by Jeremy J. Glowacki
It’s less than six degrees that separates Michael DiTullo from Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The director of DEI Holdings’ new design center comes from industrial design firm frog design, which helped create the aesthetic appearance of early McIntosh computers, as well as Jobs’ NEXT computer, which is still revered for its Zen-like black cube outer shell.
“It’s a pretty fascinating place,” DiTullo told me during a phone call with him and DEI president Kevin Duffy. “The archives at that company… you could imagine.”
Whether or not DiTullo brings Apple-esque flourishes to DEI brands like Polk Audio and Definitive Technology remains to be seen, but the goal of the new design center director is to unify the look and feel (aka industrial design or ID) of the parent company’s products, as design continues to play a greater role in the success of consumer products of all kinds.
“It’s clear to everyone that design has gotten increasingly more important not only in our business consumer electronics, but consumer products in general, no matter what you’re looking for,” Duffy pointed out. “So we decided that it makes a lot of sense to invest in this design center now, and if we are going to do that, we should bring in a super star like Michael to lead it.
Duffy will look to DiTullo to meld great aesthetics with the company’s 30-plus-year heritage in acoustic and automotive design. “If we do that, our feeling is that we can make products that people absolutely love.”
Polk’s recent foray into sports headphones late last year was the final impetus behind the investment in the design center. “We went after the sports segment, and it has became more and more obvious that in the personal audio space (headphones and Bluetooth speakers, AirPlay speakers) that design is paramount. You have to have great-looking products there,” Duffy noted. “That was another reason, as we extended our reach into these additional categories, we felt even more so that we needed to make an investment in design resources.”
Until now, the industrial design of DEI brands has been handled in an ad hoc fashion in-house within each brand’s headquarters, or outsourced to ID firms when the workload backed up too much. But there has never been a unified design language across all brands. DiTullo said that his team will reinforce the design influence that already exists in each of its brands, but it also will helps the company “workshop” new concepts and create a global vision for how all of its brands work together.
Duffy explained that the design center is a “completely additive investment;” it’s not replacing anything that existed before in the company. “We’ll still use outside resources as needed, but the clear definition will come internally: the brand strategy, the brand definition, where we’re going, making sure we’ve got common elements throughout the product line. That type of work will be led by Michael. The people running the brands will still be running the brands. That’s not changing, but Mike will work with them, making sure we have the best possible plan, and then we’ll do most of the work internally.”
DiTullo said that in past 15 years, he’s designed “pretty much one of everything, whether it’s a tea kettle, a sofa, or a guitar amp,” but that it’s his love of music that most excites him about working for DEI.
“Music is a big part of my life and is a big part of my creative process as it is with any creative person, because music is the compression of human emotion into the sound wave,” he said. “So to be a part of these brands and to collaborate them to make that experience even richer is something that gets me up in the morning. I’m just excited to do that and be a part of that. I think the other thing is that is exciting is that each of these brands has such a distinct DNA which such wonderful histories and just extremely talented, knowledgeable, and experienced engineers. To come into these groups with the team that we’ll be building here in the design center and work collaboratively with them to bring those stories to the outside, is something that’s going to be awesome.”
The design center, which will eventually house five designers, will be located in DEI corporate headquarters in Vista, CA, north of San Diego. It’s meant to be offer a highly collaborative lab space where a team of multi-disciplinary designers can influence all of the necessary “touch points” that a user will experience. But the team will also be very mobile, enabling it to travel to the headquarters of its various brands. That starts now as DiTullo begins a month-long stay in Baltimore to study the Polk and Definitive Technology brands.
DiTullo said he’s excited to work on the home integration part of the business, in particular, because the level of end-user expectation is so high. “The amount of time, emotion, and thought that people put into creating these personal spaces in the home is huge,” he said. “This is where you are with your family for your most private moments. And technology is rapidly changing. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to continue to build on a lot of years of audio excellence in that space.”