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Former creative director of Twitter to PLNU students: Learn to learn

The year is 1994. David Adey and Doug Bowman sat in Hendricks looking at lines of code on computer screens. Bowman was the only one Adey knew who had a Macintosh computer.

“We’re on the internet,” Bowman said.

“What does that even mean?” his friends replied.

“Doug has always been on the edge of things like that. I really wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for Doug,” Adey said at an event Nov. 20 in Fermanian Business Center. Adey is a current professor in the department of Art & Design.

Bowman, a 1994 alumnus and former creative director of Twitter, came back to PLNU to share his experiences and accept an award as part of this year’s Homecoming events. This is the first time Bowman’s been back to PLNU since attending in 1994.

“Tonight is a lot about doors,” Bowman said. “Doors that are shut, and doors that are open, doors that you walk by, doors that you walk through because every single part of my career has progressed by taking the risk and walking through a door that I didn’t know what was going to be on the other side of it.”

During Adey’s first year of employment, he would call Bowman for help. Adey said he “faked his way through his first year of employment thanks to Doug,” who was his “technical hotline.”

“We had an agreement that I could call him up on the cell phone, we could do away with all the pleasantries of ‘How you doing?’ and all that kind of stuff,” Bowman said. “He was at Mentus, a design firm in La Jolla, and I could just ask him a quick question when my boss left the room about Photoshop, or Quirk or Illustrator or whatever, and if my boss walked back in, I could just hang up quickly.”

About 40 people attended the event, with a little less than half raising their hands when Bowman asked how many had Twitter accounts. To Bowman, PLNU was the place for him to start over and stop being the shy guy and get involved.

“This place means so much to me, it’s such a special place,” Bowman said.

Bowman first declared as an economics major his freshmen year at PLNU; three days into that year, he would go undeclared. As a student, Bowman would spend his energy on graphic design books from the section in the Bookstar on Rosecrans Place.

As a sophomore, he declared graphic communications as his major and used his business mindset to influence his design.

“I fell in love with type and color and balance and all these principles, that like, wow this all makes so much sense. There can be chaos and order at the same time.”

Bowman graduated and then moved on to Mentus, a design firm in La Jolla. After his time there, he helped redesign Bowman founded his own company, Stopdesign in 1998 and worked on it full time after leaving Wired in 2002, designing applications for companies like Google and Cathay Pacific Airways.

In 2006, he became Google’s visual design lead, helping redesign Gmail and Calendars, and then leaving Google for the creative director position at Twitter.

“Human was one of the most important things about Twitter because fundamentally Twitter was a human service,” Bowman said. “It was driven by people for people and it was all about people interacting with each other and staying up with each other. So human was first and foremost point of our principles.”

In 2009, when Bowman started at Twitter, two million tweets were sent out a day. Five years later, 500 million tweets are processed a day, or a billion every two days, a 25,000 percent increase over five years.

“Trying new things, new experiences, whether you’re leading or following, whether you’re celebrating or mourning, no matter what you’re doing, everything is a learning experience,” Bowman said.

He advised up-and-coming designers to become generalists, applying themselves to a range of tasks and to be reliable and take a project from start to finish no matter the requirements.

Bowman left Twitter about six months ago. His current projects are his daughters, Emma, 6, and Addison, 2. He will continue mentoring startups through Stopdesign and go back to work as needed.

John Marcotte, a junior graphic design major, said there were a couple things he takes away from this successful designer.

“Just always try your hardest and if you fail, just bounce back up and stay positive and practice. I’ve been learning always just practice whatever you do,” Marcotte said.

Adey said Bowman’s job didn’t exist when he graduated, and students might fare better with similar expectations.

“What he talked about tonight that I think is so inspiring is learning how to learn,” Adey said. “There’s so much talk about jobs and the market and everything and you want to plan what that job’s going to be, but often, the job you’re going to have doesn’t exist yet. So you can’t always plan that, especially if you’re in the design field.”

Cory Dabbins, a graphic design major with a concentration in advertising, said he will pay closer attention to opportunities in the future thanks to Bowman.

“It’s what I potentially want to do in the future so he gave me a lot of insight into the career and what my future will amount to be and it was really insightful,” Dabbins said.