It started with cars. As a little boy, Peter Granata fell in love with cars. Fast cars, sleek cars, cool cars. By age nine, he started a youthful career by helping out down at the corner tire store in Chicago’s Little Italy. Each Saturday, he earned the money to race down to the dime store and buy a model car.
After homework was done, he built model cars and taught himself to draw. He reproduced the pictures in magazine and then tried different ideas. The lines and styling were what caught his eye. His father also got him model boats that he floated in a backyard inflatable pool. He loved the idea of ships, but cars remained his first love. By age 21, he had dreamed up a vehicle seat memory device which he patented. Unusual in one so young, but Granata is that extremely rare combination of dreamer and doer.
His family, on the other hand, thought playing with cars was just a hobby for young Peter. As the eldest son of a second generation Italian family, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Peter Granata, Sr. was a politician. A senator. State House Representative. In Little Italy, in those days, there was tradition and there was “The Family.” An elder son didn’t challenge his duty to either.
“When I bucked the system, eyebrows were raised; my mother pulled out her rosary, and the family rumbled. But my dad understood. He gave me a nod, and I was off and running,” Granata reminisced.
A few years of working his way through school, and a side education by way of a few hard knocks, passed in a flurry. When Granata was 26, he got his first boat and, flying over the waves next to the tall buildings of the windy city, magic was made.
Musing over life’s quirks, he said, “I always thought I’d end up working in the automotive industry. Even though I loved the water and was captain of my swim team, it took a while before I realized work could be fun.” Granata began working in the marine industry, first selling boats and then designing contemporary recreational crafts for a manufacturer called Classic Boats. During those early days, a seven-year marriage that didn’t work out brought him another love. In a suburb of the city, elegant Barrington Hills, he designed his first house, rich in architectural details, including an indoor pool so he could swim year round.
A few years later, Granata decided that the cold, northern winds and edgy city life of Chicago wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted. He moved south with his longtime designer and illustrator, Phil Stark. First considering Amelia Island, he ultimately settled on the lush beauty and relaxed atmosphere of Hilton Head Island.
On Hilton Head, his creativity flourished and so did his business as an independent boat designer. Granata is now known as the number one designer of recreational boating. He can walk around local marinas and point out boat after boat that his design firm helped develop.
To what does he attribute his success? Years ago, a boat dealer at a boat show, who mentored the young and struggling design firm, gave him a small piece of paper. On it was written a couplet about commitment. It ended with Goethe’s words. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Granata still keeps it in his wallet. Commitment, perseverance, and being fearless in the face of a challenge is what the entrepreneurial spirit is all about.
Granata also gleaned much from the former head of design with Ford Motor Company, Jack Telnack, whose career he followed closely. Eventually, Granata had a chance to meet his idol, and the two formed a friendship that is still strong.
Along with boat design, these days Granata also writes a blog for Boating Industry and is one of the calm voices of the industry. Several years ago, he started a nonprofit to help facilitate the exchange of education and ideas in the boating industry. The Marine Design Resource Alliance has become a valued source of inspiration and a vehicle for young designers to test their wings. It provides the organization for manufacturers to offer a scholarship program to mentor young designers worldwide as he was mentored.
Granata has also been a guest instructor in the industrial design department at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
Since Granata has essentially reinvented the industrial designer’s purpose, Boating Magazine recently recognized his contribution as a “Game Changer” (July 2010).
“The difference,” he explained, “is that a designer is like a conductor of a symphony of ideas—arranging ideas into the needs of the eventual consumer.”
This way of thinking is unusual, because most businesses link their departments of sales and marketing as one department, with design and engineering as another. Granata uses the reverse marketing and reverse design way of problem solving. He starts with the consumer, because he understands that sales and engineering are about the company and the hard numbers. Design and marketing are about the end users and their needs.
“Engineers deal with probabilities and designers deal with possibilities,” said Granata. “All four departments overlap, but it’s a good idea to start with the consumer’s goals and not with the company goals.
” Inspiration comes from many places, so a good designer is awake to possibilities wherever he is. From watching the graceful swing of a woman’s walk as she pushes a grocery cart to wobserving the placement of a window in a dull concrete building, Granata engages with the world.
Granata has continued to grow is design signature outward from boats. He also works with other recreational vehicles such as the 4x4 and, occasionally, elements such as OEM steering wheels. Of course, he still designs houses that are functional and beautiful. Because in good design, form follows function.