On the job: A chat with HP’s design guru, Stacy Wolff

The whiz leading HP’s design renaissance talks about the company’s new creative focus, “gorgeous products” and his family’s love of wiener dogs.

By Garage Staff — March 20, 2018

In our “On the job” series, we’ll talk with a few of the remarkable talents that power HP and find out what gets them out of bed on Mondays — and out the door on Fridays. Because at HP, we believe that to truly love what you do, you have to bring your whole self to work. Know a talent deserving of the spotlight? Email


With Stacy Wolff as the Global Head of Design, HP has received praise for a slew of new stylish products, like the HP Spectre laptop.

Courtesy of HP

With Stacy Wolff as the Global Head of Design, HP has received praise for a slew of new stylish products, like the HP Spectre laptop.

Beveled edges, rose-gold accents, "unbelievably cool" — those are just a few of the design-centric phrases being used to describe HP’s newest laptops.

Since emerging as a stand-alone entity in 2015, HP has racked up awards for a slew of bold, stylish products — from the chic, ultrathin Spectre laptop to the clever, compact Elite Slice business PC. Critics have heralded this new verve and creative momentum, especially at a time when some rivals who had long led the design narrative haven’t substantially updated their products in years. 

This transformation is being driven by Stacy Wolff, HP’s Global Head of Design, who credits CEO Dion Weisler and President of Personal Systems Ron Coughlin for shifting the company’s approach from a singular focus on technology to being driven by insights into customers’ lives and aspirations.

“We have some really gorgeous products now, and that is a renaissance,” says Wolff.  “Our products have always stood for quality and durability, but never beauty.”

Although Wolff is a decidedly high-tech designer, he describes himself as a blue-collar craftsman. Born and raised in Michigan, where his father ran his own industrial design firm, Wolff cut his teeth as a journeyman designer there, handling everything from tooling to manufacturing. Wolff says that while designing for function, he takes inspiration from how non-tech sectors — including fashion, art and interior decorating — fulfill consumers’ demands and dreams. “I lean more to the creative versus the philosophical side of design,” he says.

Wolff spoke with the Garage from his office in Houston, the home of HP’s design hub.  

How long have you been an industrial designer?

My whole life. I grew up going to my dad’s office because he’d work late. I would sit there and draw. (Those were the years of drafting tables, not computers.)

So it’s what you wanted to be since you were young?

When I got out of high school, I thought, “I don’t want to do design; I want to do architecture.” So I went to school for architecture. But after my first year of college, in 1982, when I tried to get a summer internship, the economy was really bad. I met with several architects, who all said, “Go find another career.” Talk about scared straight. I ended up doing what my dad did: industrial design. As much as I tried to run away from it, it became my future.

How would you describe your job?

I herd cats. With design, the result is never the direction you started in. Every project we’ve done, it’s been right turns, then left turns that make the journey special — and make the product better in the end. 

What kind of kid were you?

I got in trouble more often than not for disassembling my father’s stuff. My Dad had an old school rollup tape measure, for example. I wanted to see what was inside. So I completely disassembled it, only to not be able to put it back together. And then there’d be my father asking, “Where’s that tape measure?”

How do you stay ahead in design? There used to be a lot of room to run in technology, but today, everyone’s focused on it.

We tend to look outside of our industry for inspiration. We go to different locations. We go to Milan. We go to Paris. We go to New York. We look in non-obvious places. That’s where you can be quite disruptive.

One example is how the Milan furniture fair inspired us. What we saw there was an artisan quality, a handcrafted quality that is captured in our Spectre line — that sense of something having been created for one person yet made for many by incorporating beautiful handcrafted metals and finishes into the design.

Every project we’ve done, it’s been right turns, then left turns that make the journey special — and make the product better in the end.

What’s one thing you do in your job that might surprise people?

I spend more of my time telling people the story of each design and creation, versus sitting at a table and sketching. What’s changed in design today from 20 years ago is that it used to be more about the philosophy of the creation. But now, all of us love the story of the design. 

What we would find on your desk right now?

I’m heavily caffeinated, so if there’s not an empty Diet Coke can, there’s probably a Starbucks Venti on my desk, and it’s probably my second cup of the morning. I start my day with my Jura espresso, and it goes from there.

What’s something printed that hangs on your wall at home?

A calendar. There are other things on the walls, but the most important thing on my wall at home is the family calendar. When you travel as much as I do, you need to coordinate schedules with a 15-year-old daughter and a wife. It has to be a calendar I can see.

Do you collect anything?

Wiener dogs. Many years ago, before my wife and I had a child, we got a dachshund. And it’s a bit like Lay’s potato chips — you can’t have just one. I don’t know how many dachshunds we’ve had, but right now we have two.

What’s your favorite thing to do on your day off?

Lately, golf. My daughter made the golf team of her high school this year, so it’s a good getaway for an absent dad who’s on the road all the time.

Is there a thought leader or someone iconic you admire?

One’s father is always iconic for anybody growing up. So I’d say my father. In the tech industry, from a thought-provoking perspective, Elon Musk. You can’t deny grand goals, right? We do some projects with Tesla, so I’ve met him to show him stuff. When you present to someone like Elon, you step back and think, “This dude’s going to Mars, he’s going to make the Hyperloop, he’s made a car industry that everyone said he couldn’t — and I’m going to tell him it’s hard to make this part in the product?”

Can we talk about your name?

I’ve missed more Uber rides because the driver is looking for a lady named Stacy while I’m waving my hands and going, “It’s me!” and the driver is thinking, “That guy’s trying to steal the Uber.” The good news is, once we meet, you probably won’t forget me.


Wolff talks design innovation in this video.