Kelly Knapp: Creative Director, Experiential — Ex-Sphere


Influencing the Sphere

If finally happened.  After months of name dropping, Bobby and Andrew finally visited the Sphere and they brought along a new friend to talk about it.  Kelly Knapp has been at the forefront of immersive experiences for much of her career and she joins the pod to talk about the process of creating projects like Sphere, where she was a pre-launch creative lead, as well as a host of other exciting work she’s been a part of around the world.  From planning experiences no one has ever experienced before, to the search for talent and even (of course) some hot takes on the role of AI in the creative process, this conversation has it all.  Join us as we kick off Season 2 of Barriers to Entry!

Connect with our hosts on LinkedIn: 

Bobby Bonett

Andrew Lane

Follow Kelly Knapp on Linkedin

References and resources:


Sleep No More 

Robot Butlers

Related and referred BTE Episodes:

Sarah DiLeo, Studio Co-Director, Digital Experience Design, Gensler

David Schwartz, Founder Partner, HUSH

Get in touch with us with your questions on emerging technology, innovation and more at [email protected] or drop us a voicemail at the BTE Hotline at 1-917-934-2812.

Discover more shows from SURROUND at

This episode of Barriers to Entry was produced by Rob Schulte.

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This transcript was generated from an automated service, in some cases it may have errors.

Kelly: [00:00:00] My high level perspective on AI is that in the end it’s limited. And I really do think that thought as just a basic concept is infinite and unlimited. My thinking and my process enables me to imagine anything. And I think AI eventually will limit us.

Bobby: Welcome to Barriers to Entry, a design innovation podcast on the Surround Podcast Network.

This is the show where we obsess. Over the not too distant future of the architecture design and creative industries and the ideas, tools, technologies, and talent that will take us there. I’m Bobby Bonet, chief growth officer at Sandow design group. And as always, I’m joined by Digby co founder Andrew Lane.

Andrew, welcome to season two of barriers to entry.

Andrew: Wow. It’s official. I’m super excited. I never thought we’d get here, Bobby. Mostly because we never really decided when we’d end season one. I don’t think we ever started season

Bobby: one. I think we just started recording one day.

Andrew: We just started making shows.

Yeah. I think that’s the way, uh, it’s the way they do it in the biz is just start making shows and sees what happens. But, um, we’re excited today because you and I, uh, as we’ve told the listeners on a couple of occasions, got to go see a show, uh, together not too long ago. Um, in, um, fabulous Las Vegas.

Should we not let them wonder too long? What sort of show we were seeing in Las Vegas?

Bobby: Well, first, uh, as we had mentioned, we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Grand Lux cafe, but that was not the star of the evening. We then made our way to, uh, to the sphere or sphere, as I believe it’s called for Darren Aronofsky’s film.

And that was, uh, for me, a really mind blowing experience from the moment you walk in the front door of the structure. And then into the immersive storytelling film that just blows you away from the visual storytelling to the auditory storytelling and everything in between. And as you know, Andrew, after you and I watched the film in the optimal seating placement in that arena, I then went back like 24 hours later with my dad and watch the same film in the exact same seat.

So I had the time of my life. How about you? Yeah.

Andrew: I had a great time as well. Um, you know, we’ve been talking so much on the show about immersive media. You know, we’ve had folks like Sarah DeLeo and David Schwartz on. Um, and it’s just, yeah, it was, it was such a great in person experience and another fun story.

And as our guest is waiting to get introduced, I’m going to share something with all of you. Um, I was talking with friend of the podcast, Jamie Derringer the other day, who also got a seating RECCO from our guest. And told me she went with her daughter and she said it’s the first time she’s seen her daughter look at something not through her phone for that long since she became a teenager, basically.

So, you know, uh, what we’re talking about here is fun for the whole family. But also something that’s like really special and really immersive and on a different level. And so, you know, we wanted to invite a guest today who, you know, was a part of that experience, but also many other immersive experiences.

And we couldn’t be thrilled to today to be joined by someone who’s made a career of pushing the boundaries in these kinds of experiences all over the world. So, um, she has demonstrated innovation and numerous creative roles, both in house and as a freelancer and, uh, quite notably. I am part of creating the sphere in Las Vegas.

So, um, you know, obviously we’ve recently had the experience, uh, the pleasure of experiencing that. So it’s a great tee up, uh, to have her with us today. Um, and we are really excited to welcome to the pod, Kelly Knapp. Welcome Kelly.

