People: Philip Otto, Designer and Cultural Engineer

People: Philip Otto, Designer and Cultural Engineer

By Raan and Shea Parton

Photos by Ken Tisuthiwongse

On November 19th we caught up with Philip Otto at our favorite flower shop in downtown Los Angeles, Glasswing Floral. A mutual friend introduced us to Philip a couple years ago and recently we have become neighbors as he has moved his office into the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles. Otto has an inspiring view on design with a unique foundation of being educated as a Cultural Anthropologist at Stanford. Philip helped us gather the following images to summarize his work and humored an interview to first preview with our new column over at and to help all of us better understand the life of an inspiring cultural engineer.

What is the future of your line of work?
In an age of robots, the hand is king. Since people have so much technology in their lives people intuitively desire to have more visceral experiences. So it is the designers job to offer a really memorable and amazing experience for the five senses.

What country is inspiring you creatively right now?
I am really impressed with Iceland lately. My son is three and he is in love with Bjork and I love Jónsi. I love music and I love that it is so different from what I do but there is so much that I see in my head from music and it helps me think visually.

How have you balanced life and work over the years?
I grew up north of Seattle so I recently figured out a pattern. I have always lived out in the woods and come to the city for work. I did that in Philadelphia and commuted to New York and my family and I have recently moved to a ranch in Topanga but my office in the Arts District and I have always loved that balance.

How has your education shaped where you are today?
I was definitely the kid rolling around in the mud on the commune. I was around when Pilchuck Glass school was being built, so I know Seattle well which definitely shaped me. I then studied Cultural Anthropology at Stanford, so thats really my training. After that I studied art at the San Francisco Art Institute and then received a degree at Pacific Oaks in Pasadena in Human Development. Which eventually lead me into teaching and the arts and design.

If you could give designers a quick word of wisdom what would it be?
Listen to your audience. I think design that is based in a reaction to its audience is the best, instead of telling people what they should like.


Philip Otto founded Otto Design Group in 1990. Philip works across a variety of media to craft environments and creates works which are both practical and poetic. Philip has taught Professional Design Practices at The University of the Arts, Princeton University, and has been the Facilities Director at Headlands Center for the Arts. His client list includes Anthropologie, Coca-Cola International, Nike, The Aldo Groupe, ABC Carpet and Home, Betsey Johnson, The North Face, Old Navy and Levi's. We are thankful for Philip's friendship and willingness to be an Apolis Nomad, a group of inspiring friends that contribute to the Apolis Journal and regularly field-test our collection on their travels to help us improve durability. For more details of how to become an Apolis Nomad, email us.

We decided to put our new neighbor to work and asked him to hand-select his favorite Apolis items for limited savings through Sunday, Dec. 1st. Then we coerced him to join us on Monday, December 2nd, as our first Apolis Nomad to host a Common Table Visionary Session at Apolis: Common Gallery (5-7pm). The goal of our Visionary Sessions is to invite Apolis Nomads to bring their inspiring talents and stories to our local community with a FREE hands-on workshop and Q&A session. The first 75 people to will receive 20% in-store savings, only available on Monday (Dec. 2nd). 

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