can be tricky at times, particularly when they’re not necessarily “shoe people” and don’t know much about the footwear design industry. It becomes more of a teaching process than a design one, which can be a little frustrating. So it goes without saying that we’re quite picky with who we choose to work with.
The plus side to that is that it also gives me and the team freedom to create our own projects, which is super fulfilling, but also comes with its own set of challenges. Mainly giving every project the time it truly deserves in order to create the best product possible.
Other then that when you own your own company/s, there are a lot of “other”, non-designer things you need to take care of. I write emails more than is probably healthy for my fingertips, and my sanity.
Also, make sure you have a good accountant.
BG: Where do you find the courage to continue doing what you are doing?
MB: I’m coming from a place where I felt no one was really into what I was doing, so I just thought fk it, I’ll outwork them and get better and better. Coming from a sporting background I feel confident in my work ethic and my ability to do whatever it takes to excel. I’ve also surrounded myself with people that are essentially doing the same as me (but way better) in different areas and industries, so it’s only natural that I would do the same. I guess you could say I draw my courage from them.
BG: Is it courage that you have? or is it a personality trait? Essentially do you see yourself as courageous?
MB: Not particularly courageous, I just really love what I do. I’ve always been the type of person to just “go for it” and figure things out on the way. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesnt. But, at the core of it all I love to create and either being a part of, or understand the process, in as many aspects as I can. I don’t really see that as being courageous, I just couldn’t really imagine living any differently.
Same question to you –
BG: I have always had this capability to say what I don’t want, I am not great at telling you what I want but I can always tell you what I don’t want. I don’t know if its a gift but I use it a lot. I also had parents that I would consider to be very passive. So from a young age, I learned to make decisions and figure things out.
I think that ability to make decisions, have the capability to know what not to do to figure out what I want to do; can be perceived as having courage. I find more and more as I grow into being a professional designer, customers or team members or leadership you are working for; are not just looking for your ideas but what they really want is the ideas that you believe in.
So I have learned that I have to have courage. I have to be willing to stand up and push for what is needed. And I have to do that by any means necessary.
Does it come naturally, I don’t know? I say yes because I have a hard time sitting back and letting things happen without me but I also say no because I don’t think of myself as being courageous. If I was I would have my own brand right now.
BG: In life, it is easy to fall into the cliche that life is always easier on the other side; is there ever a time where you wish you were a part of a design house?
If so, what keeps it from happening?
MB: I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wished I was part of a design house, but I’ve definitely entertained the thought of joining one. To be honest though, right now I’m kind of in a zone to where I want to create my own design house, filled with super talented peers, which I’m in the process of building slowly right now.
For me, freedom is the most valuable currency.
I’ve had the honour of being approached by some of the top brands in the industry. And though I’m always flattered, I generally say thanks, but I’m not interested right now. There have, however been a couple times where I’ve entertained the idea.
Marc Dolce actually hit me up a few times about the BK Farm. After expressing a couple times that, though I was flattered I wasn’t really interested, I started to question whether choosing to not give the opportunity a chance was actually the easy option, so we set up a meeting in Nuremberg.
I don’t know if I’d have ever actually taken a position with them, it would have for sure have taken a lot for me to do that, regardless I clearly had a little too many other things going on for their liking because we didn’t continue talks after the meeting. I kind of stressed my need to carry on designing my own products and also continue with ConceptKicks, which they totally understood and respected. I think that would be the only way I could ever work with a larger design house, I would need to maintain a high level of freedom, which isn’t something anyone’s really been able to offer me to the level I have by myself right now.
At the end of the day though, I want to learn and get better, so if I think a situation can offer something that I can learn from and grow, I’ll try and at least give it some thought. But the bottom line for me is that if you’re going to put me in shackles, I’m not about it.
How about you, do you ever wish you were fully independent?
BG: Oh boy, that is a tough question, yes I do and no I don’t. It is the ultimate dream. But it brings great risk and fear too.