Kelly: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Andrew: First off, thank you from myself, from Bobby, uh, from Jamie, Jamie’s daughter, Bobby’s dad, um, for the, for the optimal show seat, Reco, uh, the free t shirts because

Kelly: we got, yeah,

Andrew: we did get the free t shirts too.

That’s right. Those ended up my, my mother in law now, uh, owns said free t shirts. Uh,

Kelly: I’m a big advocate for the good seating at Sphere.

Andrew: Well, and the free t shirt is a great idea because now they’re getting sprayed all over the pickleball courts, uh, of Southeast Florida, uh, are learning about the Sphere due to that free t shirt giveaway.

So, um, it was a great experience and, you know, something that obviously you spent a lot of time with, but you know, that wasn’t like, obviously something you just popped up and started working on. We’re really curious just to go back a little bit with the origin story. Like, how did you get into this world of immersive storytelling to start with?

And what were some of the exciting and rewarding projects that you worked on early on in your career?

Kelly: Uh, I have a, a kind of winding journey to where I got today and, and to sphere. I actually had a couple of different paths. I was really into ballet, um, and then in music and [00:05:00] thought either one of those would be the journey that I was on for life.

And ended up, um, after sort of living overseas and, and life, uh, changing direction as we moved around a lot, um, getting into sculpture. So I got into sculpture mostly in college. I started to weld, really liked the physical aspects of building and then for, uh, For about 10 years, I worked in the outdoor industry.

So I, um, was leading trips around the world, uh, backcountry skiing, kayaking, um, mountaineering and such. And so that experiential piece of guiding trips and getting people really excited about the outdoors and environmental. issues combined with, um, sculpture led me into landscape architecture. So I went to grad school at Rhode Island School of Design, studied landscape architecture, really loved it, particularly the urban planning, um, elements of it, and also looked at it as large scale sculpture.

And worked at a couple of firms and found that firm life wasn’t quite for me, but I loved really the conceptual sides of landscape architecture and the underpinning of community and bringing folks together. Um, so I ended up working in interior design, graphic design, exhibition design, and then also, um, film sets, did window displays for Bergdorf Goodman in New York, um, and a lot of events.

for having me. So that’s sort of the journey that took me into experiential. I’d say the first sort of experiential really was the window displays and the events that I did. Um, and then I was called for a project called Pips Island, um, which was, is sort of was billed as a sleep no more for kids.

music: Um,

Kelly: that was in 2017 when I got the call.

Um, and that went up. Around Times Square in New York. And it is, or it is closed during the pandemic, unfortunately, but it was, um, a nine room. experience essentially off Broadway. So it was theatrical, fully immersive. Um, and I helped to build the, the way of working for building this site. I built a studio, hired the team, got all the tools to prototype, um, and fabricate, and then also imagined what all these rooms look like.

And experience it. So did that. And then that sort of led up into sphere.

Andrew: It really reminds me of when we had, um, Sarah DeLeo on the pod who runs a lot of this kind of work, um, uh, at Gansler. So the firm life has, has, is for her. Uh, and she, uh, you know, she talked a lot about the multidisciplinary nature. Of the kinds of teams that do these things.

Like, can you talk a little bit about who you’re surrounded by on some of these projects?

Kelly: Uh, recently it is all kinds of people from, um, You know, the most recent project I did was, um, actually in the Middle East. Um, that was a lot of developers I was speaking to, but, um, I work every day with architects, landscape architects, um, creative technologists, film producers, directors.

I mean, it’s really the whole gamut. And I feel so privileged to be in that space, uh, also engineers. And I think that’s really what attracts me to this world is being able to have conversations with all types of. Creators, designers, um, strategists. That’s what I really love about it. But

Bobby: it must be nice to get the call for something.

Um, I know, like before we started recording, Kelly might kick me for saying this, but Kelly was like, I don’t know if I’m, I’m not interesting. It’s like, well, you started in ballet and then you started doing immersive experience in time square and then you worked on sphere. But you got the call to work on a sleep.

No more for kids in Times Square. And then you wind up working on sphere. So what led you to that project that I’m sure you imagine you knew up front and be transcendent in a pretty amazing way.

