PRINCIPAL, : : CRONAN : : , OAKLAND CA
Karin Hibma’s understanding of how the power of design and visual thinking impacts our economy and culture enables her to work with clients to see the world through the eyes of their audiences, using cognitive identity insights and design thinking to find the strategic “big idea” inherent in every project. As an art student in the early ’70s, she picked up three postings on a job wall for part-time work. The one she chose – visuals researcher for a commercial art studio – changed her life. An early entrepreneur, Hibma found creative research company Design Resource to work with artists, photographers, and filmmakers on advertising, illustration, commercial, and documentary projects. She co-founded Cronan Design with her husband Michael Patrick Cronan, who became a San Francisco design legend. She founded Cronan Artefact, a product development, manufacturing, and marketing company; their Walking Man apparel line won International Design Magazine’s Consumer Product Gold Award and was one of the earliest online catalogs. : : CRONAN : : has worked with change-makers looking for innovative answers, from startups to the world’s most successful products and organizations such as Amazon, Apple, Estée Lauder, Origins, Levi Strauss & Co., SFMOMA, and the Obama White House, and is renowned for naming TiVo and Amazon’s Kindle. Karin consults with Dr. Paul Polak’s international organizations on advising multinationals and ending rural poverty, serves on the national AIGA Board, is an AIGA SF Fellow, and is recognized by Fast Company as one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business.” Karin remains “insatiably curious and enthusiastic.”
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?
Born in Southwestern Minnesota farming country; I’ve never lived there. My dad was career Air Force; we moved every couple of years, living all over the USA and Europe. California is now home as my immediate family is all here.
DID YOU GO TO DESIGN SCHOOL?
Never schooled in design, only experiences.
LEFTY OR RIGHTY?
Moderate, actually, I prefer to listen to both sides.
MORNING PERSON OR NIGHT OWL?
I’ve discovered the joys of going to bed early to ‘read’, sleep and dream; I wake at 5:45 am to write and start a day.
FICTIONAL OR HISTORICAL CHARACTER YOU IDENTIFY WITH?
‘Miss Marple,’ in Agatha Christie’s mysteries, or her ‘Mr. Parker Pyne’ – both excellent discoverers of the true story and helping others find theirs.
ARE YOU MUSICAL AND/OR PLAY AN INSTRUMENT?
When I was ten or eleven, I wanted to be a world-class pianist or a world-class ice skater. Neither panned out. My granddaughter and I now play pictures on my piano.
William Duggan’s ‘Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement (2007)’ – every time I go to it, I find another way of finding insights and creating “aha” moments.
‘The Saragossa Manuscript’. Layers and layers of story-telling, multiple viewings are recommended.
FAVORITE TV BINGE WATCH?
Binges for me are in podcasts.
FAVORITE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM?
I’m working on listening to every one of Debbie Millman’s fourteen years of ‘Design Matters’; I listen to Roman Mars ‘99% Invisible’ as each new episode comes out. I love Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva’s new podcast ‘The Keepers’. I am trying to work my way through the Tim Ferriss Show archives. I adore Christopher Lochhead’s ‘Legends & Losers’ – look for my conversation with him, episode #144.
FAVORITE FINE ARTIST?
My younger son Shawn Hibma-Cronan, a sculptor who does commissioned public art. I live with a collection of both his large-scale and smaller pieces. I also collect my friend Nina Katz’s paintings. And I attend everything I can of my Naomie Kremer’s work; she’s a designer turned artist working in paint, video, photography and digital projection.
FAVORITE CHARITY OR CAUSE?
Dr. Paul Polak’s work – I have been working with him since meeting him at the Aspen Design Summit in 2005 and creating ‘Design for the Other 90%’.
FAVORITE FREE TIME ACTIVITY?
Walking in my new neighborhood.
Experiences. Stories. People – I am fascinated by them all.
WHICH AREA OF GRAPHIC DESIGN IS GROWING THE MOST?
Design itself is growing. Graphic design can beautifully express big ideas, but design needs to be there for the big idea first. As my dear friend Ralph Caplan says, “Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”
Sara Little Turnbull (1917-2015), a product designer, design innovator and educator who advised corporate America on product design for more than 50 years and has been described as “corporate America’s secret weapon.” And Susan Jackson Keig (1918-2018), a design legend the GDUSA audience know well. Both lived long, creative and productive lives and changed the world as we knew it.
GREATEST STRENGTH/WEAKNESS AS A DESIGNER?
My strength is my ability to listen until the other person is done talking, to hear and see the big picture and help make it clear for others. My weakness is for elegant, awesome solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
ADVICE TO A YOUNG DESIGNER JUST STARTING OUT?
Volunteer! Participate! Get to know others around you! As my friend Brian Singer pointed out,“The people sitting next to you, they’ll grow with you as you build your career. Some day down the road, you’ll help them get the job they want. Some day after that, they’ll help you get yours.”
IF YOU WERE NOT A DESIGNER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
Wandering the world aimlessly. Aspiring to be a film director, or working hard at being a painter.
A MANTRA OR SAYING YOU LIVE BY?
This amalgam of words by Goethe – “If you wish to advance into the infinite, explore the finite in all directions … All work of man is as the swimmer’s; a vast ocean threatens to devour him, if he front it not bravely, it will keeps its word. By incessant wise defiance of it, lusty rebuke and buffet of it, behold how it loyally supports him – bears him as its conqueror along … At the moment of commitment the world conspires to assist you. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
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