Jason Mayden: Design as a Lifestyle, Design as a Doorway

How inspiration and insight converge on the path to great products.

April 11, 2022

| by Kelsey Doyle

Designer and entrepreneur Jason Mayden, MS ’11, believes that design is a lifestyle, not a vocation, one that expresses values that inform every aspect of his experience. It begins with the humility to listen, to study, and to learn.

“I have to be a bridge. I have to make way for you, and I have to be able to help translate to those who want to work with people like us.”

In this video, Mayden discusses his path from a dreamy teenager inspired by a Black comic book character to 13 years as a top designer at Nike to the launch of his own company, Trillicon Valley. And the perspective that keeps him grounded. “The two jobs that I covet the most are being a husband and being a father,” he says.

Full Transcript

Jason Mayden (00:05): I think everyone has an origin story that matters and that’s important. For me, my origin story began at the age of seven-years-old, as I laid in the hospital fighting septicemia, which potentially could have been a terminal illness. I discovered a comic book based on my love for a fictitious character Batman. And in that comic book, there was a character named Dr. Lucius Fox. He was a black man. He was an engineer. He was a financier, the CEO of Wayne Enterprises, and he made all the gadgets for Batman. I read as much as I could about Lucius Fox, desperately clinging to all the narratives that exposed his brilliance in both engineering and making things, but also strategy and building bridges in community with the chief of police and the journalist.

Jason Mayden (00:43): And so he was the prototypical mentor that I needed at that moment to see all of my gifts and talents in one person. Now, while he didn’t actually exist in real life, I gave myself a mission to become him. Growing up on the south side of Chicago it was quite difficult. I didn’t fit in. I often was laughed at for my dreams and aspirations, because it’s unheard of to say, “Hey, I’m a nine-year-old child. I want to design gadgets for superheroes.” People really believe that you’re just pretending, but I was serious about my mission and my intent.

Jason Mayden (01:11): As I matriculated through primary school and to secondary school and into college, what I realized is that it didn’t matter what people thought about my dreams. It only mattered what I thought about my dreams. So I stopped seeking validation and acceptance from others. I stopped seeking a yes and I started to eliminate the way people can tell me no. Multiple that times my inquisitiveness and my creativity, and I ended up being Nike’s first black design intern in 2001. I came from a traditional art and design background.

Jason Mayden (01:38): When I left Nike to come to Stanford, I was a senior designer. I was the youngest person to reach that title at the time when I held it. So getting to Stanford was just, honestly, it seems like the natural outcome for my journey, but at the time as I was going through looking at schools, looking at different environments, it definitely was something that I felt was the highest aspiration for me to strive for as a creative.

Jason Mayden (02:01): On arrival at Stanford GSB, I quite honestly was searching for a community of like minded individuals who saw my talent as not being something that was integrated vertically into a corporation, but something that can transform the way we engage with society, the way we have difficult conversations, the way we design for belonging. Design is the filter you use to get to the most ubiquitous outcome that helps the most amount of people. And so our job isn’t to provide solutions. Most people think it’s drawing pictures, producing products. It’s really to ask the boldest questions to move humanity forward.

Jason Mayden (02:35): And so I don’t think we can move forward anymore in this intention-based economy without taking design seriously, not just letting us have a seat at the table, but letting us be the head of the table, design the table, source the table, because we have skill sets that are valuable to really move humanity forward and move each of these antiquated industries forward. We need to try new styles of leadership. We need to radically shake up what it means to be a CEO, what it means to be a founder, the look and feel of what it means to be a board member.

Jason Mayden (03:01): If you’re at the GSB, if you’re black, Latino, LGBTQ, woman, atheist, Muslim, Christian, whatever it is that you identify as, you are welcomed and you are accepted and you are needed. And that is the thing you have to understand. There’s a difference between being wanted for your skillset and needed to be part of the texture of a community. We have to radically challenge the status quo and we have to do that with love, compassion, and the willingness to sacrifice some of our opportunities for the betterment of the collective. That is what it means to be a servant leader and that is what we were taught at Stanford.

Jason Mayden (03:39): So I’ve often been asked, “Did I become Lucius Fox?” In my mind, I did. In my mind, I’ve dedicated my life to using my gifts and talents to serve others. I wake up daily and I have a practice of asking myself, “How can I kill my ego today?” I put myself in situations where I serve often. I reach out to people. If you text message and voice message and asked me, “How can I be there for you?” And I think that’s the embodiment of the spirit of Lucius Fox. He didn’t have super powers. He was super compassionate. He was intelligent and he used that to help people who were out fighting the world’s greatest issues and challenges.

Jason Mayden (04:13): So simply put, I believe I am become a Lucius Fox and it’ll always be in motion because they’ll always be problems for me to try to solve and there’ll always be challenges that can be met with love. There’ll always be people who feel left out that I can advocate for and speak up for. So that’s the mission of a person like Lucius is to never feel satisfied with the work, because the work isn’t done until all of us feel loved and feel seen.

Jason Mayden (04:39): I’m Jason Mayden. I’m a designer, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a GSB alumni, but most importantly, I am a father and I am a husband.’

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