The world has a lot of hidden design superstars. The ones that don’t put their signatures on their work, the ones that work underneath the media radar bringing you extraordinary design.
One of these stars is Danny Coster, who for the last 20 years worked alongside giants Jonathan Ive and the late Steve Jobs at Apple HQ. His mark on some of the most successful products in the history of apple cannot be denied. Something that the Design Institute New Zealand (DINZ) could not agree with more by honoring Danny with a Black Pin, for his incredible contribution to the design industry
In the lead up to the actual award night DINZ invited Danny to talk about his journey so far to its members. An opportunity that I gladly took.
Before taking us on a journey through his career Danny took a moment to express his gratitude. A moment, literally in silence, followed by an emotional realization that looking back at your career, who helped you along the way and what you have actually achieved is quite an emotional event.
As we come to realize throughout the talk, it is that kind of looking back and being grateful we tend to forget when aiming for the future.
The learning curve
To say Danny was off to a flying start the moment he stepped into the Polytech in Wellington, would be lying. His first three years at the course were a struggle. He couldn’t embody and express his thoughts into his work, nor could his teachers read what he was trying to achieve. Perhaps he didn’t know himself what he was after.
Luckily he found a way through and in his final year his work started to flow. He also picked up the art of successful collaboration. Empowered by his final project, the HutchWilco lifejacket, he decided to go out on his own start his own studio. Although he was successful, his curiosity and ambition (although I doubt he would label himself ambitious) took hold of him.
He ended up in Sydney at KWA Design Group, among a bunch of Kiwis and Aussies designing a wide variety of products. The formative years in a collaborative environment made Danny more open, confident and aware. He realized he had something to say, something to contribute. He had come a long way on the steep learning curve of understanding his creative inner self and the ability to continuously extend it.
A bite of the apple
Five years of Sydney life and he was ready to extend into a new world. It was 1992 and the United States were calling.
After rejecting offers from some renowned design agencies, he decided to take on an internship at Apple. At that point it was far from the Apple we know today. And as history tells us it would have been a different story if it wasn’t for the return of Steve Jobs.
This story is known, but the truth on what happened behind closed doors is a mystery. It is under strict embargo and heavily shielded from the outside world. Nobody, including Danny, is allowed to speak freely about the work environment and all that comes with it.
This almost cult-like approach did pay off and judging by Danny’s hints it must have been a magical place. A place where designers have the freedom to experiment, care about every single detail, free from any budget or marketing pressures. A place of talent, respect and long-lasting friendships. But also the place he left 6 months ago after 20 years (!) of loyal service.
As a side note, perhaps Apple has been navel gazing too much of late and has lost touch with the outside world. It seems the entity that was once on top of the world, seems to have the world catching it up with it. Especially Microsoft who have been on the money lately. They’ve decided to take an opposite approach, immersing themselves in open work environmenst.
Danny recently took up the position of design director and VP at GoPro – or as an Applecolleague said “don’t GoBro”. He has the opportunity to bring some of the apple culture into the company and take their product to the next level. Not an easy job in a highly competitive camera market and with a quickly broadening product offering. Danny will find himself back on that familiar steep learning curve, facing new challenges and different pressures. But I’m confident his collaborative nature, refined design sense and ability to connect will certainly help him along the way.
Looking back at Danny’s wonderful talk I can’t help but look further into the past. Danny’s journey resonated with me and undoubtedly with the rest of the audience. Whether he realized or not his grateful and respectful reflection made me realize we should be more grateful of the work we do and the people we work with. In our past, present and future.