King of Creativity

Duane King
Duane King (Photo by Ryan Chisesi)

As a kid, Duane King drew pictures of spacecraft and 18-wheelers.

“I didn’t realize that I was also drawing logos,” he says.

Now his designs have been used by Apple, Facebook and Neiman Marcus. He co-created the Nike Better World website that introduced parallax scrolling, landing him a spot on Fast Company’s Top 50 Most Influential Designers in America in 2011. For his most recent personal project, he oversaw the reproduction of a plaque that was aboard the Pioneer 10 spacecraft launched by NASA in 1972. It was funded within 30 hours on Kickstarter. 

“I’ve certainly had an interesting career full of good fortune,” says King, who attended UNT from 1988 to 1992. “I’ve worked hard too. But it amazes me because I’m just figuring out my career as I go.”

Coming full circle

King was always brimming with creativity. And he always had a fascination with space. Those elements have connected throughout his life.

His father, an engineer, recognized his talent. He asked his 8-year-old son to draw an artistic version of 3-D wire rope tension equipment, which tested the stress of elevator ropes. The company paid King $300.

“It definitely opened my eyes to a career,” King says.

King, who grew up in Boerne, first took classes at the University of Texas at San Antonio, then transferred to UNT for its well-known communication design program. He took to the city, living on Fry Street (“I was very Denton”), and to the program, winning the first-ever College of Visual Arts and Design award for Outstanding Portfolio in Graphic Design.

He was just 12 hours away from finishing his degree, but Dallas advertising agencies were recruiting him for jobs. After briefly working for Sibley-Peteet, King returned to UNT and studied painting under Rob Erdle. Then he left college again to work for Dallas-based Focus2, an agency that specialized in luxury brands. 

His career took him to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally to his current residence of Portland, Oregon. With the firm of Wieden+Kennedy, he began working on projects for Nike. The most significant of these was Nike Better World, the website that introduced parallax scrolling, where the background of the web page moves at a slower rate than the foreground, creating a 3D-like effect. It is now used on smartphones.

But, after running an agency focused on Nike Interadtive, he took a sabbatical in 2015 after the death of his parents.

“After gaining recognition as an Influential Designer from Fast Company, I started questioning what influence meant. It felt like a responsibility,” he says. “So I began to think, how am I a good example?” 

At the end of his sabbatical, he decided to make something for himself. He remembered his fondness for Pioneer 10, a spacecraft that blasted off in 1972 and is still drifting in space. In fact, King loved it so much,  was the first URL he ever purchased.

Pioneer 10 carried a plaque, designed by scientist Carl Sagan, Frank Drake and Linda Salzman-Sagan, that serves as a galactic greeting card communicating when Pioneer was launched, from where, and by what kind of beings to scientifically educated extraterrestrials should they encounter it. It bore a message for aliens with drawings of the spacecraft, solar system and male and female bodies.

King found the original engraver and launched a Kickstarter to create historically accurate replicas of the plaque. His carefully crafted campaign was funded within just 30 hours. And, as a result, King made new friends with the Sagan family and NASA officials, winning attention in Smithsonian, Popular Mechanics and Fast Company magazines.

His career has come full circle.

“As a kid, I drew spacecraft,” he says. “When I was a young designer, I bought the domain name. And as an adult, this magical project that overlapped what I’m good at, what I love and what the things the world needs – design, space and hope. I feel very lucky because it’s an alignment of my passions and my abilities with the zeitgeist.”

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