I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea back in 2015 when we both found ourselves at ADIDAS Future Innovation. From the get-go, it was evident that Andrea possessed an extraordinary knack for anticipating trends in the realms of footwear, apparel, digital innovation, and AI. It became clear to me that Andrea's forward-thinking mindset and ability to see beyond the present set her apart as a true pioneer, leaving a profound impact wherever she goes.
-Jason McGinnity, Play&Co Senior Designer
Play and Co: Welcome Andrea! Could you please begin by introducing yourself and sharing your journey as a designer? How did you arrive at your current position in the creative field??
Andrea: Thank you for having me. My name is Andrea Nieto, I am a multidisciplinary designer with a background in apparel design, footwear design and also creative strategy and marketing. My formal background is in apparel and textile design but just before graduating, I started taking industrial design classes. This desire to keep learning and expanding my skills has become a recurring motif in my life. There is always a push and pull between becoming an expert in a single area or being a generalist.
As I acquire new skills, I integrate them into my design practice. I believe that creativity and design are continuous practices. It's not about arriving somewhere, but about continuing to practice being creative and overtime principles, such as composition, proportions, balance and contrast, help me tell a story and are sharpened through the years.
Let's take a few steps back and talk about your journey as a creative. What steps did you take to get to where you are today? Were there specific moments of realization that led you to move from fashion design to industrial design? How did your understanding of the design process evolve over time and shape the path you are on now?
Initially, I started in apparel design and, after gaining a good understanding of it, I wanted to learn more. I delved into textile design to add depth to what I was creating. Then, I took industrial design courses to learn 3D printing, which was novel at the time. While from an outside perspective it looks erratic, experimenting, learning and exploring has been an edge that allows me to keep my work fresh and innovative.
My official first job wasn’t apparel design, actually jewelry design was my first stepping stone. The owner of BCBG Lubov Azria noticed a project from my industrial design class and offered me a position. After designing jewelry, I switched gears and decided to decline a full time role in interior design for an internship at Adidas Innovation in Portland. During my time at adidas, I was able to deliver across a variety of areas including footwear design, textile manufacturing innovation and digital experiences.
I believe that design offers endless learning opportunities about the world, and overtime my focus towards new digital design tools intensified and I became really interested in digital products and experiences leveraging the blockchain. While the interest was there adidas as a brand wasn’t ready for a project in this space until 2020 -2021 in which NFTs and cultural projects started to bubble up. I led together with a small group of really passionate people adidas first project leveraging the blockchain, it went live in 2021 called Into The Metaverse. The project launched as a collaboration with OG NFT collections and now more established brands : Bored Ape Yacht Club, Pixel Vault and Gmoney. The project was a little bit like a trojan horse because at the time, not many people internally knew about NFTs or the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which was funny to present internally. But we had a group of passionate people and key leaders who trusted us and saw the opportunity.
Then I wanted to get even deeper in the NFT space and joined WAGMI United as creative director. WAGMI United is web3 native company that acquired a 127 year-old League 2 English football club Crawley Town F.C with the intention to point it to a wider and new global audience. The goal was to grow the fanbase and focus on the community that spends time online, on Twitter and Discord and is passionate about NFTs. At WAGMI we leveraged the blockchain and NFTs to create a new level of fan engagement, connecting the club more directly with the fanbase, and giving fans a more active role.
Now I work as a design consultant for major brands supporting the creation of innovative products and experiences. Though not a linear journey, the connecting thread has been curiosity and eagerness to acquire new skills and leverage new technology.
It's interesting to see how you're balancing the traditional physical product with the digital aspects and not overstepping or jumping too far into the technology. What steps are you taking to engage with fans now and in the future?
So in my opinion, people talk about the Metaverse as if it's a place for gaming, or a virtual world or a destination. I don't see it necessarily as one or any of those, but rather all those things. How I've come to think of it is more like we are entering a new era in which we are starting to live portions of our lives digitally first, the process is gradual but we are already doing it. We're just digitizing a lot of our interactions, and that means everything from identity to our possessions to experiences.
So, that's what I think the Metaverse is – an extension of what we're already doing in our lives.
What are other clubs doing now and what are some of the user experiences you guys are creating for fans?
We have a ton of ideas we want to explore, but we have to pace ourselves since we’re working with a 127 year-old club.
For fans, it means that ticketing is going to be a big area of opportunity. A second-hand ticket marketplace already exists - fans have the potential to take control and profit from it instead of the platforms that currently control resale.