Kelly: Yeah, it was. It was interesting. They actually approached me. Um, I don’t quite know how they found me. Um, and at the time, the only information about sphere was one Rolling Stones article that Yeah.

The recruiter shared with me, um, and I had a, a pre call, um, and it was for the creative director role, and I had no interest to be totally honest. I had, my mindset had been somewhere else. I was sort of on a different track for myself. I was going to go, um, more into production design for.

music: And

Kelly: so wasn’t thinking about anything, but that, um, but they said, no, but we really, really want to talk.

So I went into the office and, um, really loved who I spoke to. Um, had a great conversation, uh, had a couple more and, uh, I said, please, you know, not creative director. What else you got for me? So, um, and part of the reason I didn’t want to be the creative director is [00:10:00] because I didn’t have any tech experience.

I knew, you know, basic creative technology for, uh, theater and for, you know, whatever you’re going to use in architecture, but I didn’t really know the extensive, um, and in depth nature of even how to create, um, content for something like Sphere.

Andrew: Well, I mean, would it be fair to say that no one did at that point in time?

Well, no, I

Kelly: think, you know, they had folks come from Obscura, um, and those guys really knew how to map sort of content. They figured out how to map content to an exosphere. Um, there were people that worked with robotics and people worked with sound technology and interactivity. So none of that was in my background.

I was really, you know, coming from the built environment. So, um, I asked to be, uh, an art director, so I came in doing that and I was at the very beginning sort of at a refresh point of the creative team. So there were only a couple of us when I first joined and then it expanded pretty rapidly.

Bobby: As a designer on that project, Kelly, designer turn.

Art director turned multi hyphenate. The project’s been very well covered from that first Rolling Stone article to now every which way, right? YouTube setting records, uh, all the way down to little old me posting about it on my LinkedIn account. What’s something about the experience that maybe flies under the radar or isn’t something that would get coverage that you look back on and say, that was, Transformational either to my career or exceedingly interesting to me as a designer.

And, and you’ll always, you know, remember extremely fondly, um, as part of that project.

Kelly: I feel it was almost a gift for me to land at sphere, of course. Um, and to land when I did, because, um, there was no. I was in the process of designing the building. Populous had designed the building. It was very early stages of construction when I joined.

There was no interior design plan. We hadn’t figured out what kind of shows we were going to do. The brand wasn’t figured out. None of that was done. And so I was lucky to be there at that time of figuring out what all of that, you know, all of those creative pieces were. Working with some of the most incredible talent in house and also worldwide with external partners and seeing that open.

So one of the things I, you know, I worked on brand, I led the interior design of the building kind of working with iCrave and then also, you know, working with concept artists on what, uh, what a show could be at Sphere. Um, how, you know, for me being from physical builds, it was, you know, how do we figure out how to do scenic?

How do we operationally get pieces into the building? How do we ensure that they transform with the digital content on the screen over time? Because you can’t move pieces in and out easily. Um, all those pieces need to be figured out. So now it’s a little more, I wouldn’t say rinse and repeat. That would not do justice to sort of all the incredible work that’s being done now.

But it just was a different phase than when it’s now open.

Andrew: With all those sort of moving parts, you know, we, or I made a fuss about the particular seats that you recommended. And maybe just for our listeners, um, we can give a bit of a taste of like, why did you feel those seats were so good? Like I have my own opinions and Jamie told me a cool story.

Um, but you know, what was it, what was it about that particular place that you felt sort of encapsulated the experience the best?

Kelly: Um, it’s really the center point of the sphere. Um, you know, it’s there’s actually a horizon line in sphere and that sort of center point. The reason is that you’re able to see the screen at its fullest and really experience everything it has to offer.

We did a lot of work to prevent. Warping around the edges and things. There was a lot of R and D for, for stuff like that. But the other thing I love about it is you’re really at the center of the crowd.

music: Yeah.

Kelly: When you have, when you’re sort of like, you know, for example, the YouTube show, that’s a fully packed house.

It’s really, uh, awe inspiring to be in that center surrounded by thousands and thousands of people who are just as excited as you are.

Andrew: Yeah. And the, the, the sort of the haptics and like the wind and the, the vibrations and things that, that are built into the theater system, I think we’re really, um, you know, poignant in that space because to your point, you are right in the middle of it and you, I think you really feel that, or at least I certainly had that takeaway.

Kelly: Yeah.

