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Featured on Feb 04, 2011

Mimi O Chun

"I ♥ Life Experiments."


Truthfully, I'd love to say I was a perfumer, piano tuner, horse trainer, or some other equally obscure or character-building profession in a former life, but the fact of the matter remains that I'm the daughter of a fine artist and a computer scientist. My fate as a designer was pretty much sealed by the time I was a zygote. Yawn, I know. But throughout the years, I've been blessed to have worked with some fascinating people (a former boss who insisted on a monochromatic fruitbowl; always Bartlett pears and bananas), visited some breathtaking places (a sheep farm in the high mountains of New Zealand), and responded to some pretty unusual creative briefs (Design a traveling tour set for Steely Dan that embodies the 50s version of the future). I currently work as the design director of General Assembly, but in what remaining time I have, you can find me knocking back the occasional Stoli, tonic, and splash of cran, voraciously consuming media, or making and writing things in response—some of which can be found here.

  • Title: Design Director, General Assembly
  • Location: East Village, Union Square
  • Contact: @mimiochun

You're originally from a suburb outside of Philadelphia. Can you give us a quick summary of how you ended up in New York City and why you choose to live here?

I spent a lot of time in New York in my youth—I mentioned that my mother was a painter, which meant that we were often in the city visiting galleries or museum shows. We would stay with my godparents who lived in a loft on Houston Street, so my sister and I would wander the streets of Soho absorbing everything happening around us. I found the city's density and diversity intoxicating, and as a young designer fresh out of college, it just made sense to begin my career here. Since then, I've lived in other cities (including San Francisco and Chicago) and have entertained the notion of moving to a rural area or even abroad, but in many ways, I consider New York my basecamp.

What does it mean to be the Design Director of "an urban campus for entrepreneurs" that seeks to "transform industry and culture through technology and design"?

The short answer is that we're still in the process of figuring it out. The long-winded answer is that for the past nine months, I've collaborated with the founding team on General Assembly's holistic experience design. We began by articulating our mission and the values that define us, and then used them to steer the subsequent development of more concrete touchpoints (e.g. name, identity, web, signage, space) as well as the less tangible aspects of GA (e.g. mechanisms for community-building, partnerships, internal practices). In this next phase, our focus is working with our membership and other practitioners, academics, and thought-leaders to craft a curriculum and content that lies at the intersection of technology, design, and entrepreneurship.

What's your favorite place to eat around General Assembly? How about to grab a drink?

If I had to qualify my relationship with food, I'd say I'm an Efficient Foodie, in that I really enjoy experiencing (and reading about) the craftsmanship, culture, science, and politics behind food—but it's an indulgence that generally occurs in the evenings while in the company of friends, paired with riveting conversation and a bottle of wine. During the day, I tend to be overly preoccupied with work (I could probably learn a lot from the Spaniards with their siestas), so my food choices are a lot less adventurous and much more habitual—it's generally a soup or salad from Le Pain, with the occasional cupcake thrown in for good measure. But the area is filled with great lunch and dinner spots like City Bakery, ABC Kitchen, Eataly, Tarallucci, Spoon, and, of course, bastions of The Tom Colicchio Empire (Craft, Craftbar, 'wichcraft). As for watering holes in the neighborhood, I prefer low-key places with room at the bar—Park Bar's a favorite for that reason.

You mention in your first blog post that there are a "catacomb's worth of skeletons" in your closet. Are there any skeletons that you feel as if when looked at in retrospect, they actually ended up helping you get to where you are now (that you're willing to talk about now)?

By skeletons, I was mostly referring to friendships or relationships that have come and gone for one reason or another. I've always believed that every exchange, experience, or moment I've shared with another person impacts who I am today and who I'll be tomorrow. Our lives are intricate, labyrinthine flow charts—with an almost infinite number of individuals exerting influence throughout. To that end, I'm starting a new blog called Carriage Return—which is a repository for letters written to those from our past. My intent is to create a space for expressing the things we wished we'd had the opportunity, time, wisdom, honesty, or courage to say if circumstances were different today. At this point, it's really just an experiment, but my hope is that should it actually become robust (and populated with content beyond my own) it will function as a collective mirror of individual and universal stories—one in which we are able to recognize ourselves.

Design Director