Above the Fold: Tobin Dorn, Design Director
In Above the Fold, we spotlight individual members of Coroflot's vibrant creative community. The idea is to take you behind the scenes and inside the minds of talented Coroflot members who we think are doing exceptional work. Coroflot was created by designers, for designers, and Above the Fold is the place where we can talk to creatives about work that we not only love, but think you'll love too!
Tobin Dorn, American designer, is no stranger to footwear design. For the better part of two decades the Brazil-based sportswear designer has been immersed in his work. This includes years working in various roles for iconic brands like Puma and FILA, the latter of which he still does regular work for. Tobin moved from New York to Brazil in 2001 and launched the New Level Design, aka Tobin Dorn Design Studio. He uses his expertise to offer consultancy design services for sport design and branding, project management, art direction, presentations and MMA (mixed martial arts) projects.
When he is not involved in design, Tobin devotes himself to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Although, sometimes work and play happen to cross paths, and Tobin has created official logos for UFC champions such as Anderson Silva and Mauricio Shogun Rua and has designed apparel concept collections for the UFC. With his years of experience and tireless passion for design, we were eager to pick Tobin's brain about his professional path and creativity.
Was there a specific moment in life where you realized you wanted to pursue a creative path?
Tobin Dorn: When I was a young boy growing up in Miami with my family I was always so impressed with my father's storytelling because of all the magical images that were created in my mind when I would listen to him. I began trying to draw them and to my surprise they just appeared on the paper so easily. I knew right there that I had an ability that came to me easily and caused a fuss among my friends and family. I knew that I had to use this talent and explore my limits and see where it would lead. I was 4 years old.
Who are your design heroes?
My design heroes include Syd Mead, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, N.C. Wyeth, Walt Disney, and Mark Fredrickson, as well as some memorable professors at Pratt Institute: Dave Pasalacqua, George Pratt, Jerry Contrares, John Wyman, Ray Barber and Ruth Guzik. Some old friends that I greatly admire and respect and who have inspired me are Joe Davis (footwear designer), Bernard Chang (comic book artist) and Kadir Nelson (illustrator).
Can you share some details about your most recent project?
I recently accepted the offer to head up the footwear division at FILA China. I now oversee and lead design, development, merchandising, production and quality control for the Heritage, Performance and Kids lines.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I was leading footwear for the FILA brand in Brazil for the past 4 years at the DASS Creation Center and focused primarily on Performance based products in the Running, Tennis and X-Training categories. I will use that unique experience in my current role with FILA China as VP of footwear which will allow me to greatly influence the brand in both the Performance and Heritage categories. Preserving the Italian DNA in the Heritage lines for a brand that is over 100 years is a great responsibility and innovating today's Performance collections that needs to create a credibility that the brand once had is also not an easy task. But we are building and strengthening the teams and have great expectations in the Asian market with the FILA brand. It is considered a premiere and luxury sports brand there and we need to continue down that path. Stay tuned for 2018.
Walk us through some of your process for creating.
My process is simple. I never know when or where I will become inspired so I always try to stay open-minded to my surroundings. I listen and observe much more now than when I was younger and this has proven to be a great formula for success in creating footwear and product stories. I collaborate with many departments within a brand that involve design and development, planning, merchandising, marketing, brand communication and sales. These interactions have allowed me to understand the business side of what we are doing and not just the design side. In the end we need to give the consumers something that they desire and value and can identify with. It's not about what we think we have the capacity to deliver but what the consumer is needing. That is what we need to get them and need to find a way or create a way, but not create an excuse. I don't like limits. So I like to learn the rules first, so I know how to break them afterwards and find solutions that deliver results.
Are there any projects (professional or personal) that you are especially proud of?
I am proud to have designed and consulted for the PUMA brand throughout my career. I designed tracksuits for Olympic champions who competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and created boot concepts for the first X-Men movie back in 2000.
I also am super grateful and proud to have grown with the FILA brand. I started my career with the brand in NYC back in 1995, when I was hired by Kevin Crowley, who inspired and mentored me for several years. He always told me that every shoe has a story and it was our job as designers to create those stories and tell them in captivating ways that will be remembered.
I worked at FILA Brazil for many years inside the design & prototyping center that was a mecca for design and development explorations called the DASS Creation Center. Here I really explored the production and development side to footwear and learned a great deal about German/Brazilian efficiency and problem solving. I created performance projects and stories for Kenyan marathon champions to pro tennis players to cross fitters, who put all of our designs to the test. This was my greatest classroom and where I learned the most about the industry, athletes, dreams & story telling. I am proud of all those experiences.
What tools (physical or digital) do you find yourself using repeatedly?
I like to draw to express my ideas in the beginning. And then I take it digital. I work with graphic designers, photographers and art directors on a daily basis. So with a story and a sketch we collaborate to communicate an image that can bring ideas to reality. For me if I can see it, then I will believe it and finally I will achieve it.
Do you have a ritual for getting in work mode (music you listen to, certain exercise, food you eat) aka a productivity tip?
I would have to say that to be motivated and disciplined is my ritual. I am not always motivated so that is where discipline comes in. Get up early, work hard, be honest and be thankful. Then when I am motivated it gets turned up to 200%!
I think the most important preparation to getting ready to create is to just always be ready. You never know where and when you will be inspired or get that next big idea so I just never really turn off. Discipline is key. I also like to relax by training martial arts (Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) and this allows my mind, body and soul to become aligned and balanced. So my preparation never really starts or ends. I love electronic music and couldn't design as well with out music. They really go hand in hand for me.
Outside of your professional life, do you have any other creative outlets or hobbies?
I have been an athlete since I can remember and am very competitive. I played soccer, football, weight trained, ran, rode BMX, and really connected with martial arts. In particular, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I also love to play chess and spend time with my family, where I get the spiritual support and satisfaction I need in life. I am a competitor. I do not like to lose. So I think of competition, as a challenge that I can never really lose at. I either win or I learn.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of your Coroflot portfolio?
I would say that Coroflot is one of the most important resources a creative can have today. Its reach is so vast you really must take the time to organize and plan the image you wish to transmit and share with the world. I am always so inspired to see the other portfolios on this site. Take the time to prepare your portfolio, describe what you do best and be honest.