Matthew Muñoz is a partner and chief design officer at New Kind in Raleigh. I had a blast hanging out with Matthew, talking about what design means to him and hearing his thoughts on the Triangle.
How did you become a designer?
I never planned on becoming a designer. I use to do a lot of drawing and cartoons. My grandfather taught me how to draw, I remember drawing with him all the time. He would ask me what I wanted to draw and I would always reply "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle", so I have all these great drawings of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That was a huge catalyst for me, that special time with my grandfather. When I was in high school I had an amazing art teacher named Bob Rankin. He not only taught us but he also took the time to show us slide shows of his travels. What I loved about that is there was so much story in those slides and so many interesting things you didn't really expect to see in an art class. Looking back, it was those slideshows that began my awareness of a larger world of art and creativity.
I went to East Carolina for my undergraduates degree because of my interest in illustration. I wanted to do Pixar movies. Toy Story blew my mind and I wanted to do that kind of work. I got into a lot of media and illustration classes. I was on that path until sophomore year when I took an Introduction to Graphic Design with professor Craig Malmrose. He introduced me to typography and I instantly fell in love with it. Craig had renovated an old building in downtown Ayden in Eastern North Carolina. One of those really small towns that had a Collard Festival every year. In the bottom floor was his letterpress shop. The idea of letterpressing tiny little metal type or big wood type just blew my mind — that was it — I was hooked. Typography has been important to me ever since, and I consider it to be a defining element of graphic design, it's what separates graphic design from other things.
"That gets me all juiced up because anything can be designed and anyone is a designer"
So what does design mean to you now?
For me the definition of design is to form with intent. Cognitive scientist Herbert Simon talks about design as transforming current conditions into preferred conditions. It's like a journey from point A to point B. A simplified version of that is to form anything with intent. So if you're forming a poster, a restaurant menu or even a city with thoughtfulness and intent, you're designing. Thats the bigger world of it and that gets me all juiced up because anything can be designed and anyone is a designer. Theres so much divisiveness around us, we need more people looking at what unifies us and what's common to us all. Design, forming with intent, is common to us all, it's as natural as breathing. It can be a challenge to use this point of view because you will always run into people who think design is just a graphic or making a website.
Stunning image and text combinations from New Kind.
A really cool section of the home page near the footer.
How did you get into working with government?
Imagine if you looking at government from 50,000 feet above, I wanted to zoom in, and zoom in until I got specific enough to find a project where design and government could have a relationship. I spent my entire second year of grad school working on my thesis project which was about how visualizations of public policy can aid the decision making process for citizens and legislatures. There are usually tons of white papers and content that need to be researched and digested, in order to understand policy making outcomes. By visually representing the impact policy choices make, you can give people a mental model for understand the paths their choices will make.
What does this look like?
Imagine an aerial view of a tree. There is the trunk of the tree and then there are branches that grow out. In the middle of the tree is the core of the issue and around it is the discussion on the issue. The issue used in my thesis was "what if we gave in state tuition to undocumented immigrants"? There are a few components to this. The economic; some people say we economically can't afford to lose undocumented immigrants. The ethical side; we can't kick kids out of the country, its the wrong thing to do. The social; what's the impact of having undocumented workers in our society.
What you find in a lot of public policy conversations is one side will talk about all the economical issues while the other side talks about all the social issues and that just comes out as comparing apples to oranges because neither side is going to buy into the way the other side frames it. Its very hard to make progress like this, the way you frame an issue is critical. So back to the scenario, "what if we give in state tuition to undocumented immigrants"? When you see it mapped out in these three categories, economical, moral and social, it's like the branches of a tree. The idea is to show that if we don't do anything we will end up on a certain path, this is represented by a core branch of a tree, thats the big branch that extends furthest out. Then there are all these other branches coming out of the main branch that represent different paths we can go down based on our choices.
A video demonstration of the Public Policy + Visualization Prototype, it's absolutely incredible.
I didn't create the possible outcomes, I just visualized and gave structure to the research. It's not about visualizing ideas as conservative or liberal, or Democratic, Republican, or otherwise. When you map it out like this we start to see that we all want the same thing. We all agree on the same things fundamentally because humans care about each other. I want to provide a way for someone to look at a scenario from all different perspectives. I call them growth maps, they are made to have a conversation about how we want to grow.
