Guest Lecturer Offers Engineers and Business Students Broader Understanding of Design

World renowned designer Mike Nuttall engages in conversation with students following his presentation.
World renowned designer Mike Nuttall engages in conversation with students following his presentation.

On Friday, February 22, the College of Engineering capped off National Engineer’s Week with a presentation by world-renowned designer and entrepreneur Mike Nuttall. Nuttall spoke on “Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurialism” as part of the Patrick J. Cunningham Jr. and Susan Ward ’80 Endowed Lecture Series. Addressing more than 300 students, faculty and visitors, Nuttall reflected on his decades in the design industry where he is known for strengthening the visual appeal of technology products to create a strategic marketing advantage for his clients.

From his formative years at the Royal College of Art in London, to his fortuitous move to San Francisco in 1980, Nuttall described his successes and failures in this highly competitive business.  In 1983, just as Silicon Valley began its skyrocketing growth, Nuttall opened his firm Matrix which ultimately won more than 20 design awards. Recognized for his signature simplicity and clean lines, Nuttall established himself as a cutting-edge technology designer, particularly within the burgeoning personal computer industry. Among his “firsts” were designing a computer with color, producing a computer that went into space with NASA, and designing the original Microsoft mouse, which older audience members clearly remembered. It was during the development of this best-selling product that Matrix began working with David Kelley Design and ID Two, founded by his best friend and mentor, Britain's Bill Moggridge. The 1991 merger of the three companies established the designing giant IDEO, where Nuttall’s development efforts resulted in many successful computer, consumer and medical products for major corporations in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

From 1996 to 2001, Nuttall managed IDEO Ventures, a multimillion-dollar internal venture capital fund which made strategic equity and royalty investments in IDEO’s client partners. Since leaving the company in 2006 he has been involved in a variety of design consulting and entrepreneurial activities in Silicon Valley, United Kingdom and China. He particularly enjoys working with start-up companies, and his current project involves teaming up with singer-songwriter Neil Young to develop an affordable high quality digital music player superior to the MP3.


Hundreds attended the Ward Lecture with presenter Mike Nuttall.
Hundreds attended the Ward Lecture with presenter Mike Nuttall.

During Q-and-A, when asked for his best piece of advice for future designers and entrepreneurs, Nuttall told students, “Develop your own point of view and personality around the thing you’re interested in. Don’t try to replicate someone else’s style or approach because it most likely won’t work for you.” Nuttall also encouraged the audience to “do something that allows your right brain to kick in.” His personal approach to releasing his creative side is to go running for hours each day.

Before his lecture, Nuttall spent the day with faculty and students learning about Villanova’s commitment to multidisciplinary learning, as well as creative and critical thinking. Professor Ed Dougherty presented the Engineering Entrepreneurship program while II Luscri introduced the Center for Innovation, Creativity & Entrepreneurship.  Dougherty and Luscri are directors of those respective programs. Over lunch Nuttall met with a roomful of students and faculty from both engineering and business who appreciated his thoughts on the market for start-ups, the meaning of “design thinking,” and the importance of involving someone with a business perspective as part of a design team.

Dr. Gary A. Gabriele, Drosdick Endowed Dean of the College of Engineering, was pleased with the perspective offered by Nuttall’s presentation. “When engineers think of design, they ask, ‘Will it function?,’ whereas an industrial or product designer like Mike considers how the design will present itself to the user. The intersection of these two concepts of design is something that students rarely get to see,” he says.

A recording of Mike Nuttall’s presentation is available online.

The Patrick J. Cunningham Jr. and Susan Ward ’80 Endowed Lecture Series was established to offer engineering students exposure to experts from various engineering fields and educational opportunities outside the classroom. Since the inaugural lecture in November 2010, topics have included interactive digital games and human expression, “technological packing” for space flight, and the multimillion dollar expansion of the Panama Canal.