Experience is another big opportunity. Let’s say you hold an NFT because you’re a fan of a particular club or community. You can potentially have access to a whole different level of experience because you have proof of ownership that can unlock access in-person or online. And with digital wallets, you can prove that. That even has possibilities to be integrated into physical objects with things like NFC chips - wearing a jersey or special merchandise could give you physical access to an area of the stadium. So really, it’s going to be up to clubs to decide what they change in the real world to work with that connectivity - what’s happening digitally. All of that, I think, is super exciting and opens up new opportunities for value and revenue streams.
In terms of your question about what clubs should do right now - it really depends on their fan base. The newer clubs have a big opportunity to be disruptive and try new things because they don’t have the same history or heritage or brand risk as an established club. Older clubs will probably see what other clubs do and incorporate the proven methods. It also depends on what your fan base is all about. Certain sportspeople are more risk-averse; some are all for new technology that can elevate the fan experience.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But with these new tools enabled by blockchain, there are new opportunities to create community, experience, engagement - it’s really up to each club to sort of create their recipe.
Previously you worked in Adidas Future innovation creating physical products. How do you see Web3 and NFTs working with physical product and digital product?
I think the desire for physical products is not going anywhere. I think the desire to collect is actually inherently human, and that can be physical and digital. Here's the thing: we're seeing the renaissance of the digital design space because before, every image was fungible.
But now you can have proof of ownership of digital assets with immutable provenance and transaction history. The game has changed and we can now place value on digital art.
But with what's been happening in the world over the past year, people are struggling to justify spending money on intangible things. Why? Because we've cared about physical objects for so long and caring about digital objects and status is a new thing. So while it has its moment, the reality is when recession hits, people go back to basics. I still believe that in moments of recession or world turmoil, people care about real tangible things again.
Overall it is about balance and about creating solutions that take into consideration what's happening in the world, where your community and people are at, what they care about, what they need, and what your brand is all about. I don’t see physical products losing steam and there is actually a real opportunity to actually double down on sustainability for all physical products because it has a real impact on our world. I have this vision of a radical sustainable and utilitarian approach to physical products and a lavish approach to digital products. Perhaps we can meet in the middle by augmenting physical product appearance with AR and then we get the best of both worlds.
There's clearly a diverse range of design disciplines that you've excelled at, from fashion to industrial design to digital products. Is there a common denominator that you look towards for design inspiration, or how do you stay inspired and stay ahead of the trends? What's your method for keeping your finger on the pulse at all times?
I think it is important to pay attention to what's happening on the internet today. I feel like there's a global consciousness that you can tap into, to understand where people are and how they're feeling, what they are building and creating. So there's an element of staying informed about what's going on in the world, which really allows you to see where things are going and then there is also an element of individual exploration, usually in solitude. The mix of both gives me balance.
As creatives, we tend to unplug ourselves from the news and the world, which is understandable. But I think it's important to stay connected to what's happening around the world, to gain new insights. And to keep pushing your craft, you need to keep learning. I've found that to be the most helpful and refreshing thing to do.
The third thing is people and connections. When jumping into a new space I usually try to find mentors, a peer group and I usually always leave the door open for anyone that would like to learn something from me.
So that's how I approach things. Keep a gauge on what's happening in the world, keep moving forward on my craft, and always make time for people. Without people, it's not as fun. The most creative moments happen when you're enjoying what you're doing and having fun.
Great insights. Let’s switch gears for a second and talk about AI. How are you utilizing artificial intelligence in your professional and personal design explorations?
For every task I'm about to take, I actually ask myself lately, "Can I leverage AI?" And that's my first question.
I use AI to help me write marketing copy, to compose emails, for storytelling frameworks and ideas and to generate design concepts.
I have also used it to assist in the creation of scripts to be used within a particular 3d software like Houdini or Blender. I am continuously learning how to incorporate AI into my workflow.
Overall with all the text to image AI I am excited about people having tools to express what they're thinking in a visual way. I think this unique ability was in the hands of people who were able to draw and sketch but now the democratization of that skill is unlocking so much creativity and new ways for many people to express themselves.
If you were able to go back and tell somebody, like yourself, who was maybe setting out on the journey similar to what you've done today, what sort of advice would you have for them?
If you are curious about something go and explore it. The two areas one transacts in life as a creator/builder is knowledge and time and one you can more easily influence one than the other. I have found that the broader your knowledge base across different subjects, the greater the opportunities you create for yourself to unlock or create new concepts from seemingly unrelated areas. Lastly, the world is changing fast. Having an adaptive mindset and approach will help navigate the speed at which the world is changing. My other bit of advice would be to find mentors and collaborators. It is always more fun to build with others.