Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 7

Philip Hartley, Designer at top firms including Frog, Jump, Smart Design, and Fjord

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Show notes

Philip Hartley is a design director at Fjord in Washington, D.C. He worked as a design engineer before transitioning to innovation strategy, and he has also been a boat builder in Australia where he built and repaired wooden boats ranging from 5-foot to 50-foot sailboats, dinghies, and river cruisers. You can reach out to Philip through email at


Key points include:

  • 07:58: Examples of design strategy
  • 17:03: How career training shaped day-to-day thinking
  • 26:12: How design training influences being a dad
  • 40:24: What would most surprise his college self

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92-Philip Hartley


Will Bachman  00:01

Welcome back to the 92 report conversations with the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman, classic 92. And I’m so glad to be here with my old friend Philip Hartley, class of 92. Philip, welcome to the show. Nice to be here. Nice to be here. So let’s start Phil with just give us a thumbnail sketch of your of your journey since you left college.


Phillip Hartley  00:27

Okay. Well, it’s been a great journey. I think for context, it’s actually helpful just to, you know, just to mention that when I was when we were an undergrad, I had been a joint concentrator, I had done this sort of unorthodox double major of engineering, and V s, which is BDS being sort of visual arts, visual and environmental studies, but visual arts, architecture, painting, photography. And that double major was just pulling interests that were interesting to me and sort of I was sort of heading in a direction, maybe I’d become an architect, maybe had in sort of an engineering direct direction, but didn’t quite know where I’d end up. So just for context, because that actually had been pretty consistent to that the whole time. But right out of college, I actually had a really nice experience where I went to Australia for over a year, and I went there to build boats. So I actually built boats in Australia, in a boat shop in Adelaide, working with my hands. And that’s something I’ve done a lot of growing up, but it was, it was just awesome to go do that. Actually great precursor to being an engineer later, because a lot of the guys in my model making my modelmaking shop would appreciate that I was a hands on guy. But also I got to I had the opportunity to travel and hitchhike around the country. So you know, I was gone for between a year and a year and a half. And I got to basically hitchhike and wander all over the continent of Australia. And you know, it was pretty amazing experience. When I got back, I, I, I had discovered right at the end of undergrad that there was something called industrial design. In fact, I’d gone to MIT’s career office and it basically industrial design is kind of like architecture except you design everything else. It’s essentially product design. You know, it could be ice hockey, skates, surgical tools, eyeglasses, speakers, ended up working on all these kinds of things, but it’s like engineering and aesthetics combined. And when I discovered that I really pursued and followed that. And I got lucky. Initially, I interned in Boston for a company but ultimately got out to the Bay Area to California in San Francisco, where at that time, it was the real center for that kind of work. And I worked for a company called Frog Design. And frog was famous for the guy that started frogs named Hartmut Esslinger. He had worked with Steve Jobs, and basically designed all of Apple’s products, their design language, the stuff that we used to work on, does Mac SES. They did the Snow White language and designed Apple products, but I got this job with them. And it was I got so lucky. And that was my my first chunk of working as an engineer, which I loved. And I was there for about five years in San Francisco. Making Stuff making products can I worked on ice hockey, skates, toasters, blenders. We design chairs for Lufthansa is sort of business class planes. I sort of worked on everything. But one thing in that time that intrigued me, and that was inspiring. Was there certain kinds of designers who aren’t just about making things beautiful, but they approach problems in a very sort of deep questioning way? What’s the real problem here or so for example, if you’re designing a surgical tool, you don’t just hone in on the tool, but you want to step back and think about what does it mean to be a doctor? What does it mean to be in this environment? What does help you sort of ask these sort of big questions, and I kind of got hooked by that there was something about the thoughtfulness of being a designer, the ones that I admired, that I pursued. And that was, at that point, I made a break to to take a break to go to grad school. The next chapter, I went to St. John’s College, which I don’t know if you’re, if you’re aware of St. John’s College, but it’s basically a great books program and a great loss to be. Yeah, and I did a graduate program and it’s a little bit it might seem discontinuous with having worked as an engineer and designer but for me, I was following a thread that was very consistent. So CS, studying the great books, thinking about those big questions we humans face, that don’t really change and kind of our interactive You know, originally in Santa Fe, I did a semester in Annapolis. And it was, that was actually, it was amazing, it’s probably the best experience I’ve ever had. And when it was done, I mean, the next chapter I basically was following that thread. When I had to get back to work, I followed on that thread that’s requesting or questioning aspect of design. And I resisted the temptation to become, you know, go back to engineering, took a bit of a pay cut, and I shifted to something that actually wasn’t even a job description yet. But that would become would get called design strategy. You could call it innovation strategy. And that was around 2005. And I’ve basically been doing that ever since service design. And I actually went back to the barrier for a second stint there of about four years. certain point, I made my way to New York, where that’s where you and I reconnected. I spent about six or seven years with a with a design firm there. And then ultimately, as we were talking about before you hit record came back to DC, which is my hometown. And then so I’m still doing this design work. But now the focus is very much on government problems, government context, and trying to just try to help the federal government, you know, sort of solve some pretty intractable problems. So that’s kind of in a nutshell, that’s sort of the career side. I mean, on the personal side, a big a big pull eastward was my family. In particular, my my wife, Cecile is she’s French. She’s from Leon. And we started dating. When we started dating, I just gone back to the Bay Area, and she was in Paris. And so part of the drop to go back east, and what brought me to New York was us trying to get closer to each other. And so we each moved to New York, she actually was in New Haven, she she got into Yale, so transferred to Yale, but we had New York as our home and we got married in 2010. We had our first child, Elliot in 2014, who just turned eight years old yesterday. And now we’re in DC. You know, I’ve got Elliot who’s eight, a little girl. And Eleanor has four and a half. And it’s just good to be home. You know, DC is my hometown. Many people kind of a joke, because no one’s from here. But I’m from here. So my mom’s still in the house I grew up in my brother is probably about 12 minutes away. I have several cousins of like nine nieces and nephews and various God children and a lot of old friends. So that’s kind of a maybe a little longer than and what you want it but that’s the the journey in a nutshell.