Andrew: Bobby, what was your, what was your memorable moment of being in that space? smack in the middle. I think what was most powerful about

Bobby: the film was the fact that like really from the jump, I mean you’re watching, I mean are we allowed to do spoilers? What’s the rule on

Andrew: spoilers? Yes, I think you have like a mild sphere.

I’ll be careful about it. The movie shows [00:15:00] every day from now until the end of time. I’ll be careful about it. Not you too.

Bobby: But there’s a moment where the film becomes immersive. And for me, it was like three seconds before the, the immersive experience begins. I started realizing, Oh, we haven’t immersed yet.

And does this film just take place as like your standard IMAX experience? But from that point forward, like every scene you’re, you’re just in it. And like, Andrew had Andrew was like, you know, the old man, he had his camera out just like my dad did taking pictures every, every minute. But I wanted to also, you know, it’s like you’re in the most amazing episode of blue planet, but you’re taken to every location throughout the film.

It’s just that exciting. And you get like, you genuinely get emotional throughout the film because you’re so in it. And because of the power of the environmental landscapes, you’re part of the cultural, the ways in which you’re transported into these cultural moments. I think that’s what was exciting is for that, whatever it is, 44, 45 minutes, 50 minutes.

It’s just every minute you want it to keep going. And that’s why I went back two days later.

Andrew: I love the subtle, like the seat will vibrate a little or the wind will blow across. And Jamie said her daughter still talks about. Like when the wind blew across the seat. And for me, like you mentioned it, Bobby, the moment when it goes from like kind of the setup of the film to the immersive part, like when that first immersive second happened, there was this, like the air kind of came out of the room because everyone was just like, Oh, like that’s, that’s what it is.

Um, and that moment when everybody kind of got it together was for me, one of the, one of the kind of coolest moments and to the point, like was probably best experienced right in the middle.

Kelly: I have to say that probably the most inspiring thing for me to see, you know, coming from again, my background in physical world is, you know, I was dumped in the deepest end of technology and learned a lot and was really exciting was to see the engineers working through all of those challenges, right?

How do you ensure that scent gets up? To the whole audience and wind and you know the timing the seats and what kind of shakers are in there It’s just what’s fascinating to be a part of

Bobby: Is there a dream live event for you kelly to see yet

Kelly: Yes, I won’t go too into it because I’ve been thinking about these things for a long time and I am under NDA with, uh, a lot of things, but, um, there’s something to me and I was actually reminded when we had the eclipse the other day, it was sort of close to where I live and sort of the power of that collective experience.

And I always imagine if you’re in sphere and something is going on in another part of the world and somehow you’re partaking in that. With a group of people, maybe on the other side of the planet or throughout the world, it’s just really powerful. So it’s, it’s like that eclipse magnified by, you know, X amount, um, would be really amazing.

Andrew: What’s yours, Bobby?

Bobby: I don’t know. I, it’s kind of interesting how, I’ll tell you what, what it’s not, but, but this’ll get to, this’ll get to my answer here. The UFC has been talking about like putting on an event at, at sphere. Yeah. It has to be a very specific sort of event. I mean, it’s limited capacity because of the size of the venue, you want to be able to take advantage of the screens in a way that’s not cheesy.

So it can’t be, you know, can’t be a sporting event where you’re just, you know, putting a big let’s go Knicks or a big scoreboard on the structure. I told my mom, I’d love to go back. I think they should format the next blue planet for sphere. And I want to watch a three hour version of that in there. Like I would, I would love to just sit there and watch the Watch scenes from like amazing up close scenes of, of nature in there.

That’s like, that’s the most I’ve been able to wrap my mind around at this point.

Andrew: I think I agree with you that that would be amazing, but I actually kind of want to watch the super bowl in there. I don’t know how, if they can figure it out, or maybe it’s like, you’re doing it from like the perspective of like Taylor Swift’s box or something.

I don’t know what it is, but I kind of want to watch everything. Yeah, I haven’t been to a movie. My favorite things to watch is, is the super bowl. So that’s maybe why I go against your sports thing. I agree with all your reasoning about why sports wouldn’t be good. I just, I want it.

Bobby: Yeah. That, that does kind of dovetail though into, we had talked in the pre call Kelly, just about when you’re designing immersive experiences that you don’t want to design something that people get tired of and the idea of, of something that’s immersive becoming a novelty at some point, how do you think about keeping an immersive design or an immersive experience fresh after it launches so that something that’s [00:20:00] mind blowing and something that captures headlines, something that enraptures you during the design process isn’t tired.

