Clement Mok's many achievements are not easy to pin down.
Designer. Publisher. Educator. Entrepreneur. CEO. Visionary. Mok
“gets” technology in the way few designers do. One of the most
entrepreneurial designers working today, Mok does not merely use
digital tools—he makes them.
Mok hit the ground running, from his early days as an art
director at Apple Computer to his current role as principal of The
Office of Clement Mok. He absorbed an entrepreneurial mindset
nearly from the start. “At Apple we believed we were given a
mandate to change the world,” Mok remembers. “Technology was an
enabler. At Apple you weren't merely a designer. You were a Silicon
Valley startup with a skill in design.”
That mindset would serve him well when he left Apple in 1988 to
found Clement Mok designs (CMd), a company that operated at the
intersection of technology, design and business. “I started my
studio to design for software startups,” Mok says. “Whatever the
new technology was, we were going to follow it.”
Mok has left few opportunities unturned. He proceeded to found
CMCD, a royalty-free stock-photo house that gave designers access
to libraries of iconic images. A few years later he helped launch
NetObjects Fusion, a web-authoring application designers could use
without learning a line of code. Dissatisfied with the limited role
designers were forced to play in the new, networked economy, Mok
literally wrote the book on it: Designing Business: Multiple
Media, Multiple Disciplines provided a prescient set of
instructions that explained how design, new media and business
would play together in the new century.
When the internet changed the business world, Mok changed his
business, too, transforming CMd into the interactive agency Studio
Archetype. Within a year his head count had grown to more than a
hundred and revenues to more than $20 million.
With the new economy came a demand for new business models.
Seeing that opportunity, Mok combined Studio Archetype with global
consulting firm Sapient in 1998, contributing hundreds of millions
to the bottom line and proving that strategic design brings
enormous wealth to business.
If you use a Mac, thank Clement Mok. Mok was instrumental in
conveying the Mac sensibility that endures to this day, that here
is a friendly, simple computer anyone could use.
Following the launch of the Apple II, III and the Lisa, CEO
Steve Jobs had come to understand the need to create a brand
experience at the highest level of quality. Tom Suiter, fresh from
his work on Mercedes-Benz for Landor Associates, was brought in and
tasked with developing an in-house team to lead Apple's branding
and corporate marketing. “To do that, I had to get the best
people,” Suiter recalls. “And in the early 1980s, getting them to
leave New York City for an office in Cupertino next to the Shell
station, well, that was a stretch.”
The best Suiter could find? Clement Mok. After stints at CBS and
Donovan & Green in New York, Mok, who had graduated from the
Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, was primed to return to
California. “What Clement understood was how a brand was much more
than a logo—how everything you design permeates the process of
customer experience. Every step of opening the box of the original
Macintosh was beautiful,” says Suiter.
Mok's first project as newly minted art director was to set the
graphic standards for the original Macintosh user manuals in 1983.
One manual in particular, for MacPaint, was a gem of clarity and a
personal favorite for Mok. What he conveyed in those manuals was
nothing less than a sea change in the way we would look at
technology. Technology was no longer signified by HAL, the scary
mainframe from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was friendly,
empowering, and it would change your life.
In January 1984, Mok left the Mac team and became art director
for Apple Corporate, helping to launch the Apple IIc and leading
the design for all event marketing and corporate
communications—including a string of award-winning annual reports.
When Jobs exited the company in 1985, Mok also became responsible
for design for the education market, which then comprised a third
of its revenues. He was all of 27 years old.
As Tom Hughes, the former Apple creative director and Mok's
boss, remembers, “Even as a young designer, Clement went into each
project with an artful sense of design and expressed a wonderful
fluency through his work. Above and beyond the work, Clement's
personality was remarkably graceful under pressure. He carried a
serenity and presence—I don't know how else to put it—that was
Mok's work for the Mac became the de facto design standard for
Apple. Hugh Dubberly, a creative director at Apple during the early
years says, “There was a time, for a year or two, when Clement knew
everything there was to know about using a Macintosh.
In addition to making the technology understandable, Mok's
biggest achievement, according to Dubberly, was “getting computers
into the hands of designers.” At the International Design
Conference in Aspen, Mok and the Apple team would set up their
computers, and demonstrate HyperCard, desktop publishing and
on-demand badge-making, while design leaders and other notables
such as Henry Wolf of Esquire, Frank Stanton of CBS and
David Hockney strolled through. “It was, Dubberly says, ”incredible
exposure for computers at a time when computers were frightening.
For many designers, Clement provided their first hands-on
experience with computers.“
Throughout his career, Mok has had the knack of working at the
inflection point of technology, design, business and culture.
According to Terry Swack, who started the AIGA Advance for Design
initiative with Mok in 1998, Mok has consistently been able to
”define what we are doing, explain why it is important and teach
people how to do it.“
To ensure design students were equipped with the skill sets
needed to prosper in a changing field, Mok funded a term-length
workshop, informally known as the Mok Institute, at his alma mater,
the Art Center. The program emphasized open-ended exploration,
research, interdisciplinary study and teamwork—all the necessary
tools to succeed in business.
At AIGA, where Mok served as president from 2001-2003, ”Clement
brought a much needed infusion of business perspective to the
organization,“ Swack says. ”He led the initiative to integrate the
business world into the design community in a fundamental, tangible
That same urge previously led Mok to merge Studio Archetype with
Sapient, a firm noted for its technical expertise at helping large
companies solve business problems. ”When we acquired Studio
Archetype, Clement Mok helped change the game,“ Sapient co-founder
Jerry Greenberg says. What impressed Greenberg then about Studio
Archetype was ”the absolutely consistent brilliance of the work
they did for their clients. In the industry it was regarded as the
best of the best.“
Mok is proud of his accomplishments at Sapient. ”Everything I
had done before was about making things. Sapient was about moving
design to a business-strategy skill set that the internet
required,“ says Mok. The new design discipline demanded brand
strategy, IT, information architecture, information design,
expertise in user experience, usability and best practices in
consulting, including ethnographic research. ”All these practices
were integrated into Sapient's business. I wanted to build a
different model for a design firm, beyond the traditional
Today, Sapient books revenues of $600 million. Greenberg
estimates that fully $300 million comes from the interactive
efforts that Mok helped launch in 1998. ”The vision that we and
Clement shared about where Sapient could be is responsible for that
achievement,“ says Greenberg.
From the earliest days of the Macintosh to the dot-com bubble
and today's consultancies that employ thousands in a networked,
digital, mobile, global and totally wired economy, Clement Mok has
staked out a role as visionary practitioner, entrepreneur and
educator. Today, he is the reason phrases such as experience
design, information design, information architecture, interaction
design, strategic design, brand identity, interface design and
customer experience are part of our lexicon. His legacy has changed
the way we practice design.
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