Will Bachman  07:45

No, that’s wonderful. And there’s so many, so many directions. I want to go from that. Tell me a bit more about this role of design strategy. What does that mean? Give me some examples?


Phillip Hartley  07:58

Gosh, let me think, well, I want one way to think about it is a lot of people will think about design, again, about making, making things pretty making things aesthetic and beautiful. And a bigger part of this is it’s about getting a little deeper than that, and really trying to use design to solve problems. I think it has like three sort of core parts. One part I would say is about people. So who are you designing for? What are their needs, really get a sense of who you’re who it is that you’re creating something for. And in fact, you’ll do a lot of ethnography, you’ll go in quote, in the field, I’ve done research with people like spending whole days with doctors or people driving their cars or busy moms, taking care of children or, you know, people, you know, defense folks who have to kind of do war fighting activities, you really want to get in their skin and have empathy. So it’s one part about understanding people. It’s one 1/3, or one part about business. In particular, in the commercial sector, though, you could you could say it’s the same in the federal sector, but it’s about business. So what’s the the actual business landscape and context? What’s profitable? What’s appropriate? What are the realities and constraints? And then it’s one part designer, which is like what’s possible. designers create new things, they generate new things. And so you sort of leverage your toolkit of, of concepting, and sketching and generating prototypes to kind of figure out well, what can we actually make that connects with those other two parts of the triad? And so and so the problems can really range. I mean, there’s, I’ll give you one example I did a couple years ago, and this one I can talk about at this level. I worked on a project for the VA, the Veterans Administration, and it was basically focused on the veteran patient experience. In the basic challenge of the project was how can we use human centered design to make a better patient experience. And, and think about it, think about the patient experience for the veteran from the moment they arrive on the ward, the journey that they take when they first meet their doctor, when they go through their procedures, all the people that they need to when they’re discharged, and then to when they go home. And I went to for that project, I think I went, we went to 11 different hospitals across the country for a week at a time, shadowing veterans hanging out with veterans, shadowing doctors, meeting with doctors, nurse care coordinators, the people who run business operations, mapping things out creating concepts and ultimately mapping out that journey of the veterans experience and identifying opportunities. Where could we do a prototype and a pilot of concepts that could make that experience better? And it might be not just not the veterans sort of visceral like literally what they touch and feel, but what can we create on the business side of things to help the doctors or, or someone who’s who, who’s trying to run a hospital operations? And so that’s an example of one where there was a very visceral patient experience. But we also think backstage, what are all the things that that make it happen? So that that’s an example,


Will Bachman  11:22

can you share? Can you share examples of some of the things you discovered as part of the discovery process that were, you know, not ideal from the patient experience? And maybe what were some of the changes that came out of that?


