Being humble creates careers
How a visit with Joshua Davis inspired my management style
Good Morning! ☀️
I’m back in Amsterdam from LA and next week I head to Verona. All I can say is how thankful I am to be able to travel again and talk to people face-to-face ✈️
With that, let’s get into this weeks writing, which is a feel-good story 👨🏻💻 🖊️
I’ll caveat this week with saying while Joshua Davis inspired me, I’m very certain he has forgotten meeting me, and has no clue who I am. But that shows how influential anyone can be at any moment of their life.
To start, if you don’t know Joshua Davis, take a moment to read about him and visit his site. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s he was a pioneering digital artist regarded as a hero and almost mythical figure in the online design community. His community forum Dreamless, and subsequent design community called o8, connected me to designers around the world. Many of them I still talk with to this day, including Nordkapp founder Sami Niemelä who inspired me when starting Raft.
In 2001, my senior design class at Carnegie Mellon visited New York as a class trip to talk to companies about post-graduate jobs.
It was a difficult time as it was right after the dotcom crash, and digital design jobs had essentially evaporated.
We toured and talked to the big companies such as Pentagram, Method, IDEO, and many others.
During that trip I decided to go rogue, take a detour, and visit a [now defunct] company called Kioken. Kioken was a small, but hot, new design firm working in Flash. Myself and a few computer science savvy designer classmates were amazed by the motion, interactive, coding, and website work they did. We had also seen work from Joshua Davis, who happened to work there.
I had no appointment, no plan, and knew no one at the company. I found my way into their building and knocked on a nondescript door. To my surprise, Joshua answered.
Not knowing what to do, I explained I was here with my school talking to companies, and I had seen his work online. He enthusiastically invited me in, where I saw render machines, Red Bull, and nerf guns laying around. He sat me down at his computer and excitedly explained some of the new motion work they were doing. Everything was so far over my head and I simply nodded in amazement. He took maybe 20-30 minutes talking with me sharing his work, new technologies he was exploring, and what got him excited about the online space.
I left amazed by what I saw. The enthusiasm, the work, the office, and the fact that Joshua Davis himself, this pioneering person I had been enamoured with, took his time to talk to me for no reason at all.
I went back and told my friends about what had transpired due to happenstance circumstances. They were blown away and in disbelief.
Years later, I eventually become part of a small online design community (the aforementioned o8… “we’ve already won”) which Joshua Davis frequented. During that time I got to meet him and have drinks with him several times as part of meet-ups in New York 🥃
For who he was, and how he was revered in the community, he was perhaps the most humble, polite, nice, and generous individual I have met in our field.
His single first short meeting with me remains burnt into my memory. In less than 30 minutes he set the stage for what would become a career tone and mindset. Now 20+ years later it acts as a fundamental management principle for how I approach running design studios - work towards building others and making them better than you!
As I’ve gone through my career, I hope I’ve been able to pay some of this back. I’m reminded all the time that every meeting you have with someone, especially up-and-coming designers, is a chance to impact a career or make a difference.
That’s all for this week - A feel good story and a reminder to be nice.
Thank you for reading and exploring topics with me.
Until next time!