F5: Michael DiTullo Favors Local Coffee Shops, Good Playlists + More

10.21.22 | By
F5: Michael DiTullo Favors Local Coffee Shops, Good Playlists + More

Michael DiTullo has been designing iconic products for some of the world’s biggest brands for over 20 years. He’s worked with Nike, Google, Honda, Timex, Chantal, Converse, and Motorola, and has been collaborating with Kirei since 2019. Prior to starting his eponymous design studio, Michael was Chief Design Officer for Sound United, the parent company of Denon, where he oversaw the industrial design, UX, packaging, product management, and marketing creative. He also spent several years as creative director for frog design’s San Francisco studio and nearly a decade at Nike, where he worked directly with Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter, and Dwayne Wade.

Michael has sat on the ascensions board to SFMoMA, the board of directors for The Design Foundation, and as a strategic advisor to Offsite, a disruptive take on design education. His work has won numerous awards and has been printed in publications such as Metropolis and Wallpaper. Michael has been featured in the books Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible and Breaking In and has published his own book 365: One Year Of Design Sketching Every Day. In 2017, he founded Real Designers Ship, an organization dedicated to celebrating designers whose work makes it into production. Michael is listed on over 30 patents and has won numerous awards, including the IDSA’s special lifetime achievement award for contributions to the design industry, an award won by design luminaries such as Jonathan Ive, Charles Eames, and Raymond Loewy.

When Michael was 13 years old, he said, “I want to draw stuff from the future” for a living, and that’s still the best description of what he does.

Today, Michael DiTullo is joining us for Friday Five!

light-skinned man with dark hair and glasses wearing a black and white striped t-shirt and black cardigan smiles at the camera

Michael DiTullo

sports convertible parked in front of a coffee shop

Photo: Michael DiTullo

1. Local Coffee Shops

Maybe it was growing up with shows like Seinfeld, Fraiser, and Friends, but I just love a great local coffee shop. My work has me traveling a lot and I always seek out the local coffee spot. I never work in these bustling little cafes. I like to meet friends and colleagues, sketch a little, or just people watch. Wherever I am in the world, the local coffee shop experience is ½ break room and ½ cultural research – I just love to soak it up. My drink of choice is usually an Italiano, it’s ½ espresso and ½ hot water, like an Americano but better. Order one and your local barista will think you know what you’re talking about. When I’m home in Portland, I’m spoiled by some of the best coffee shops in the world, but my usual spot is Keeper Coffee. When I walk in most of the baristas know me by name, one of which, Morgan Eckroth, just won the US Barista Championship!

brown leather interior of sports car

Photo: Michael DiTullo

2. My 2001 Audi TT

I’ve had this car since 2005, and it has lived with me in Portland, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, and now Portland again. I know it’s just a car, but it has a special connection to me on several levels. In 1995, I saw it as a concept car at the New York Auto Show. I was with my then girlfriend and upon seeing it she said, “someday we will own one of those!” Fast forward 10 years, that girlfriend is now my spouse. I had just been promoted to a designer in the Jordan brand at Nike when I spotted a TT for sale in the exact same interior/exterior spec as the concept car we had seen all those years ago. That Saturday, I told Kristina I had found this car, already negotiated the price, and if she still wanted it, we could buy it. After sitting in it for about 2 minutes she said, “we are leaving here with this car,” and we have had it ever since. The car is totally analog, it has no screens, no Bluetooth, no GPS… when you are in it all you can do is drive it. I still get asked if it’s a new car, which is a testament to its timeless design. I suppose it embodies a lot of my goals as a designer, to make something timeless that can be loved and has a feeling of forward-looking optimism to it.

bedside table with stacks of books

Photo: Michael DiTullo

3. Science Fiction Books

I’ve always been fascinated with what the future could be. That’s what drove me to become a designer. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading science fiction novels. It started by stumbling upon Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel in my middle school library. We had to read a book for English class and I thought the cover looked cool. I devoured it and just never stopped. I probably read 2-3 novels a month, and I can’t go to sleep without reading a few pages. This is what’s on my nightstand now. I just finished Sea Of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel and found it particularly captivating. It was one of the most unique and enchanting books I’ve read in long time… notice I linked to the Powell’s Books online shop. Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore in the US and it is right here in Portland – another thing I can’t live without.

computer screen and headphones on a desk

Photo: Michael DiTullo

4. My Playlists

I’m an avid playlist maker. Maybe it was all those mix tapes I made as a teenager, but I just can’t stop making playlists. I make them for moods, for days of the week, even for projects. Kirei, one of my biggest clients, even makes my project playlists public when something I’ve worked on launches. Check out this one I made for an acoustic ceiling baffle we designed with Nike grind material called Head Over Heels. Music, food, art, literature, comedy, and design are all very interconnected for me. All of them are creative acts of courage, and I find that songs in particular take on very deep meaning. I start each morning walking our dog Enzo for 45 minutes and I just lose myself in a playlist.

overhead view of a desk with open sketchbooks, pens, and keyboard

Photo: Michael DiTullo

5. A Sketchbook

I am a compulsive doodler. I always have been. If there’s a scrap of paper, I will draw on it. I find that I listen a lot better when I’m drawing somehow, and I tell people if I’m not drawing, watch out, it probably means I’m daydreaming. I like to keep a Leuchtturm A5 size hardcover with the dot grid on me at all times. Ironically, I don’t find the kind of pen matters much. Any old ballpoint will do. If I have an idea, I find the only way I can actually stop thinking about it is to jot it down. Otherwise, I’ll just keep turning it over in my mind. I also love to visually communicate things, even if it’s just with myself. Sketches are powerful things. They can help us explore, they can move ideas forward, and they can facilitate conversations. One of my favorite parts of the process is simultaneously discussing ideas and drawing them. I’m 25 years into doing this and it still feels like magic


Work by Michael DiTullo:

black, red, and white high top sneaker on red background

The Foot Defender \\\ This project took four years to bring to market and was an opportunity to put all of my experience in footwear design to use in a way that can really help people. Every 20 seconds, someone loses a leg in the US due to diabetes. This product helps prevent that. \\\ Image: Michael DiTullo

boat in water with mountains in the background

Arc One \\\ A little over a year ago, a group of former Space X engineers approached me to design a $300,000 all electric speed boat. The first production units are just hitting the water. \\\ Photo: Arc One

Layer Knife \\\ Leucadia Custom Knives makes super limited production knives. The layer knife was a chance to show off their attention to craft by layering and shaping Micarta to really show the form. \\\ Photo: Mike Lembke

white console with flatscreen television hanging on the wall above it

Definitive BP9000 Series: \\\ One of the few products I have designed that I get to personally enjoy every single day. \\\ Photo: Mike Lembke

This post contains affiliate links, so if you make a purchase from an affiliate link, we earn a commission. Thanks for supporting Design Milk!

Kelly Beall is Director of Branded Content at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based writer and designer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, from Fashion Plates to MoMA and far beyond. When not searching out the visual arts, she's likely sharing her favorite finds with others. Kelly can also be found tracking down new music, teaching herself to play the ukulele, or on the couch with her three pets – Bebe, Rainey, and Remy. Find her @designcrush on social.