Phillip Hartley  11:36

Yeah, yeah, well, I guess, you know, one of the things I spent a little while so it’s not as fresh in my head, but what one of the, we actually, we did two, six, with a three to four month research efforts. But one of the interesting moments was, you know, a lot of times patient will be a veteran in particular, you know, because that’s what we focused on, but won’t know like, well, I’m in the hospital, I’m here, I’ve been here for a few days, am I leaving tomorrow, am I leaving the day after my leaving three days after that, so they’re in this weird kind of limbo. And it’s kind of an uncomfortable one, because they’re veterans, they, let’s say, in Pennsylvania, we went to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, we went to, you know, they have family members who have to drive over an hour to come pick them up. And so they’re in this social web, where they don’t really know they’re in limbo, they’re kind of reliant on family to take care of them. They may not even be fully coherent, and then they’re kind of like they want to communicate, well, I’m going to get discharged on this date, this time, can you come pick me up. So that’s a bit of a pain point, or what we would call a moment that matters. And then the interesting thing is, once the word discharge gets uttered, like once it’s the doctor fulfills that, in the system like says this patient’s discharge, it switches to kind of this frenetic activity, where all of a sudden that, you know, we’re coming in, you know, the pharmacists, the doctor and nurse, sometimes those folks aren’t coordinated the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. So they’re getting conflicting information, or they don’t realize it, someone’s already visited them and said, fill out this form. So it kind of this is stage, or mo change from sort of limbo to frenetic activity that can be very overwhelming. And so that’s an example of a moment that matters. There were a couple of others that that was, that’s just an example of something. And we decided to focus on that. I’m trying to remember the the concepts we came up with. I think that the, one of the some of the concepts were around that. And so basically how do you support the one concept was basically giving the veterans sort of a toolkit and guide that could help them through that moment. And in the beginning, it could have been a digital tool, it could have been a paper based tool, it could have been anything. And so when we brainstorm, we started really wide. And we generated probably like 10, to 15 different concepts. Then we went into the field, we went to Lexington, Kentucky with prototypes, and of the concepts that were where we say very low fidelity. And we we kind of did ethnography again, but now with prototypes, what I like to call a prototype to learn sort of approach got a lot of learning about what was working, what wasn’t working. You know, there’s a lot of technology constraints. I mean, the VA doesn’t have a lot of budget to throw around equipment. So we’re trying to understand how the concept met the veterans needs, but also fit into the practitioners world and could fit into what actually could be not only created but made scalable and fit into the sort of business ecosystem of the VA. So that was one area, another area and it actually is very palpable. It was really about the family that’s caring for the veterans. So most Most of these folks that are working full time jobs, and they’re taking care of an elderly dad, sometimes an elderly mom, but it usually was an elderly dad, because these folks had fought in the Korean War, Vietnam. I think a very viscerally you know, her dad, she’s like, Yeah, he looks coherent. But he actually like, if you talk to him, like, you realize that he gets things confused, and he forgets things. I have my day job, I show up, and I have to kind of piece things together. I’m out of the loop. And, you know, you know, for me, I mean, I could go on about the specifics. But one of the concepts we had was how can we called it the caregiver care package? And it was a concept for how you support the caregivers, because in fact, there there have great needs in the ecosystem of people, and how can you support them with a concept. And the concept itself was very intuitive, but it was very focused on on the caregiver. And it was also very focused on giving the practitioners the right toolkits to actually have just conversations with those caregivers. So again, like not going with high tech whiz bang, kind of technology solutions, but like, what’s the most humane and pathetic way to foster the right conversation so people can have their needs met? And, you know, hopefully, you can, you can have a positive impact on the lives. So that’s an example.


Will Bachman  16:21

So you’ve already touched on this to some degree. But this is the section where I asked about death from SEO and Professor now of how has How is your professional career in training kind of shaped your day to day thinking and the way you look at the world? And, you know, you’ve mentioned all these different products. And I’m wondering, do you kind of go through your daily life looking at a blender looking at a microwave, looking at a, you know, an insurance application? And always, are you always kind of thinking, wow, this is, you know, this aspect of the design, I would have changed? Is that sort of gonna always present. I’m curious to hear how that training has affected the way you’re just monitoring and thinking about the world.


