Ebay’s chief curator Michael Phillips Moskowitz believes that one great idea comes from having a lot of not great ideas. “I think all of us have to operate on a steady diet of plenty,” he told Fast Company. “We have to have a voracious appetite to consume and stay apprised of everything that is going on,” he said.
Moskowitz joined eBay when the online retailer acquired his men’s shopping site, Bureau of Trade, last September. Since then, he has redesigned the marketplace’s shopping experience. If you haven’t been to the eBay homepage lately, you may think you’re in the wrong place. Curated collections, each selling a lifestyle and story, have replaced the confusing mishmash of items for sale that used to clutter up eBay’s homepage.
The chief curator and editorial director’s “main mission is to inspire you,” according to eBay. To do that, Phillips Moskowitz sticks to a diet of inspirations that he characterizes as “snacking, grazing, and full meals.” Disclaimer: some of Phillips Moskowitz’s picks, like vintage magazines, are things you’d find most easily on eBay.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Haw-Lin: Hawl-in is not just a mood board. Haw-Lin is a great place, visually arresting, totally beautiful, irreverent, fun–I hate the word edgy–let’s just say provocative, intelligently provocative. What you tend to find on Haw-Lin is much more vibrantly eclectic and unexpected and surprising. It leads you to some things that you’re not going to find by just relying entirely on friends, or recommendations, or highly trafficked media sites. It’s not just, like, a typical mood board, consumable as such, where you just scroll and scroll and scroll. You can do that. If you go to the trouble of clicking on any one of those individual postings, it leads you to places that frankly should be on your radar.
NOTCOT: What I love about NOTCOT is that she goes to the trouble to hoofing it around graduate programs to find work that would never otherwise see the light of day because it’s not a commercially viable product, it’s strictly an exploration. It does arrest us from slumber, or push us out of the synaptic river of the mundane, or out of the ordinary or of the expected, of the routine. She couldn’t care less about plaudits, about praise, or in some cases about turning a paltry sum into a princely fortune–she doesn’t care, she just wants to do great work.
Whale Hunt/Jonathan Harris: This guy is like the pacifist version of Ted Kaczynski. Here’s what I mean: he is a genius, but doesn’t want to murder people. He will stow away, he will tuck himself into oblivion, disappear into obscurity, and then emerge a year and a half later with something that is totally brilliant. He is the object of everyone’s envy in the graphic design community. But he’s not a gun for hire. He works in the same way Bill Murray does: If you want to work with me, send me a letter–do not bother me.
Whale Hunt was a project from a couple of years ago. He always has something new and different. In a world like ours, where it’s a race not to the bottom always, but a race to the center, he loves and only feels comfortable at the margins. The Whale Hunt is just one example.
Playboy: The reason that I come back to print is that a lot of the hard and fast rules that govern beauty, relevance, and engagement in print or digital medium–those laws were set down like railroad tracks in the ’40s and ’50s. Everything we’ve seen today, is just an iteration of that–a twist, an adaptation. I still find these publications laid out in their original format totally inspiring. You can legitimately read Playboy in that era for the articles: it’s Nabokov, it’s Norman Mailer, it’s Abbie Hoffman.
Today, because there isn’s as much stigma around nudity, you can actually leave it on your coffee table and use it for decor. But I don’t use it for decor–I read it with a publisher’s eye.
Aspen: Aspen fits neatly into that same realm. A short-lived publication, in the era of Hunter S. Thompson running for mayor of Aspen. It’s the printed equivalent to what Black Mountain College once was.
Graphis Magazine: Graphis magazine from the ’60s and ’70s is just a showcase of everything that was then the bleeding edge of graphic design. It’s obscure. It’s a wonderfully refreshing reference when everything begins to bleed into the mundane, into the ordinary, into the familiar. This still stands out, like, ‘Oh, right, this is a path around a creative block.’ And it’s just a wonder to flip through editorial obliques of inspiration.
VSCO: I think the elite content creators on Instagram are increasingly turning to VSCO instead because of the the filters, because of the look and feel, because of the community. It’s a wonderful place to stumble and serendipitously encounter content that counts.
Velocity: It you’re trying to remain broadly culturally conversant you have to commit massive amounts of material, not to memory, but it needs to pass through your mind’s eye. If, like me, you’re struggling constantly for an utter scarcity of time, I think speed-reading apps like Velocity help. I can’t remember quotes when I read that way, but if it’s just going through the 15 or 20 most pertinent articles in any of the major publications–if you want to speed read Fast Company‘s coverage on why WhatsApp beat Facebook–this is the way to do it. You dont need to hang on or linger on every last word–it’s the big concepts, the basic ideas. Maybe I don’t have as absorptive a memory as other people.
Some of these things help overcome creative angst or creative confusion or lack of clarity, some are purely for enjoyment because again you get your greatest design work not just when you’re seized by an idea or sufficiently inspired, but when you’re frustrated. Muddling through is sometimes as important as waiting for the illusive epiphany. The other cases you have got to stay on top: You have to see as much as possible. Sometimes these corners, alleyways, hidden recesses, nooks and crannies I find awe inspiring.