2 Minutes With ... Mikell Fine Iles, Executive Design Director at Hook

His design-driven approach to celebrating and critiquing society and culture

Mikell Fine Iles is an award-winning design director exploring where technology and art converge, currently serving as executive design director at Hook.

Mikell works as an artist on murals and projects that examine questions about society and culture. He is deeply passionate about social and environmental issues, and has been facilitating various mentorship initiatives with emerging designers.

Mikell is based in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, two daughters and an ever-growing family of house plants.

We spent two minutes with Mikell to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Mikell, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco, in the '80s and '90s pre- (first) dot-com boom. I spent 14 years in Brooklyn, and moved to L.A. about a year before the pandemic started.

How you first realized you were creative.

I have always been into music and played a few instruments as a child, most passionately the drums. I drew a lot as a young person, and was always fascinated by graffiti and murals, but also nerdy things like city planning, architecture, airline branding and airport design. I thought I wanted to be an architect in high school, until someone told me a lot of math was involved.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Hype Williams.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I was a freshman at Clark Atlanta University and thought I wanted to be a filmmaker. In pursuit of that goal, I had a brief conversation with Herbert Eichelberger, who was the media department head at the time. He quietly listened to me explain why I wanted to join his department, and then suggested I check out the art department instead. I walked up the street to the art building and never looked back. I'm not sure what I said to him, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't remember the conversation either, but it altered the course of my life. Thank you, Mr. Eichelberger!

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. I've loved their music since childhood. As a creative person with graying hair, I really admire their ability to continue experimenting throughout their long and prolific careers. 

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Deem Journal Issue Two: Pedagogy for a New World. I'm spending more and more time mentoring young people from underrepresented communities, and this particular edition has provided me with examples and language to use. It's incredibly well-designed.

Your favorite fictional character.

Omar from "The Wire." RIP, Michael K. Williams. 

Someone or something worth following on social media.

Subway Creatures.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I get to appreciate more time with my family. I'm also learning to better focus on the moment that I'm in right now, and less on what may come later.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

ODB Nicknames.

A recent project you're proud of.

"…And Now We Have To Begin." I collaborated with Mark Fain (motion director at Hook) to create this animated short last year in response to the uprisings over police brutality. It addresses an important moment in society, and helps us contextualize where we are and how we got here. The design techniques we used were mostly analog, which is a rare treat for us these days.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

Wim Crouwel.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

The New York Times, "The Truth Is Essential: Life Needs Truth."

The Truth Is Essential: Life Needs Truth | The New York Times
Your main strength as a creative person.

My curiosity.

Your biggest weakness.

Chips and hummus.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Dancing with my daughters.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Wet socks.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Playing drums and making murals.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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