Del Mar Heights students draw inspiration from industrial designer


A real-life industrial designer paid a visit to Jasmyn Tanner’s sixth grade Quest design thinking class at Del Mar Heights School on Nov. 8, stoking some creative minds and getting kids wondering about different possibilities to explore.

Michael DiTullo, founder and chief designer of his own namesake firm in Encinitas, accepted the invitation to speak to the class, sharing how his endless sketches have led to real executions — he is inspired when he sees someone wearing a watch he designed and once rode a train alongside four different people wearing shoes he dreamed up.

The past chief design officer for Sound United San Diego had 19 years of experience working for others before starting his own firm. For three years, he designed shoes for Michael Jordan at Nike and has made pairs for Dwyane Wade for Converse. He designed sports cars and custom off-road vehicle cars for Icon, and headphones and speakers for Sound United. He even designed a nightlight with intelligence that could tell if someone didn’t brush their teeth twice a day — that one inspired lots of chatter among Heights students.

DiTullo said when he was a kid he told his parents all he wanted to do was draw stuff from the future. He was always drawing, often in the back of class when he wasn’t supposed to. “I didn’t have cool, project-based classes like you do,” he told the kids.

He was caught doodling once by his math teacher who snatched up his drawing and told him to see her after class. When he went, she wrote Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) on the paper and that set him on his course. After RISD, he went to the Domus Academy in Milan to study industrial design and when he graduated he knew what he wanted to do.

He told the students he has never stopped drawing, always working to get better.

With his variety of clients as an industrial designer, he can work on anything — even designing his own office so it features roll-up doors for indoor/outdoor work environment and open spaces for employees to gather and talk.

Right now one of his projects is working on designing a better shuttle bus — they can’t all be sports cars.

“I am drawing cars for a sci-fi movie and that’s what I was doing in the sixth grade,” DiTullo said.

In order to do great design, he said he has to understand the needs of the user, the concerns of the industry and the influences of culture.

“I get inspiration from everywhere. I like to talk to people, go to see concerts, art shows and museums. If I’m working on a car, I don’t look at cars, I look at other things,” DiTullo said.

A lot of what DiTullo talked about could be applied to the design challenges ongoing in Tanner’s class. In one Quest challenge, sixth graders have interviewed fifth grade students to design a chair for school that meets their specific needs. Post it notes and sketches lined the walls in the Quest classroom detailing the students’ chair innovations.

That day, DiTullo helped illustrate students’ ideas of a comfortable “retro future lounge chair” — the students were in awe by his quick-work drawings of their thoughts, projected onto the white screen.

“He inspired me so much,” gushed one student.

Since starting the Quest design thinking class, Tanner said she has been having fun watching the students work collaboratively to find solutions to challenges and to be so engaged.

“It’s phenomenal how excited they have been,” she said.