Two weeks after folks experienced for the first time,

Kelly: I think a couple of things, you know, when I did, um, window displays for Bergdorf Goodman, who leads the window department, there’s, he’s so great. And, uh, he would always say, there’s got to be One, a sense of sophistication, but two, there’s always got to be Easter eggs for kids.

He was always really big into that. And I think when every project I’m working on, I’m trying to make it the most sophisticated materials, the most sophisticated lighting technology, of course, within budget, right? That, that VE’d out. So always being mindful of that from the get go. And what are the different versions that we can.

push to, but also putting in those Easter egg moments where, you know, I think kids are really, really smart. And I think sometimes we tend to dumb things down. And I also think, you know, just the average person, right? So like, how do we make something interesting and exciting, but maybe it evolves over time, or maybe we start to switch out the materials.

So it’d be, you know, it’s like, I look at things like an artist, right? It’s always interesting. Is it about reflectivity? Is it about changing how people pass through the space? Does it have qualities of a timeless feel? So I think that there are tweaks that you can do over time. Some things you’re going to change out IP, right?

Some things like sphere, you’re going to change the show. But I think being mindful of some of those built elements and how they can evolve over time is always really interesting. I also think, you know, Whether it’s fear or it’s a giga project in Saudi Arabia or whatever, technology does evolve really quickly and we can start to see led that doesn’t look as good as, you know, what we thought was in the past.

So always being able to swap those, those pieces out down the road. Um, keep it fresh.

Andrew: So do you see that like in terms of your approach to delivering against that? Is it more about, cause you talked about a couple of kind of different rules I’d call them or, uh, Sort of proverbs to live by. Is it that, or is there like a particular kind of process that you dive into, um, as you’re trying to create something that’s interesting and sticky and we’ll have some staying power, like how do you, how do you kind of start in that journey?

Kelly: Again, my backgrounds in art and also I have worked in sort of the passion world, those are my personal two biggest influences, and I think what I see in some of the. Companies that working are working in that space. So I’m thinking runway shows, um, the Bureau of BTOCs, civilian Eugenies, OBO is another good one.

The work that they’re doing is. aesthetically really beautiful and sophisticated. And the materials look to be lasting. So when I’m beginning a process, you know, I’m writing some of the strategy, I’m mood boarding, I’m doing that kind of thing. I’m always sort of referencing these agencies and creatives.

They’re doing really, really sophisticated work. And also thinking about artists like James Turrell or Robert Irwin or who harnessed architecture and light and space in a way that even evolves over time, just due to lighting outside or how something is sort of like edged. I think there are a lot of these techniques that I wrap in.

early on. Um, and those elements I think can bring moments of surprise and unexpected moments. And I think that’s what sort of starts to keep people interested. Some seeing something that they didn’t expect to see.

Andrew: Yeah. And I love like tying that into the Easter eggs. Like, I think that’s, I mean, you know, Pixar is a great example of a company that I think it adheres to that pretty well, but, um, it’s, it’s exciting and interesting to hear all of the different, you know, inputs that you’re coming from.

Kelly: I noticed that a lot of people I work with. have a range of backgrounds, right? And very different backgrounds. I definitely approach the work as I have a background in the architecture world, right? Like a real underpinning of how to and fabrication and make things, build things, make tech work with an experience in the built environment.

But coming with that artistic perspective is always like a challenge for me of how to make this unexpected.

Bobby: You’ve talked a couple of times about the teams you’ve worked with over your career. How do you find yourself in these positions? I mean that in an aspirational way. You know, if a designer is listening to this podcast and they’re seated at a firm right now, or, you know, Maybe they’re going to school at RISD and they’re wondering, Hey, at some point, I’d really love to, whether it’s as a career [00:25:00] or as a brief departure, work on something that’s so far out of this world where I get to sit alongside a director and I get to sit alongside somebody from a completely different walk of life and contribute to a project that is just of another planet.

How do you, like, how do you wind up there? Obviously, like you, you had the secret sauce, but I’m at this point, you’re in a position where, okay, you got to give the advice. So where do you go? What do you do?

Kelly: I actually, uh, because I live nearby at the moment, though, that’s changing. Um, I am at RISD quite often with students, right?