Phillip Hartley  17:03

Yeah, I mean, I think I always have that I have that lens on. I always like to make whatever I do, ground and become as human and common sensical as possible. So I think what it’s given me is what maybe a lot of people would have adopted, you know, who who care about things being done well, and being crafted well, even as, quote, end users, you know, people like especially with phones, and iPhones sort of showcase and design, and everyone’s sort of familiar with what is good and bad. So I don’t know if it’s unique, but very specifically, for me, I do look at something like if my son gets a toy that breaks in 10 minutes, or instructions to something are terrible. I look at something like this so badly put together and designed, I’ll observe these things. But I’d say bigger picture, if I were to zoom out like just one lens was when I was a mechanical engineer, right? I think part of how it shaped me was. I mean, I just really loved understanding how the world worked, or how it works, the mechanics of things. And it really gives you sort of like an analytical toolkit to kind of pull things apart. But what I loved about engineering, it wasn’t merely sort of about the science, but it was about application. Okay, I have this knowledge, how things break how they vibrate, how different types of electromagnetic magnetic radiation get shielded or not, or what have you. And what I like is you don’t just have the analytical toolkit, but you have sort of what in design speak and say this since synthesis, the synthetic toolkit, the ability to create new things. And I think so that being creative, taking that knowledge and applying it and sort of creating new things. I think that’s definitely been something that shaped me. From the design and the aesthetic standpoint, I mean, I definitely I’ve always been intrigued by it, because I think engineering is so mathematical unquantifiable. But what is beautiful is so sort of hard to pin down. It’s something we feel it’s something we know in our gut. It’s something that moves us when we see a beautiful painting, or a beautiful work of art, or even a beautiful person. Sometimes we’re left speechless, but you can’t quantify it. And so I think, for me, it just gave me a real appreciation and kind of a continual desire to kind of unpack like, what and what makes things elegant and beautiful, and special or emotionally compelling in how do you make things elegant and beautiful. And then that that thing, you know, I talked about the design strategy that’s kind of like the, the philosophic part to me, like, it’s that that desire to like, hey, what’s the real problem here? Like, let’s get below the surface, and try to what I mean before you make a thing or try to create anything, just stop and go, Hey, what’s the real problem here? What’s the real need? What do we really They need to make, but what do we really need to do? It may not need to be a product. Maybe it’s a simple process, or maybe it’s, I don’t know, it could be anything, right? Like, open the open the aperture, so to speak. And I think ideally, is, is kind of the gold standard to me is I always when I go in the fields, like you try to get insights like the light bulb moment when you see or you come to a realization about something you didn’t know before. That reframes the whole problem. And I think for me, just part of what it’s, it’s it’s something I’ve always appreciated, but I loved it with St. John’s I loved it when I was an engineer struggling to solve a problem, like when that light bulb emerges. And you understand the root of the problem. There’s something I mean, I call it the crack cocaine during the work that I do, but I find it really, it’s, it’s very powerful, because once you have that light bulb, you are no longer like I your job becomes easy, because now you’re like, I know which way to head. And, and it’s, it’s not like you’re not a designer who’s imposing your ego on the world, you’re more like, No, I figured out what the problem is, as I’m going to do my darndest to as a servant to try to come up with the best way to either, you know, fulfill that need and meet that insight. Or if, if that’s the way to go to enable it to happen.


Will Bachman  21:23

Give me an example of that of, of one of those kind of crack cocaine insights that you’ve had, where it was discovering what the real problem is, you know, on any problem, any project that you’ve


Phillip Hartley  21:34

Yeah, well, I mean, I could give a couple. I mean, I guess one interesting one was, so this is a project. I think we can I can talk about this one, at least high level and it was when I started to do design strategy. Do she know the Chrysler 300 as a car?