It is easy to say that independent would be easier because you don’t have as many voices inputting on thoughts and ideas but I also think some of those voices are necessary and help balance many evils. I know that my best ideas are when I work with others. It isn’t just me developing a design for myself. I enjoy doing that immensely but I need others to be able to validate and make sure that I am not only designing for myself.
At the end of my career, I want to look back at having the freedom to work on what inspires me. To go back to the courage question, I think it takes a lot of that to be willing to be free. Because it means that you have to be willing to be independent and blaze a path that is great for you and bring others with you.
MB: What would have to happen for you to take the dive and go fully indy?
BG: If I am being honest it is me fully believing in myself. The only thing that stops anyone from doing anything is themselves.
What is slowing me is happiness.
I love what I am doing right now on every level so I don’t want to give it up.
Realistic thoughts that make me apprehensive is that I have a good set up. As I mentioned I am happy. There are challenges at times but I am happy. And I know that I can provide for my family in a great way with what I have going now. So it is very hard to give that up without having a full plan in place.
MB: You’ve always been outspoken about the industry, where has the confidence come from to continually put your honest opinions out to the world?
BG: My confidence comes in having a voice and constantly admiring others who use their voice properly. I believe honesty is a virtue and I believe if you aren’t honest and are in a position to influence then you are doing nothing but polluting the world and ultimately your sole.
What also made me confident is I don’t view myself as media/blogger/influencer or whatever term you want to throw at for speaking about footwear. I saw myself as sharing a voice for my passion that didn’t exist. Outside of Kicksology and yourself, what I started speaking about all the way back in 2009 didn’t exist on the internet and I could argue still doesn’t. What gave me the confidence to boldly speak out about product and the industry though as that it wasn’t my source of income.
So views, ad dollars and any sort of revenue generating never entered my mind. I didn’t have to rely on it and never planned to, so in a way it was freeing.
MB: Have you ever received any backlash from people within the industry for your comments?
BG: It is no secret that I was being seeded product by brands at one point. That has all ended. Like dead. And very likely never coming back.
I never viewed myself as an influencer but I got pulled into that life because brands liked my views and knowledge and how I approached sharing it.
I don’t think it ended because I was too honest but it did end because I wouldn’t just post up every press release or on product, that I didn’t have anything to say about. When I started receiving really bad product like say a Jordan Son of Mars, I would just flat out give it away to someone and never once speak about it. I had the confidence to do because of what I mentioned already. I can’t fake anything. I literally couldn’t craft up a single story to remotely stand by on that shoe.
I can’t speak for other brands but I do think I still have a very strong relationship with most of them. And I think it is because the people that are genuine with their product, which is Jordan, Nike and adidas; except what is said. They don’t align themselves with people they don’t value. So I never burned bridges but I also don’t help them reach mass numbers because I am unwilling to talk about the subjects that most are interested in. I spoke to a very, very, very small demographic within a very, very small demographic.
MB: What does courage look like doing what you’re currently doing?
BG: This is something that is shifting for me right now. 2-5 years ago I would have told you it was fighting for design and getting everyone to create products that havn’t been done before and are revolutionary and are going to change the world and all that fun shit.
But now it is actually instilling confidence and belief in others to keep them going on their journey. The fundamentals of design have always come very easy to me, that is not to say it doesn’t challenge me or that I am a perfect designer. It is to say that the skills that are needed to create a design I was lucky to have. What I found very quickly in my career is that a lot of people in our industry have that but what I lot don’t have is the willingness to share information and build connections through it.
Design to Move or Designed to Mood?
Recently I was listening to a podcast with the Lox, famed Brooklyn rappers from the shiny suit era that were from the shiny suit. Styles P, made a comment about a conversation he and his son had about the music he makes and enjoys (so his generation) and the music of his sons generation, that his son enjoys. To paraphrase, his son said the music he listens to is more about the mood it creates and less about the action that his father’s generation was about. It is a collection of moods and emotions that vibe together from melody to lyric, as opposed to just lyrics.
