Parker Kuncl ’03, alumnus and interactive designer

Imagine a world where autonomous cars have moved to the next level. Rather than just being used for commuting, the “cars” double as hotel rooms that pick you up and transport you to your destination while you sleep. You wake up and your hotel room has parked itself at the beach with a wonderful ocean view.

This is just one idea running through the mind of alumnus Parker Kuncl ’03, who has his eyes —and designs—firmly focused on the future.

Kuncl, an interactive designer, says autonomous vehicles are one of the next big areas for innovation. He believes that they will be the next living room— or any room. Imagine a mobile Starbucks where you can grab a ride home and an afternoon cup of coffee simultaneously.

The ideas that change the way people work, how they relate, and how they move—these have been Kuncl’s focus over his career, working as a designer for companies such as T-Mobile, Samsung, PayPal and, most recently, Uber. He just recently accepted a position as Director of Design at Oracle’s Seattle office.

He was working on wearable technology before it became a trend, has created innovative apps, and has filed more than 20 patents. However, when he first entered college in Rhode Island, he planned to study oceanology. A Photoshop class sparked his interest in design, and he transferred into the Visual Communication Design program at Villa Julie College.

“I found out I was a designer the whole time—I just didn’t know it.” The design program, he said, was the perfect launch pad to further his education and career.

“Every class I’ve ever taken—every type of design or photography or art class—I have applied across many projects,” he said. “What I got out of the program was a foundational design education.”

After graduation, Kuncl went to graduate school at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. It was the West Coast that introduced him to interactive design. The iPhone was being unveiled at the time, and the need for interactive designers was exploding.

Being a designer in the technology field, Kuncl explained, requires not only generating ideas, but also designing, prototyping, and forecasting the futures of apps, products, and technologies that could become lucrative ventures.

This means Kuncl is always looking at the horizon. “We were charged with looking toward the future,” Kuncl said of working at T-Mobile and Samsung. “We were inventing what was coming out three years from now.”

At Uber, Kuncl focused on developing user experiences, especially at large places and events, such as airports, the Olympics, and Coachella. “Design has become a huge business need,” Kuncl said. “Design is what can put your product over the edge. That’s what sets you apart from your competitor.”

He is now helping others to put this design thinking into practice and taking ideas from concept to reality. He is a cofounder of Prototyping Superhero Workshop, which teaches inventors of all backgrounds how to get ideas out of one’s head, off paper, and into a hands-on model.

“Sometimes, people confuse design and art,” Kuncl said. “Design is not just what it looks like, but how it works … and the best design is something that barely looks like it was designed at all.”