So I’ll sit in to midterm or final credits or I’ll help teach the studio day or whatever. And my biggest personal drive of recent has been to ensure that students and new designers do not have to experience what I did. And I will tell you that I have had the biggest struggle. To create my career. I have worked as a cook.

I have worked as a cheesemonger. I have worked all kinds of jobs behind the scenes just to stay afloat. And I don’t know, I know there are a lot of people out there, particularly in the last couple of years, struggling creatively, um, because I think our industry has struggled a lot. Um, but there’s some other people who haven’t had that kind of struggle.

And so my biggest advice is to keep going. I see a lot of people who are almost there to whatever their next goal is, and they just give up or they pivot their career, which is totally fine. Um, but for me, I just would keep pulling myself up by my bootstraps and going. And what I found is that over time, I just was getting more and more calls from people.

The other thing I noticed is that this world is very small. So one networking is always great, you know, get to know who your peers are, but also what other industries are doing. Um, and then also realize that, you know, kindness and, um, empathy goes a very long way.

Bobby: That’s well said.

Andrew: I think that’s a good, a good, uh, tip for a lot of things, but yeah, that’s amazing.

Like a great, a great story of, of, of persevering. I always like to nerd out on the process of this. Um, so, you know, whether you’re talking about the sphere or, or anything else, what is the process of designing and effectively visioning? This kind of an experience and how does that feel versus the experience of actually being there when you plan it and you work through it and you take all those inputs that you were talking about and you create those Easter eggs.

How, how does that actually compare to when you sit in, what is it? Row 306 or section 306 row 11 seat 20.

Bobby: And is there, and is there any nervous energy that when you experience it for the first time, you’re gonna be like, uh, damn,

Kelly: the first time I experienced fear Was exactly what I thought it was going to be.

And that became from all the R and D. So Andrew, your, your question is kind of a long question. So I’ll start with this.

Andrew: It is actually only one question.

Kelly: The pre call we talked about, you know, I mentioned just sort of casually, like sitting in my office with a VR headset. Talking to concept artists to critique work at Sphere, right?

So I think that there are amazing tools that we have these days to explore and ensure that when we actually get into a site, we’re building something, or we’re actually in opening that it matches up as much as possible to our expectations. So through modeling, Right on a computer, through headsets, through, you know, VR, through scale models in real life of LED or, or any of those things, testing lighting strips, all that kind of stuff really adds up to understanding what that experience is going to be.

When I joined Sphere, there was some idea of what this was in a vision statement. I was working on the interior, so, worked with someone who had already been there, who came in, who was leading our department on figuring out what is this thing, what, you know, what is this brand, right, what is this building, what do, what are we looking to, what other companies are looking to, to sort of match up to where we want Sphere to be, because the buildings are being built, so we need to have a position on, you know, what is the furniture, what is the lighting, what is the aesthetic we’re going for, So, you know, each process is different, but, um, you know, I think that I’ve gotten sort of consistent in the ways I’m working and the tools I’m using.

To ensure opening is whether it’s sphere or a project in Saudi Arabia, or even a window display all matches

music: [00:30:00] up.

Bobby: So you mentioned leveraging the VR technology when you’re working on Sphere. What are some other technologies that are either inspiring you today or you’re using, for example, in the project you’ve referenced a couple of times in the Middle East?

Kelly: Yeah, I mentioned I was kind of thrown in the deep end. I had a great manager there and a great, great team, you know, team and sort of just ask every possible question and bugged people to death, right?

How do you use this? How do you make this? What is this about? And what does this term mean? Um, In my work and process right now, I’m pretty still basic, right? I use Revit, which I taught myself. I taught myself Unreal just so I can have conversations about it. I learned 3ds Max back in the day and AutoCAD.

Uh, now virtual reality is sort of, I think, a privilege as a designer to have that. I’d never done that before either. So, I’m not doing anything fancy. I know AI right is happening right now. I have my own perspective on AI. Go on. I’m trying to learn.

Bobby: You’ve opened the can.

Kelly: Yeah, I figured I’d open the can and not to make any enemies there.

Um, my thinking of AI and, and I will caveat this, but I’m trying to teach myself as much about AI as possible so that I, part of, part of my role, I think as a creative director is understanding what’s out there and then being able to have conversations about what technology is appropriate, having, you know, when I’m working with consultants or, you know, working with teammates, really being able to have informed conversations instead of just shutting things down.