I am stating the obvious here, right now music has transitioned from focusing on deeply rooted messages that didn’t necessarily have a lot of emotion to creating music that encompasses a mood before a message. It doesn’t necessarily have a purpose but it is a collection of the atmosphere that was surrounding that creativity while the song was being recorded. Styles generation was provoking and reacting to what was happening in their world. While this generation isn’t about going and reacting to what the world is doing, it is about setting the tone for what they are doing.
This too me is a stretch metaphor for how I currently see footwear design.
We no longer design to move, we design to mood.
No longer do we hone in on problem solving and creating a product that will enable you to push yourself to your athletic boundaries, we now create products that hone in on the atmosphere that surrounds that. I dare say it is more important how you look off-sport then you do on-sport.
As I sit back and examine the scene, I don’t think that this is a generational move to give up on function or problem solving, I actually think its the opposite. I think the function is just a part of the product now. It is there and will always be there. Which allows the designer, or the consumer; to focus in on what is next for them and that is the emotion the product evokes. I see this not just in the product that is being sold to us currently but also in the sketches I see featured by young designers and professional designers. The sketches that use to be celebrated in product portfolios honed in on how to improve the athlete and the function of the sport, now you see sketches shifting solely to evoking emotion through proportion and most importantly the feeling it creates towards the details of the product. It is way more themed now.
There were elements of that in the past, you had to have a way of pulling in the viewer to the product but now it is so much more abundant towards the fashion and the atmosphere that world brings. Currently that atmosphere is all about proportion and texture and minimalism. What inspired me to get into design was the notion of creating a product that solved an issue for an athlete while still looking beautiful. So you had this opportunity to create something hot that most people would be drawn to and want to wear but the function was there. Simply put, form follows function. However, I don’t believe that is what is driving the next generation of product. Which isn’t a bad thing but it is a new thing for sport. I see less industrial design and more avant-garde design that pulls inspiration far from the function. That was typically saved for bespoke sport product or one off products, now its the focus of the entire industry.
I think the level of fashion and high end aesthetic in sneaker and footwear design has always been there but it is more blatant now. Sneakers have went up scale with an avant-garde approach as they have been used in fashion shows or crafted by fashion directors. While the opposite is happening with fashion, the more they are influenced by sneakers and sportswear the more they create ready-to-wear lines that bridge their lower their prices with their high end lines. There is no denying that area of design, fashion or footwear, has had an influence on each other. I don’t know the exact reason for it but it is obvious there is an acceptance of learning from each other and realizing that everything overlaps and influences each other.
To go back to the hip-hop narrative, Styles generation was very one minded and in a lane. You had the beat and the rhymes and you told your story thoroughly through it. You didn’t have people crossing over and doing both beats and rhymes and you definitely didn’t have people singing hooks. Dre and Puffy kind of did but they rarely wrote their own rhymes, really they just knew how to organize it all. Through time though that has shifted. Rarely is there an artist that solely does one thing now. Everyone rhymes, everyone sings, everyone produces in some capacity. Which in my eyes has created a more well rounded artist and helps them to see their vision more clearly. For instance an album like Frank Ocean’s Blonde wouldn’t have the amount of emotion it has, had he not been the one curating every element of the project.
The same can be said for what we are seeing in footwear today. It isn’t about just having the idea, you have to see how the idea effects the materials used, the colors selected and ultimately how it is positioned in the market. The current trend in all areas of art seems to be do it all. You don’t have to be the expert in everything but you definitely have to be well versed and willing to find the direction.
It will be interesting to see where this era of design takes us and whats next. Part of it is very superficial, it works so hard to be iconic and bold and a piece of art. You can thank the success of Supreme, UnderCover, Off-White and many more for that. But we can’t all be that. While the current phase is to blend all areas of life together to create a mood of cozy, it won’t maintain. To an extent this era of product reminds of 1998-2005 or so. Where it become over cluttered with gimmicks to make shoes more unique. Like straps, gaiters and a lot of straight lines on forms that don’t take straight lines well. The product always gets a reset though.