Will Bachman  21:52

I do not. Okay,


Phillip Hartley  21:54

so the Chrysler 300. It’s nicknamed the baby Bentley. It’s Chrysler. So it was so okay, if I go back in history, so Chrysler had a design studio and there’s a very famous designer, his name was Ralph GIAs. And it was at a time when price sort of extra money to flow around in their design studio came up with the Chrysler 300 is a concept car, the Dodge Charger, do you know the Dodge Charger? I think so. Yeah, it’s kind of kind of muscular in Korea, but they basically is a retiree issue of that muscle car from the 60s or 70s. And then the Magnum, which was that station wagon that looks like a hearse. So those came out of design studio. And they had extra money. So they’re like, Hey, let’s go ahead and make these cars. And so the three that those three cars came out built on the same platform, the 300 ended up being a homerun it became the flagship vehicle for Chrysler. But they didn’t know why. The designers had just created this cool car. And they had an intuition of what was awesome about it, but they didn’t know why it was a homerun. And now that Chrysler was struggling at the point that we came in, and, and they base were like, well, we need to build a next generation of this lineup. And we need to understand, like, what do we do? How do what direction do we go and because we don’t even know why this is a success, and we don’t want to destroy the formula. So our project, essentially, we went in the field, we went to Los Angeles, we went to LA Long Island, we went to one other city, Chicago, Chicago, I think we hung out the car drivers, we mean, we it was like a four month project where we basically went in the field, we did a lot of all kinds of other methods and research. But what we learned, we basically cracked the code on what what made the 300 successful. And essentially, it was is kind of like the because what kind of person buys a car. It’s it’s like we say the full size segment. It’s not just a practical car, there’s something more you’re buying it because it’s it’s not quite luxury, but it’s a premium car. It’s it’s you’re buying it for more than practical reasons. I think what we uncovered was we call them large car people. There’s a kind of framework for different needs, emotional needs and functional needs they’re trying to fulfill, we actually kind of cracked the code on what those needs were, but also that they were balancing between two things, several things that were intention. And I think I can’t really talk about those insights because of propriety but but essentially, like someone who buys that kind of car, they kind of, they want to be one thing. But they also know that they don’t want to lose this other thing. So they’re trying to manage attention. And we discovered there probably like eight different tensions, they’re managing we, you know, we map out this interesting framework. But at the end of the day, we kind of cracked the code on it. And what was also pretty cool was, you know, we’re not going to design the car. I mean, Ralph shields and his studio, they’re incredibly talented industrial designers. So what we did is we provided them what we call imperatives and design principles, so that they They get to design the car. But we’re baking in all of our understanding these sort of like higher level directional, impaired ways for them to kind of stay true to the needs, but then kind of diverge and get really creative because they could solve them in like, hundreds of different ways visually, functionally, using form and color, whatever, you know, all the things it takes to design a sexy, beautiful and compelling car. So that’s an example of another project where there was an insight and also a different kind of approach, like the, the user experience for the patient was very visceral about someone going through a journey. This was about helping a design team have enough guidance to design a car well, not taking their jobs away from them, but letting them be the brilliant creative people that they are. And that they and again, they’re probably like, seven other kinds of projects that done but that’s an example of a deep insight driven one that had a lot of coolness to it for me.


Will Bachman  25:55

How does your design training influence the way you show up as a dad? You know, your son, I think you mentioned turned eight? Do you kind of try to get your kids to be thinking from a design perspective, what this is for you build things with them?


Phillip Hartley  26:12

I think a couple of things. I mean, one is, I think the anthropology side doing this work. Even the philosophy side of going to St. John’s is kind of having a deep humility and and really putting, like we say human centered design is about putting the human at the center that you’re designing for. So in a way, like I what I try to do is, I don’t want to impose anything per se. I want to really pay attention to like, Who is this boy who’s this little girl Eleanor and go what’s their? Who are they in their makeup? And what’s what do they gravitate toward naturally, and try to really pay attention to that and then support that in whatever way I can. So I think it’s that human centered design part is probably the biggest part. Now, having said that, I observed like stuff. And he really likes to draw. And he really likes to build things. And so that’s really nice, because I haven’t interested in those things. And so I kind of will get down on the floor with him and sketch or get down on the floor with him and build a Lego thing. But trying to do it in a way where I don’t want to steal his thunder, but I want him to do it. But I’m there to help. And then I think the other thing I joke about is that, again, this goes back to things being badly made, the toys that they play with Break, break faster than I can fix them. And so do to feed the sort of hands on DNA, I’m constantly fixing stuff in the house and fixing their toys, or coming up with interesting ways to solve problems that we have to throw something away or what have you. Yeah, give you an example. This, I just went to the hardware store a couple days ago, and I bought some tension pins and dowel pins, because I’m going to need to figure out how to reattach the head of a little doll that Eleanor broke. And do it in sort of an elegant, simple way, his minor story, but I’m doing that all the time. What


Will Bachman  28:14

Are any of your kind of designed products and services that just stand out for you that you love not Nestle ones that you’ve worked on? But just and let’s Let’s not mention Apple, because it’s such an obvious choice mentioned, but is any kind of it could be something very pedestrian, anything that just has stuck to you is something that you’ve learned from or that you just absolutely think is really well done? Oh, gosh, it’s funny, I should have an answer right off the hip for that. It’s funny, I’m getting stumped on this. Yeah, Apple gets used a lot as, as an example. I’ll share one or you’re thinking I mean, you share what I’m thinking. All right. I mean, for me, I Calendly is such a great tool. And very cleanly designed, you know, it serves pretty much one purpose. If you’re going to set up a meeting with someone, you avoid all that back and forth, you just send them a link. They click on it, they can see your calendar, they can pick a time, boom, it’s scheduled it just very clean, intuitive. And, and it just serves a need that was you know, so painful, right? Take all that eliminating all that back and forth of available Monday to and Tuesday at three and then by the time they get back to you you no longer available. So that that’s one that stands out for me is something that I’ve I’ve appreciated. It solved a big problem in my life.


