New Horizons: Interview with Designer Michael DiTullo

New Horizons
New Horizons is a new collection of innovative and eco-friendly acoustic products by Kirei that are both useful and pleasing to look at.

New Horizons is a new collection of innovative acoustic products by Kirei, provider of eco-friendly design materials that facilitate visually compelling and acoustically balanced interior environments. Designed by the acclaimed Michael DiTullo, the products are pleasant to look at and useful.

Michael has been a product designer for more than 20 years, and he has worked with A-list brands including Nike, Google, Honda, Timex, Chantal, Converse, and Motorola. In 2019, he started working with Kirei and has since produced five future-forward, color-centric EchoPanel acoustic products that facilitate healthier interior environments.

Michael believes that sustainability is an essential part of good design as are aesthetically pleasing creations. He recently discussed his career and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first realize that you wanted to be a designer and what types of items do you most enjoy creating?

Michael DiTullo (MD): When I was a young boy. I always loved imagining what things would be like in the future. After school, I used to open the Sears catalog to a random page and then draw what I thought the future of the product would be. When I was 13, I said I wanted to “draw stuff from the future” when I grew up, I just thought that had to be someone’s job. Soon after, I learned it was called design. I found a few books on design at a local bookstore and by the time I was 14 I had a drafting table, a t-square, a set of drawing tools, and a full set of prism color markers and I’d stay up all night drawing. I most enjoy designing things that have some kind of emotional connection. If I can help to create something that people love, then they will take care of it longer and keep it longer. That might be a watch, a boat, a chair, or a series of architectural acoustic products. Working across so many industries gives me insight into a huge array of manufacturing techniques and technologies and helps me understand the whole person, not just a single item in their life.

New HorizonsMM: How did you break into the industry and what product are you most proud of?

MD: My 9th-grade math teacher saw me drawing in the back of class and recommended I go to The Rhode Island School of Design, where her brother studied. So, I went to RISD, and I studied industrial design, as well as a semester at the Cleveland Institute of Art and a summer term at Domus in Milan. While in school, I did sponsored projects for both Nike and Nissan. After graduating I got an offer from a boutique design firm in New England called Evo where we worked with Bose, Burton Snowboards, Timex, Libbey Glass, Chantal Cookware, Hasbro, and Nike. Working there really showed me I could design anything, and I’ve tried to carry that forward.

It is hard to pick a project I’m most proud of. I often look at all the things I would do differently, ways it could be better now. A few standouts for me are the Air Jordan XXIPE which was a player exclusive version of the Jordan XXI, The Nike Machomai boxing boots that many boxers have worn in multiple Olympics, The Icon CJ3B which was a limited production 4×4 built in LA, the design strategy work I led for Pampered Chef on the look and feel of their product portfolio, a nautical project I’m working on now that I can’t tell you anything about, and the work I’m doing with Kirei because of its scale and sustainable aspect.

MM: What most intrigues you about sustainable designs?

New HorizonsMD: As I’m doing this interview it is 111º outside my studio in Portland, Oregon. It should be in the 70s and raining in June. We can’t continue to go down the road we are going and expect anything other than difficult times ahead. I think it is paramount for all companies and people to be seeking more sustainable solutions. I love working with Kirei because I feel like every project tackles sustainability in two ways. First, the base material is made from 60% recycled content. Effectively thousands and thousands of water bottles that might have ended up in a landfill are saved, ground up, extruded, and rolled into the PET panels that Kirei products are made from. The second aspect is that the architectural products we are making may be in a space for a decade or more. So, we are taking that waste product out of the cycle for years with something that adds beauty and functionality to the lives of the people who use that space every day.

MM: How did you get involved with Kirei?

MD: I frequently speak at conferences. A few years back I was speaking at a conference called “Object Culture” in Brooklyn organized by the design website John Stein, the founder and visionary behind Kirei saw that I was speaking there and reached out. We realized we literally lived in the same town, at that time I lived in Encinitas California. We got together for lunch and I just really aligned with his vision for Kirei and we both thought that there could be a great long-lasting partnership there.

MM: How did you select the five fabulous colors that you chose?

New HorizonsMD: I can’t take credit for that entirely. Music is always a big part of my inspiration on projects and that is another area where I align heavily with John. When we were working on the EchoEdge product, I was looking at all of these very linear inspirations, from 1960’s International Style architecture to receptive wooden elements in a lot of current interiors, to 1980’s album covers and movies like Tron and how that has been transformed into the “Vapor Wave” genre of music. That “Vapor Wave” genre has a very Miami vice-inspired color palette and as I was pulling together the industrial design, Anne Kulinski, who leads marketing at Kirei, built that into the vibrant color palette you see in all of the launch materials. We are lucky to work with Woven Image out of Australia, which supplies the PET panels we use in such a wide variety of colors to allow us to make these unique palettes to inspire designers.

MM: What do you hope is the future of sustainable design?

MD: Right now, sustainable design is often an add-on, something people have to ask for and often expect to pay a premium on it. I hope that in the future sustainable design becomes table stakes, and we consider not just the cost to make a product, but the environmental cost of not making the right product or making a product poorly. I also think we need to really focus on less but better. I’d rather have things that are better made and last longer and avoid having to spend new materials on new products so often.

KireiMM: What has been the best thing about working in the design industry so far?

MD: I look at what we do as creating the artifacts of our time. 500 years from now people might look at the objects we are creating today and infer all kinds of things about our culture and what we valued. Playing a small part of that is very rewarding. The very best thing is spotting something I’ve worked on out in the wild. Seeing someone wear a watch, or a sneaker, or walking into a coffee shop and looking up to see a baffle I helped to create is better than any design award there is!

MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?

MD: We have two more Kirei collections in the works for this year that I can’t wait to launch! In addition to that a line of motorcycle helmets, a new line of watches, and that nautical project I mentioned as well as a product for people with diabetes… honestly it is an honor to work on so many objects.