Interview With a Creative Individual – Joe Rohde

My first assignment for my Creativity and Innovation class. I was required to research a person I felt was creative, enough to be able to answer preset interview questions as that person.


I chose Joe Rohde, Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative, at Walt Disney Imagineering.

It was hard because there wasn’t a lot of biography information to go by, either on the internet or in books that were available to me. A lot of what I had formed in my final piece was based off interviews or presentations he gave that I watched.

A part of the assignment marks was creative delivery. We had to present the interview in a creative way. So, I decided to spend my two days off painting, printing and assembling the climax peak of Expedition Everest, a fantastic design achievement by Joe Rohde and ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. In the carts, I placed tiny envelopes with scared guests drawn on the front, and my different interview questions inside.

The carts are made of paper with Photoshop painting I did with my pen tablet, and assembled with glue and sticky tape. The tracks are coathangers bent to the desired shape. The structure of the actual slope was assembled by popsicle sticks with sticky tape. It was seriously tricky – any engineer could tell you that sticky tape is certainly NOT something you want to rely on when making structures such as this. I had to make use of what little resources I had! Special thanks to my manager over at the Contemporary for letting me use her colour printer.


For references on the ride, see the end of this post.

Here is the interview:


Joe Rohde – Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative. Walt Disney Imagineering.


1. What about your environment enabled you to be so creative?

I have been fortunate enough to experience diverse environments, both figuratively and physically. First and foremost, I was raised in Hawaii, and already began exposing myself to an alternative culture. Now, my career at the Walt Disney Company to date has allowed me to surround myself in an environment and culture where creativity knows no bounds, and the company embraces growth and expansion into new areas. It has encouraged my creative thinking and I am given free creative reign. However I also consider my environment literally; my travels to the far corners of the Earth have permitted me to really broaden my views and perspective on my surroundings. Curiosity and discovery is key with creativity. I was able to visit places few people had even been before. Places such as the Himalayas certainly assisted me when the time came to work on Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and even more so on Expedition Everest. Those projects demanded a willingness to think with new and unexplored perspectives.


2. Please describe how your mind works.

The sense of fear and risk one experiences when traveling to uncertain and completely different environments sparks the most creative and innovative ideas and opportunities within us. So I embrace it. I am optimistic to the unfamiliar, to change. If anything, I go looking for change. When designing, my experience from being previously placed in anxious situations in new parts of the world has allowed me to draw on those creative ideas I once had to draw on before. I don’t plan my ideas in advance, but rather act on my instinct spontaneously when a problem or pressure I am faced with arises. I don’t force my mind to think creatively. My creative mind has matured from an openness to diversity and exploration.


3. What personal characteristics contribute to your creativity?

I take small tokens of my visits with me, which are attached to my earring, as a sign of the creative freedom I have embraced, and the diverse places I have explored. I like the freedom of dressing eccentrically too, because if I encompass creativity in my personality as a whole, both inside and outside, I feel more willing to consider even the craziest of prospects. Limitation is an obstacle to creativity.


4. What barriers did you have to overcome?

My personal goals in life have always commanded an exertion of mental or physical (or both) energy. Trekking around the globe is a prominent example. I was truly terrified when given the task of the Animal Kingdom site, as it was completely unfamiliar, and lots of new ideas were being done that had never even been tried before. The challenge ahead had myself and the rest of us learning as we were doing. However, this was not unfamiliar territory to me, and learning through doing was something I had to face many times, so I drew on those experiences with a little faith, and the feats that were made in the park, especially Expedition Everest, were a testament to that. There was so much that had never been done previously, that required us to really think outside the box. We couldn’t really draw on anything others had done if we were designing something completely innovative.


5. What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my eagerness for knowledge, experience and adventure, which has then brought forth rare opportunities that I can add to my life’s checklist. Creativity doesn’t always have to be something you do in a job, but anything life offers which presents a challenge, or even just a different perspective. I’m proud the most of the achievements which at first presented the greatest obstacle, and which – after some pressure – I managed to overcome. The Animal Kingdom park was one of those, because I had to think long and hard, and really draw on past experiences of obstacles in order to overcome the seemingly daunting obstacles the project presented. And the achievement in the end felt earned.


6. What is your best piece of advice in encouraging others to be more creative?

Explore what life has to offer, not just in your job but in adventure and fun too. Your best creative ideas wont come from sitting at your desk and thinking hard, nor from reading all the books in the world that promise to make you more creative, or by designing or drawing over and over. Sure, they will help, maybe even a lot, but I guarantee that your best idea will pop up when you least expect it, and probably when you don’t even have a pen and paper nearby. Life needs some flavour. Creativity is the spice.




Expedition Everest

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