Phillip Hartley  29:42

Yeah, yeah. That’s what I’m trying a bit of a blank. But all right, I mean, I know what I mean. So for example, the firm that I worked for in New York was called smart design. And it was another one of those like there’s IDEO is one that many people might be actually familiar with there was fraud with smart, I admired them my entire career. And so it was around 2008, when it was really hard to find any kind of a job. And most firms were laying off like 20% of their staff. But smart. They had I was they had, they were running on all cylinders, and they needed to hire someone. That’s why I went to New York. But I always admired the work because it was a kind of humility, simplicity and human centeredness to what they did. And it actually whenever you would look at any of the products that they were do, it’s like, you kind of saw the insight behind it. And so for example, like the iconic one, and again, I would agree with this even before it showed up there, but it’s like, you know, OXO Good Grips. Yes. So OXO Good Grips that was invented by smart. And the iconic product is that potato peeler, which has sort of like a rubber grip. And in basically, it’s sort of this very elegant, simple solution. But the the genesis of that product was the founder of smart, his name is David Stoll. He was friends with a guy named Sam Faber, who’s the who had created Faber were basically a cookware company, and his wife had arthritis. And so David was over at the house, they were having dinner and his wife, the wife of, you know, sandpaper was having trouble peeling potatoes with those old fashioned potato peelers made of metal that are 99 cents. And that was actually the instance sort of like the the Genesis is like, well, what if we make a pillar that solves for someone with these usability problems? But guess what, everyone? It turns out, everyone loves that pillar. It’s good. You solve for the extreme, but it actually solves for everybody. And, and, and so essentially, it was, it was just sort of this elegant little product. And it was that, you know, if you would have talked to people at the time that say, why are you going to design something that costs for 399 or $4, that you can just buy for 99 cents? And the thing is, they created that added value, because they created something beautiful, desirable that actually is elegant meets need and makes people’s lives better. And so yes, like the cost cutter would like be very skeptical. But they created a market for things that are beautifully done in the kitchen were sort of sectors so to speak. And, yeah, and then in so that, that’s an example of a beautifully designed product. Again, I’m kind of just picking one from Yeah, that’s a good one that we celebrated. It’s smart, but I went to smart because I admired them for so many years, I just look at their stuff go like these guys. They’re beautiful. They do beautiful things that aren’t about a black turtleneck snooty designer in an ivory tower. They’re about really being humane, and humble and serving who they’re making stuff for. And I was like, that’s that totally. That’s me, you know, I get that.


Will Bachman  32:50

Now, from a consumer perspective, it’s often not terribly obvious, what the design firm was behind a given product or service. But is there sort of this underworld of designers that are following maybe some industry journal or something where you’re aware of, okay, smart design, did this new product and frog did this? And IDEO did this? And kind of like a, you know, the industry insiders know who’s making what?


Phillip Hartley  33:15

Yeah, typically, yeah, typically, I mean, there’s a, you know, before, before, when I was an engineer, there’s, there’s a, there’s an associate to the industrial designer Society of America IDSA. They have annual design awards, that that they have them for students, as well as for professionals. There’s another design, it’s called a Design Management Institute, DMI, they have these sort of design value awards. And if you start to get into that ecosystem, there’s probably, you know, five or six sort of well, well respected awards, so you can become aware of who’s doing the great work that way. And then, you know, even for example, I mentioned, there’s a handful of firms like IDEO, Swamy, when you start to be in that world, it’s not a very large world. I mean, it’s it’s kind of one size at Frog I kind of was I’m like one degree separated from everybody. Within the world, it’s not that big when maybe now it is because it’s become designers become more mainstream. But when I got into it, it’s kind of a sort of small, intimate community. And so you either knew the person or your one or two degrees separated, or you know what I mean, or you heard about them through someone else. So, so let’s have an underworld as much as maybe sort of like a small community. And, and I feel very lucky, because like, I worked at frog from 95 to 2000. I’m still connected in this way. LinkedIn has been helpful, but I’m still connected to all those folks from frog. And from this other company work that called Jump and smart. And now I’m at fjord within Accenture federal services, and there’s a kind of wonderful interconnectedness of everybody I had a call with. There was a Scottish designer who was in Singapore who looked me up and said, Philip, we haven’t talked in 12 years. Do you want to get on a zoom call? We reconnected and he told me what he was up to. He’s one of the industrial designers I met, you know, in like 1996. It’s pretty nice little community, I have to say.


