New IDer: Joe Gray

by New Idiom


Please quickly introduce yourself in a quick sentence.

I’ve grown so used to the narrow personal profile options on Facebook –- you know, the pull-down menus with narrow choices for things like relationship status, politics, and religion –- that open-ended questions like these remind me that life is certainly more complicated than one-word answers.Since I’m given the freedom of a whole sentence with actual punctuation, here goes:

I’m a 32-year old Detroit native who spends his workdays as a strategic planner at Leo Burnett and evenings as a part-time MDM student and musician.

Married? Not married, in a relationship.

Children? No children, but pets-a-plenty.


Obama. Though I would consider voting Green if Jello Biafra were running for the party nomination again.


The Church of the Third Revelation in “There Will Be Blood.”

How did you end up at ID? What were your motivations for coming? Where were you before?

A common thread runs through my most inspired moments in my job as a strategic planner: In each case, I was immersed in a challenge as a participant observer, nurturing my ethnographic observations to the point of insightful discovery. These journeys continued well beyond my initial research; as insights became inspiration and ultimately, fountainheads of creativity.

Journeys like this are what motivated me to come to ID. I hope to become a better practitioner of design research with the goal of enjoying more of these journeys in the years ahead.

What are your first impressions about ID?

What I’ve learned from my fellow IDers – through their backgrounds, motivations, and styles of thinking – has been an intensely enriching experience.

What do you think you could bring to the people here at ID? (culturally, socially, etc.)

I’m a self-professed music and beer snob. Further, everyone is welcome to a barbecue I’ll host sometime this Spring. I’ve got a fantastic grilled sweet potato fry recipe.

Is there anything from your home that you think people should not miss?

Sadly, you’re not missing much if you never visit Detroit.

Which designers/thinkers have impressed you the most lately or you are following now?

I closely follow Grant McCracken as I have a background in anthropology and enjoy his approach of applying anthropology to business challenges. I’m also very inspired by the work Adrian Ho is doing at Zeus Jones, fusing brand strategy with interaction design. Lastly, I’ve been reading a good deal of Stephen Pinker and Oliver Sacks as I’ve got a habit of geeking out on neuroscience.

Tell us quickly about a project that you’re working on now that you’re really excited about.

In my day job, I’ve been working with Allstate for the last several months on re-envisioning their approach to retirement planning toward developing a brand strategy and product offering that addresses the needs of the vast number of under-saved and under-served middle-class Americans.

What are the websites you could not live without?

  • Scrabulous on Facebook
  • BBC’s The Mighty Boosh clips on YouTube

What kinds of activities are you planning to do in your free time (in case you have any) while at ID?

Experience as much music as humanly possible.