Or, or running with something. My high level perspective on AI is that in the end, it’s limited. And I really do think that thought as just a basic concept is infinite and unlimited. And so I think my thinking and my process enables me to imagine anything, right? And I think AI eventually, from my perspective, will limit us.


Andrew: I think that’s a really, it’s a really interesting take. And I mean, I think that’s why you hear so much about the AI as a partner to support that thought to, you know, bring forward those references that, you know, you’ve, you’ve given so many references through the conversation. Um, you know, that’s somewhere that I think that there’s a really exciting opportunity, but I love that.

I love that take Bobby. Are you, are you going to let that one pass?

Bobby: Yeah, that’s, that’s fine.

Andrew: Right. There it is. Bobby’s on the AI is limited.

Bobby: To be honest, I think we’ve heard similar from many of our guests, which it can be harnessed and leveraged in such a way that that infinite nature of human creativity can be unlocked.

Um, I always think back, Andrew, to our conversation with Matias last year, and then subsequently the presentation he gave at Perspectives where he, you know, Talked about his excitement around A. I. And the ways in which Hawken is leveraging A. I. And again, it’s not a replacement for the amazing design talent there at all.

It’s to enable his team to maybe start from a new framework in a new perspective and say, Okay, if we take a project, we usually take from a right hand turn and instead take them from the left hand turn. How can this make us look completely different as a design firm when we bring up the concept of A. I.

With designers and design principles. You get a range of responses from there’s potential to good God. This is horrifying, but I don’t think we ever hear that like AI is interesting as a replacement. And I don’t think that’s job justification. I think it’s just, it’s creativity is right now, um, innately human.

Kelly: What I do see, however, just to, you know, to know is, and I would say, particularly in the last, uh, so I did two projects since we are, um, they’re both sort of on the, uh, Mega giga, project size quite large on sort of the heavy tech side of things. And, uh, there have been a lot of teammates and consultants who have tried to rely on ai, and I’ve had to explain that at this point with ai.

Uh, and, and I’m talking more mid journey, so Right. Envisioning concepts. Mm-Hmm. trying to come up with ideas and I think, well, okay. If you were just to think through that, how does that work through the VE process? How do we actually build this thing? So I think, you know, what I’ve been trying to sort of like educate out is that there are, you need to consider the real world implications when you’re creating.

So I think AI as an assistant, right, is, is great. And I’m really interested in how that opens up. But I think a lot of people I’ve seen been trying to use that as a crutch to come up with the idea and [00:35:00] manifest the idea. The

Andrew: bit of the, everything’s a nail kind of analogy, right? And yeah, absolutely. Like you need to know the places where, whether you’re deploying it or using it to support you or whatever the case might be, are the most appropriate.

And then I think it can be an incredible game changer, but the over reliance Um, yeah, you, you do end up probably limiting yourself and maybe panning yourself into a corner from time to time too. What would you say, um, just as a bit of, we get towards wrapping up here, is one of the, the most rewarding part of being involved in an implementation like this?

Like, is there a moment or is there a piece of the pie or is there, you know, something that sticks with you after the fact?

Kelly: When I was a little kid, my parents said that I, Just absorbed puzzles. So they couldn’t keep enough puzzles around for me to do. And it’s funny to look at what I do now, because I would say the last sort of six projects have generally been fairly large scale that I’ve done long term and they have all been.

Sort of envisioning and creating the thing. So whether it was a startup itself to create an immersive experience or within a larger corporation, and I love being able to be at the forefront of that and figuring out all the challenges that come with that. So that’s certainly what’s excites me most about this field.

Andrew: That’s amazing. I love that. And I love the teams that you’ve described that you get to do it with. It’s a. It’s super exciting. Bobby, it’s plug time.

Bobby: Kelly, we’d love to give you the floor and plug any exciting projects or work you’d like to share your, your vast social media presence. But yeah, the mic is yours.

Kelly: I actually have a lot of stuff on your end.

Andrew: The listeners have not signed.

Kelly: Is that all my friends think I’m part of the CIA. about any of it. I am on LinkedIn. That’s about it. Social media wise. My biggest plug is just sort of for everyone else to just sort of like keep charging through and keep networking and keep kind of discovering and questioning.

