For this month’s Game Changers feature, we chatted with Pepin Gelardi. Pepin met Dagne Dover co-founder Melissa back in 2012 when they worked together at Fahrenheit 212. Now, Pepin is a partner at Tomorrow Lab, a hardware innovation studio for technology products here in New York City. Hanging out at the Tomorrow Lab office, we could sense the creativity sparks.
Tell us more about Tomorrow Lab.
At Tomorrow Lab, we make physical products, we’re inventing things, we’re engineering the bits that make products work, we’re discovering new technologies. Or, we’re employing existing and patented technologies and designing them into products. We’re able to shape technology by design. We’re really keen on being early, so that’s why we sort of define ourselves as inventors rather than developers. We’re changing how people interact with technology in various industries, such as agricultural and entertainment.
We’re also really proud of the design component of our projects. It’s super important to ask yourself who you’re making it for and why you’re making it. Making sure that it’s beautiful. And in the process of making something beautiful you challenge a lot of the technical nature of it.
How early in life did you realize you wanted to get into design?
Classic story. At a very young age, I took everything apart that I came across. I built a lot with Legos. I wanted to be an architect, or a scientist, or an engineer, or a designer. Arguably I wanted to be all of those things. There’s a place where you can think about what something’s going to look like, what it’s going to mean to someone, and also how it works at the same time. And that’s what I wanted to do.
I think everyone knows what they want to be, a lot of people are just afraid of what it is.
What is your creative process like?
Most creative processes are built around a habit. I do a small amount of work from home in the morning, because there’s so much on the business side that needs to be done. But I don’t do a lot of creative work there, apart for the occasional napkin or notebook sketch.
When I get to work, I sort of establish what I’m going to do that day and block out those times. For me, all work is essentially creative when it’s not related to the business. Anything where I’m doing CAD or drawing pictures or performing an experiment or building a prototype. I try to set those blocks early in the day, with personal admission that, because I’m running a business, people are going to interrupt that process and totally fuck it up. But that’s okay with me. It can be a little frustrating when you’re trying to hit a deadline but it’s part of my personality type. I’m very comfortable with distraction. The cost there is the switch where your brain has to get back in the groove with something. But the benefit is that sometimes, when your brain walks away from something and comes back to it, you see it from a completely different angle. There’s this lateral thinking magic that happens when you get distracted, and I embrace that heavily. I try to do something with good habits, but I don’t get upset when it all falls apart. When I’ve been trying to be really rigid with a process, that’s when I get mad at people. It makes me kind of mean and I don’t want to be that person. It’s really important to me to be nice.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
I went to school for engineering. That was the advice my family gave me. They believed that if I wanted to do design and engineering, I should do the hard thing first. There weren’t a lot of hybrid degrees out there at the time. I have a family of engineers, designers, creative directors, and artists, so it’s fairly intimidating. When I was done with that I was like, “Okay cool, but I want to be a designer.” I begged people for design internships, but they were hesitant since I went to engineering school. I did a poster series for concerts while I was in school to keep the creative muscle working and to better my graphic design skills. Finally, someone took mercy on me, a friend of a friend who was a Brand Director at Proctor & Gamble for fem-care. So I went to work on tampons and pads in Cincinnati for 6 months. There they were like, “You’re doing great, you’re making all these connections, but you suck as a designer. You clearly have the knack for it, but you have no training. You have to go to design school.” And so on I went to design school.
Who is your biggest mentor?
I’ve sort of always lacked a mentor. Instead, I’ve always sought out advice from friends who are smarter than me and generally more successful. So other people who run agencies, and people who have been in the design field for a long time.
I’ve also looked to my dad, who is an engineer. A lot of my process comes from his, which is a making and doing sort of approach. Ted [co-partner of Tomorrow Lab] and I feed off each other a lot too. He has a wealth of experience and I have a wealth of experience, and it’s a bit of a marriage like that.
Who is a badass in your life?
My wife is a total badass. She’s raising our twin kids and decided that she’s going to stay at home with them for a bit, which is a very hard thing to do. And she also carried a child for my sister which is insane. And amazing. And, generally, she doesn’t take shit from people, but in a way that is very generous and friendly at the same time. Then there’s my sister and my mom. The three most important women in my life are those three. I’m a total sister’s boy, mama’s boy, and humble husband.
In terms of the term badasses, I like a rule breaker. Anyone who sees the way the world is and what is expected of you and is totally willing to ignore that, while simultaneously not being an asshole. I’m very keen on not being rude. There’s no room for it. There’s barely room for all of us, no need to be a jerk.
What is your greatest character strength?
I’m extremely diplomatic. And it’s part of my creative process. I’m constantly trying to resolve things in conflict. I do that with people, but also with features and design priorities. I think all of the good stuff comes out of two things that don’t want to be in the same place. The natural order of things is actually chaotic and hot and sticky. It’s what we’re here to do, to try to create harmony amidst that chaos.
What’s coming up ahead that you’re most excited about?
I’m excited about my twins being potty trained. And I’m excited about this one project we’re working on here for bathroom dispensers. At Tomorrow Lab, I’m honestly excited month over month.