Storyboard: Peter Yee

How to design a fulfilling life

I decided to pursue design many years ago because I thought it would be fun. Crazy, right? Luckily for me, I have consistently enjoyed design, been pretty good at it and had a lot of fun along the way.

My time at ArtCenter taught me how to stand out from the crowd. The faculty taught me how to execute and deliver. They taught me how to propose elegant solutions to daunting problems. As an up-and-coming creative, so much of your identity is built on wanting to stand out. You want people to take you seriously. You just want to be a part of the conversation. “Good” and “great” may start with the same letter, but there’s a world of difference between those two adjectives.

I’ll tell you a story about one of my most influential ArtCenter mentors, Stan Kong. When I was a student in Stan’s class, I handed in my final assignment early (a rendering of a Porsche 911). I was surprised when Stan wanted me to do another, more difficult, assignment because I finished early. I felt discouraged at first, but then I dove in. There was a certain defiance in my method: I wanted to prove to Stan that I was good enough.

I completed my revised assignment (a 1930s Cadillac front wheel detail) in 48 hours. What I realized was that Stan was pushing me because he knew what I was capable of more. He only pushed students who he knew were up to the challenge. Stan taught me to never make excuses. To this day, I believe that if you are a creative, you will be known for making one of two things: either making it happen or making excuses.

I forged a meaningful connection with Stan that continues to this day. The same is true of my relationship with the founder of Oakley, Inc. When I first started as the company’s first industrial designer, he pulled me into a conference room. On the table was an assorted mess of a hundred swatches and various fabrics/materials. He wanted me to help pick the interior for the company’s corporate jet. I took a good, long look and then picked the three or four materials that I liked best. He told me to turn the swatches over and there were X’s marked on 3 of 4 of them. The ones with the X’s were the same materials that he liked as well. It’s rare that you feel a creative kinship like that; hold on to it when you find it.

For me, creativity has always been about finding solutions. And sometimes the most ingenious solutions are the simplest. Of course, there’s a lot of work that goes into making meaningful things seem simple.

Take the Oakley logo, one of my first projects. At first glance, it’s quite simple. When you look past the surface, you see accelerated curves, two axes, and inherently symmetrical design. Symmetry, after all, is one of the key characteristics of beauty. The logo looks as though it is effortlessly slicing through the air. The accelerated curves denote a more dynamic visual language than the logo that existed before it, which relied more on radiuses and straight lines.

As industrial designers, our job is to give life to inanimate objects. And not just life, mind you – we have to give these objects a personality. My 25 years at Oakley consisted of me building the brand as it was meant to be. If you take joy in what you create, it will translate into the final product. There’s a lot of my personality in Oakley, as well as other people who have been instrumental in building the brand. We all wanted to be great, not just good.

I try to bring the same lessons I’ve learned from my professional life into my personal one. I teach my girls not to settle and/or rely on someone else for their happiness. I teach my son that no one’s going to hand him anything in life; he has to work for his success. My professional endeavors have given me a good life. My wife and children have given me a happy one.

My only goal is to live a fulfilling life, and I’ve tried to design one as best I can.

Peter Yee
BS 92 Product Design
Innovative and Strategic Designer Leader at Exemplis
Former VP of Design at Oakley, Inc.

As industrial designers, our job is to give life to inanimate objects. And not just life, mind you – we have to give these objects a personality.

Peter YeeBS 92 Product Design
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