Storyboard: Parker Kuncl

The value of play

“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.” – Plato

I frequently come back to this quote, whether I’m giving a prototyping lecture, interviewing for a job, or simply allowing my mind to wander. What I think Plato was trying to say was this: in situations where human beings are truly at play, they will show you the depths of themselves.

I’m an extrovert. I cherish the humor and sense of perspective that I get from my interactions with friends and co-workers, and I believe it shows up in my work. I’d always rather go on an outdoor adventure than work out at the gym, and I’d rather do something more playful for a first date than a standard dinner-and-drinks scenario. Keep it engaging, and don’t be dry. Every new interaction is a chance to create something memorable.

My creativity has always manifested in different ways. When I was ten years old, I used to make my own flies for fly-fishing. Some years earlier, I created mock “clubs” that my friends and I could belong to, replete with killer fake membership cards. I studied geological oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, but I was still designing mock album covers in Photoshop in my off time. Whatever I did, I never let lack of experience slow me down.

My teacher for my Intro to Photoshop class was a guy who made his living designing coupons – you know, the kind you get in the mail and typically throw away. You might think to scoff at a man who made his living in coupons, but the guy was brilliant. He taught me about composition, typography, and other design foundations. It was around this time I realized that studying oceanography was just never going to be my “thing.” Whatever this design thing was, that was my calling.

These days, I’m a product designer. Remember, a product doesn’t always have to be physical in nature; a product can be a piece of software, a service, or even a digital experience. Since ArtCenter, I’ve gone both big and small in the jobs I’ve chosen. I’ve worked for companies like Uber and PayPal but also startups that are staffed by only 5 to 10 people.

I worked at Uber on billion-dollar product lines when there were only 10,000 employees there. These days, the number is probably closer to 25,000. I was at T-Mobile when they had a building in Seattle, near Pike Place Market. T-Mobile was a playground for designers. It was all innovation all the time, truly a “blue sky” mentality. With each new role you step into, you adapt and grow, effectively becoming a more elevated version of yourself.

In both work and play, I try to bring a perspective that is unique to my lived experience. The jobs I have sought out in the last 5 to 10 years have had to involve creating from scratch and also putting products into people’s hands that improve their overall quality of life. I get to do a version of that in my current role at Oracle, where we’re simultaneously inventing products that are six weeks from shipping and also working on concepts that are five years away from being fully realized.

It was at ArtCenter that I learned that designers must create optimal environments for their teams to thrive in. The goal is to free up time for folks who are toiling needlessly on repetitive tasks when they could be accomplishing something more fruitful, like allowing their brains time to recharge. Turns out, you can work hard and smart at the same time.

Doing what I do means observing my surroundings and constantly asking myself why things are the way they are. After all, you have to be aware of the trends in order to set them. Thankfully, I’ve never lost the sense of play that is essential to my creative identity.

Parker Kuncl
MFA 09 Media Design Practices
Director of Design, Oracle
Former Product Experience Designer at Uber, PayPal, and Samsung

The goal is to free up time for folks who are toiling needlessly on repetitive tasks when they could be accomplishing something more fruitful, like allowing their brains time to recharge.

Parker Kuncl
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