Do you still draw?
A little bit. My girlfriend Lara saw some of my old college work and she was so furious that I had never drawn any pictures for her. Like some hidden superpower that I was holding out from her! I ended up getting back into it and created this mixed media drawing of her dogs.
Where did you grow up and what brought you to Raleigh?
I've been here a while. I was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin and then spent some time in Naperville, Illinois which is right outside of Chicago. In 1986 my parents drove through Raleigh on the way to the Outer Banks for a family vacation. I remember my brother Brian and I didn't understand what all the trees where in North Carolina, being from the midwest we didn't really have that many trees!
The mixed media piece of Lara's dog.
My parents thought the area was so pretty and four years later my dad got a job at Alcatel which was based here. My mom was a teacher and found a job here, so we moved. It felt like a foreign planet at first and I remember saying to my mom "what have you done"! But it turned out well and Raleigh is an awesome place.
Has the area had an impact on your creatively?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I love the outdoors so having a park like Umstead with over 100 acres of trails for running and biking within 15 minutes of where I live is just awesome. You can get to the mountains and sea as well, I like that openness. My friend David Goldstein said it best, "Raleigh is a place where you can create yourself". It's distinctly different than a place like New York City, which has a pace of its own and you’re trying to keep pace with everyone. You can create yourself here, you physically and mentally have the space to do whatever you want to do.
There are also all the amazing universities and people here, and culturally it becomes more diverse by the day. When I was in high school you couldn't find anything open past 10 p.m. so I never anticipated coming back to Raleigh after East Carolina but now there are tons of things to do here. I've lived all over the city and I've seen so many areas blossom and attract people. The opportunity for Raleigh is wide open and we are getting all these amazing folks moving here. It just keeps getting better and better.
What do think would make Raleigh Better?
I'd like high speed transportation to Durham and other places. A twenty minute train ride to Durham would be a game changer, anything could happen if there was a better way to get between Raleigh and Durham. For the most part I like how Raleigh is growing up but I also think that doing more things with retail and outdoor areas in the downtown area would be great for the city. For all of Raleigh I really hope Dorothea Dix becomes a park, its such a beautiful place that would get tons of use. I never thought I'd live in Raleigh this long but it's amazing and I don't ever see myself fully leaving Raleigh.
"It's that interaction, watching two people relate to each other"
What inspires you right now?
I get inspired by beautiful moments, which could be an interaction between me and my girlfriend or me and my business partners or two strangers I see. It's that interaction, watching two people relate to each other. Cities, spaces, table anything that creates a human relationship between people inspires me. I get inspired by that because I want to figure out how we design opportunities for more of that. It’s too easy to design things that are barriers to that kind of interaction and emotion. I also love reading and stories, every week I schedule some time to go to a coffee shop and just read something.
What are some of your favorite places in the area?
I love watching my girlfriend dance, she dances for the Carolina Ballet. She’s always dancing and moving, just seeing her move is totally inspiring. When it comes to spaces I love this courtyard we are sitting in right now (back of Remedy Dinner), I can just come here, have a couple of Greyhounds and relax. I love Poole’s diner and all of Ashley’s places, just fantastic food and people there. Capital Club 16 too. I was at Trophy Brewing the other night and that was awesome. CAM Raleigh is an amazing space for ideas, and I also love to spend time at the art museum sitting outside and just taking things in.
Matthews amazing PBR cufflinks by Rachel Cole Cannon.
The super sneak back oasis at Remedy Dinner.
If you could give a young designer some advice what would it be?
Focus on the craft of design, in whatever context that means for you. If your thing is UX, or whatever you choose, make sure you know the craft. The second part of my advice is that craft is not enough, you need to also think about the role design plays in the world. What are design’s limits? What are it’s weaknesses? What are the assumptions and mindsets that designers work with? It’s really about how design creates the world and interacts with all of these other things. Because it’s not enough to just understand the role of design, and it’s not enough to just know the craft of it either. You have to do both.
"Craft is not enough, you need to also think about the role design plays in the world"