By Donna Loughlin
Donald Burlock always knew he was a creative, but he wasn’t always sure what that meant. More importantly, he wasn’t always sure how to unleash that creativity on the world.
Over the years, he’s held a number of creative leadership roles both in and out of Silicon Valley. But there was a time when he was a mechanical engineer working in the automotive industry and struggling to find an outlet for his more artistic side. In his impossible-to-put-down debut book, Superhuman By Design, Donald takes us through his own personal journey from Rust Belt engineer to one of the tech industry’s most exciting new creative thought leaders.
“There’s a very clear linear thought about how creativity and your impact as an individual are very much related,” he told me during our wide-ranging conversation. “And if you can build that connection, not only are you able to be this innovative change-maker, but you’re able to do so in a way that is ultimately quite positive for not just yourself, but [also] for all of the individuals you are designing experiences for.”
Donald was born and raised in Dallas, where his father was studying for the seminary. For a time, Donald and his siblings were homeschooled. His mother always encouraged her kids to lean into their artistic inclinations, but Donald was also very mechanically minded. Though he studied engineering in college and eventually landed his first of many auto-industry roles, he indulged his creative side by painting outside of work. He says at this stage of his life, he was unaware that he could combine the two.
“‘Design,’ to me, was really a noun, in the sense that it was a thing,” he explained. “‘Design’ was something that someone produced. It wasn’t something that someone did. The only people who did design as a verb were architects. That’s it. That’s all I knew. To me, there was no industrial design. No UX, no user experience design. None of that was in my vocabulary in my mid-20s. None of it.”
It was a chance meeting with an engineer at Apple that gave Donald his first exposure to how the tech industry approached design and he was immediately hooked. He went back to school with the intention of completely reinventing himself and reimagining his career.
Today, Donald is a UX design leader for Amazon, but Superhuman By Design has become a must-read for creatives in all industries.
“When I wrote the book, I thought perhaps I’ll have some designers who get into it — people in the creative world who do this professionally like myself,” he told me. “But I have had so many people from so many walks of life who have happened to get their hands on this book or met me along the way, and have related it to their own world. I wasn’t expecting that. I was not setting out to write a life book, I was setting out to write a book that represented something that I really believe and I really walk in. But the diversity of people who are relating to this book is, to me, that’s the indicator that I have produced something that is of really tremendous value.”
To listen and subscribe to the Before IT Happened podcast, visit www.beforeithappened.com.