Will Bachman  35:11

What, if any courses that you took at Harvard have stayed with you and affected you in some way? Not necessarily professionally, just anything that you’ve continued to reflect on or or found some value from?


Phillip Hartley  35:25

Yeah, I mean, I think you’ll be able to relate to this. I think by by far, what had an impact on me were my classes with Professor stilgoe, with John stilgoe. Who, you know, was it, I guess, he would call himself a lance Ryan, it was within the V s, you know, concentration or or department. But he would give, he gave his class on the built urban American environment, which I think you took, I also got to be in a seminar when he was writing his book on the sea coast. I think the thing with him, it was almost less the class for him. His his ability to look beneath the surface of things, his sort of open eyes, he was so alert, and sort of just paying attention to the world and asking questions and being a little bit provocative. I just feel like I took that class, freshman year, I think, spring, I just feel like I woke up in a way and became much more attentive to the world in a way I’d never had before. I think it had just been just him as a professor was was was huge. I think he also was in you. I know you’re good friends with him. And I’m going to I actually want to write an email we talked about after we hang up, but he also introduced me to another professor named Arthur Loeb. I was talking to still go because I was doing this weird double major, like the engineering and Bs like it was kind of unorthodox. And some people will be like, Why the hell are you combining science and art, you kind of that’s not very normal. And I talked to still goats, and I’m doing it. I enjoy it. It’s the right fit, but I kind of want to integrate them better. And he suggested once you get in touch with Arthur Loeb, Arthur Loeb is a former crystallographer mit scientist, he had actually worked with Buckminster Fuller, he had worked with MC Escher. He basically was the guy who’s kind of combining art with science. We sort of with a real geometric man, what he would call visual mathematics or design science. And so he still got introduced me to Loeb and I took a couple of his classes and eventually my senior thesis, or I guess, final project was with Arthur Levitt was actually a sculpture. And it kind of true from all that Buckminster Fuller, MC Escher kind of visual mathematics. But that that that was just really cool, because it helped me bring together the art and science in a way that I was already pointing in that direction. I mean, certainly, I think in undergrad, with a joint concentration, I didn’t have too many electives. But I feel like I was really lucky. I got to do class with Jerome Kagan, who’s a famous infant psychologist learning about, you know, childhood development. I took a classical music class that to this day was just like, just a jam of a class, and a couple of literature classes as well. So yeah, those are some of the classes from college that and some of the professors from college that stood out to


Will Bachman  38:32

  1. I didn’t take any classical music classes, and I wish I had took jazz, which really helped open the world of jazz to me, but did you have you found yourself like listening to more classical music over your life than you might have otherwise, or just having a different appreciation of it?


Phillip Hartley  38:52

I mean, I, I think in college, I sort of a kind of like a neophyte, knew that it was beautiful, but knew nothing about it. And I just taking that class was like, I just want to, I want to give it some attention. And it was good to be given that gift. And then my father, he’s passed away now, but my father also was new a lot. And I think one one Christmas, I said, Hey, you know, as a Christmas present, could you just pick me out like cameras, like five or seven, just five or seven CDs that you think would be a great start for someone who’s just trying to learn this stuff. And he, I think that was a gift, he really appreciate it taking the time. to, to, to give me and so I sort of followed that I by no means and super knowledgeable, but I think these were great gifts to be given. And to this day, you know, I still love all kinds of music. I mean, I’m a guitar player. So I’ve been I love blues. I love jazz and love. Pretty much any genre of music. I wish I played more. I think being a dad is is me a little harder to to play as much as I’d like right now, but that’s one of my goals. This year is to get the x out and plug it in. I think the children are old enough now not to trip all over my, my cables, make it sing along now not be scared by the app.


Will Bachman  40:14

What do you think would most surprised your college itself about your journey?


