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People to Watch in 2012 BACK FORWARD

karl heiselman


Karl Heiselman is the CEO of Wolff Olins and the driving force behind the company’s ambition for clients and optimism for the world. With over 20 years of brand and design experience, he leads the global business by shaping its strategy for growth and encouraging excellence in its creative work. Heiselman has helped create game-changing work for Wolff Olins’ clients, including Microsoft, (RED), Skype, GE, PwC, Unicef, Current TV, New York City and Mercedes-Benz. He has expanded the company’s capabilities to include product development, brand-centric innovation and creatively-led business strategy. Trained as a designer and now a chief executive, he firmly believes in the value of creativity to drive positive business and social impact. Prior to Wolff Olins, Heiselman founded San Francisco based design studio The Farm, with clients including Apple, AMEX, HP and FedEx. He also was the executive creative director at Swatch and a design director at Apple, where he first related the importance of design in business. He is a frequent media commentator and often speaks on brands and design-led business at events around the world.

Where were you born or grew up, where do you live, does this affect your design style or sensibility?
I grew up in the sticks in upstate NY. Since then I've been lucky enough to live in some amazing cities — NYC, London, San Francisco, Milan — and have opportunities to travel all over the world, meeting some incredible people along the way. I think the people I’ve met have had the greatest impact on me. I’ve always been fascinated by what drives them, which led me to think of design as a way to create experiences. I’m most interested in how design can produce a result or create a positive impact. It’s not about style. Style is just a means to an end. Design is about creating an ecosystem of experiences that play a real, meaningful role in people’s lives. It’s funny, growing up in the sticks in upstate NY, I was always bored and couldn’t wait to get out. And now, well, I just bought a house in the sticks in upstate NY.

If you were not a designer, what would you be doing for a living?
Too many cool things to choose from. Musician? Filmmaker, artist and/or scientist? Being a singer/ songwriter would be the hardest thing to pull off. Being a filmmaker would be the ultimate — story, sound, art direction, writing. If I could, I’d do it all.

What is your greatest strength and weakness as a designer or design manager?
I always aim to create the conditions for others to thrive. I’d say that’s my greatest strength. I view my job as head coach, rather than the star player. My greatest weakness? Still wanting to be the star player.

Design Hero?
Steve Jobs
Favorite Color?
Favorite App?
Pulse (it’s the 21c newspaper)
Favorite TV Show?
The Daily Show
Favorite Book?
Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics
Favorite Movie?
My Architect
Favorite Music?
Today, Beirut
Favorite Fine Artist?
Richard Serra
Favorite Gadget?
IPhone, of course
Bookmarked Websites?
Brandflakes for Breakfast, Fast Company, TED
Worst Habit?
Wanting more
New Year’s Resolution?
Drink more red wine
One Thing You Can't Live Without?
My wife
Talent You Wished You Possessed?
So many to choose from ...
Best Gift Ever Received?
A motorcycle for my 16th birthday