And I think the sort of like, Pursuing curiosity, right? Is, and seeing what other people are doing, whether you agree with them or not, it’s just amazing. I mean, there’s some, so many incredible people out in the world right now. Technology is changing so fast. Um, people are really trying to push the boundaries of things.

And, um, so I would say just keep exploring that. Um,

Andrew: Are there any other, any resources like, uh, people to follow sites to go to, things to check out for people who, Bobby referenced the designer who might be interested in breaking out or the, you know, the person who’s on that path. What are some, some places you could send them?

Kelly: I tend to, uh, again, from, for myself and the work that I do, even with sphere and some of the other things, I tend to look at a lot of high fashion and artists. Um, so I don’t have anything particular other than. You know, figure out what you’re excited about and then see who the masters are in that world and that field is, you know, sort of my approach.

And I tell sort of everyone I’m mentoring with or everyone that, you know, has been kind of more junior on my teams to make sure that they’re really excited about something and it doesn’t have to be exactly what we’re doing because that’ll sort of balloon out as you go along. I have been actually really excited about robots recently.

Andrew: Just generally, generally robots in general.

Kelly: Again, CIA covert operations with a rod. No, um, but under NDA with the robotics, but, um, but it’s, um, it’s actually caused me to network with a lot of folks and just ask questions. And so it’s, It’s just sort of like, this is what I learned. What have you learned?

And that’s been my own individual pursuit that I never thought I would be going down, but, uh,

Andrew: yeah, I’ve been into robots since I was a kid in the eighties and they had those robot butlers that went around with the tray. I’ve never really gotten off of them.

Bobby: We can cross off robot butlers on Andrew’s bingo cart.

Um, for today’s episode,

Andrew: it only took till season two, Bobby. It only took till season two for it to come up.

Bobby: Um, we always like to give producer Rob the opportunity to share his episode takeaways, Rob, um, anything to, to, to share today?

Rob: Yeah, I think that if I would have pursued my degree in live theater, I wouldn’t be in podcasting now, but I would have just as exciting of a life.

That’s for sure. But no, this is thrilling. It really made me think about what can be done and what can be made and what experiences can come from a whole different type of Uh, of, uh, of approach and it’s great. Thank you, Kelly. [00:40:00]

Kelly: Yeah. Thank you.

Bobby: Andrew, do you want to read us out?

Andrew: Yeah, I will. But first, I just wanted to say thanks to Kelly.

Um, it was so great having you on. We really appreciate you, uh, talking to us about all the things that you’re legally allowed, uh, to speak about. It was to Rob’s point, like really inspiring to hear about, you know, the journey, and I think that the audience will really appreciate just the message of perseverance and the message, uh, you know, that you can, you can get to these things, you just gotta keep trying.

And, you know, people are coming from all sorts of different backgrounds, which I think is making the destination that you end up at a really exciting one. So. We will be excited for the lawyers to get off your back so we can hear more about what you’re up to next. Um, but thanks so much for joining us.

Kelly: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been really fun. I can’t wait to share to the world what I’m doing next, uh, which will. I’ll be making public soon, but, um, it’s really fun to talk to you guys as always.

Andrew: Appreciate it. Yeah. We’ll put your LinkedIn in the show notes and maybe I’ll have already talked about it by the time this episode drops.

We don’t quite know the timing, but, uh, in the meantime, just a big thank you as always to our barriers to entry production team, of course, producer Rob Schulte. Everyone else back at the studio by Sandow in the pod cave barriers to entry is a part of the surround podcast network, make sure you go to surroundpodcasts.

com that’s podcast with an S smash the follow button, follow along as we kick off season two with all sorts of more exciting guests like Kelly, and we continue to break down the barriers to entry.

Bobby: Yeah, by the way, I’m a big wordle.

Andrew: What’s your streak at, Bobby? We’ve never even talked about this.

Bobby: Uh, actually, I haven’t played in a couple months because I got like one, my streak ended and I got frustrated and

Andrew: Coming up on a calendar year right now. So I’m, I’m, I’m flaunting that around wherever I can.

Ha, ha, ha.

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Andrew Lane

Andrew Lane is Co-founder of digby, co-founder of Interior Design Magazine’s (MAD) Awards and co-host of the podcast Barriers to Entry.

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Bobby Bonett

Bobby Bonett is Chief Growth Officer and EVP Strategy at SANDOW DESIGN GROUP and co-host of the podcast Barriers to Entry.

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