Phillip Hartley  40:24

I mean, I think for me, I think just how much was possible? How much magic would emerge? I mean, just things that were unanticipated or could never be planned. I mean, in a large measure, I definitely follow. I mean, I opened with my concentration, because I think I’ve always followed a very consistent path. So there never been like, like complete sort of non sequiturs. But I just followed my nose and just had an open, I still goes sort of mindset, being really attentive and discovering things. And I think I would have been surprised by just how much magic would emerge that you couldn’t predict. And yet it was all sort of connected. I think also, things have changed me, there’s a lot that exists now that didn’t exist when we were in college. So there’s a lot you can do. Professionally that might not have been in the radar when we were studying. Yeah, so I think that’s what I was just I would have been surprised by how much was a store that I couldn’t predict. Probably that includes not only the good stuff, but the hardships as well, which I think we all go we all go through. You know, by the time we’ve reached, what 30 year reunion, yeah.


Will Bachman  41:39

Department of Culture. any books or films or other cultural products that have been meaningful to you, you went to St. John’s? Any, any books in particular that you’d met that you often recommended or shared?


Phillip Hartley  41:57

Yeah, I would say just that, that time at St. John’s was huge. I feel like I’ve gotten to do a lot of wonderful things in my life. But that that actually that stint was the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. You know, we got to read the great books of the best of literature, philosophy, theology, history, politics, in and I mean, I don’t know, I mean, like, I loved I loved reading Plato. Aristotle made my brain hurt. But that was amazing in terms of learning about human nature, actually, in the literature segment was wonderful. I mean, we got I reading, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, a lot of the Greek tragedies so Euripides, and escolas. History, just beautiful, soaring explorations of the human condition. So I think that that stuff in that stuff just was incredibly powerful. And, frankly, it’s the gift that keeps on giving because I’m still I’m still reading these things to this day. I’m still eat, whether it’s like essays about Plato or, or picking, like, I think, what am I reading now? Well, I’m reading actually, Churchill’s Amman, Volume Two, Churchill’s history of World War Two, so maybe less of a great book, but it is a six volume great work on on the Second World War. But yeah, I still have all these books on my bookshelf, I’ll pull some of them out and reread them. But also, I’ve got a whole host of books that I’m going to try to try to get to. I’m even looking at my bookshelf right now. I’ve got Einstein’s theory of relativity. I’ve got Euripides to four tragedies, Ovid’s the art of love. Thomas minds, the Magic Mountain. So I mean, most, I think a lot of Harvard folks read a lot. But I just, it was wonderful to have that experience. And I think, again, being an engineering major and an additional studies minor, and I didn’t get to read as much as they would like to in college. So get that kind of made up for things. And, yeah, I mean, on the other side, too, you know, my wife’s a seal. She studies film. She’s not a filmmaker, but more sort of like an academic and a critic. But, you know, being with her has been incredible. It’s like opened up a whole world to me of beautiful, both classic and contemporary film. And when we lived in New York, it was it was always a magic moment, when the New York Film Festival would come around, she she would scrutinize the catalogue of films that were coming up and pick two or three that we would go see. And so she’s been sort of my my guide when it comes to the world of film. And I, I probably should, I would like to watch more film at this point. I think I’m not doing enough but but you know, we spend so much time in front of computers now that I actually would rather read a book or do something different than look at a screen but that’s another example of some cultural stuff that’s that sort of enriches my life.


Will Bachman  45:03

Wonderful to have a cultural guide like that pretty big one that you’re married to. Phil, this has been a great discussion for folks that wanted to follow up and learn more about your work or catch up with you. Where would you point them online?


Phillip Hartley  45:17

I mean, my gosh, well, my my Gmail probably is the best one. See? SMIF. Philip pH i Li P. r And just double check that because might have gotten that wrong. Good to get your emails, right. Well, I have is I kind of have I have a couple of different emails, right use


Will Bachman  45:49

that will include will include the link in the show notes. Yeah, now I got it. Right. All right. So Philip, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a great discussion.


Phillip Hartley  45:58

Likewise, it’s good to it’s good to talk with you again. Well, I mean, I know. You know, we got to reconnect in New York. And I just, I’m very pleased to to get to connect with you again. I love getting your Christmas cards. And yeah, if you make it to DC, please, please give a shout. And I’ll do the same. I get up in New York,


Will Bachman  46:19

I will. And listeners. The 30th reunion is coming up for those who are members of the class and for everyone. Go to 92 Nine to where you can sign up for an email notification for anytime we update a new episode and find all the older episodes and transcripts. Thanks for joining