John Nottingham and John Spirk, Industrial Designers


John NottinghamSuccessful design blends simplicity with surprise; like timing, it can change an entire industry. Artists, designers and inventors John Nottingham and John Spirk—the forces behind Nottingham-Spirk Design Associates, Inc.—have gained national attention and respect for their innovative product design work. From their stunning new offices in a magnificently restored historic building, Nottingham and Spirk direct more than 50 employees—many of them designers from the Cleveland Institute of Art’s nationally renowned industrial design department or engineers from Case Western Reserve University—in creating dramatic results for Fortune 500 clients and fast-growth entrepreneurial firms.

Their most recognized inventions include the SpinBrush, which they sold to Proctor & Gamble (beating out P&G’s own research and development team) and the Twist & Pour, a plastic screw-top paint container, which they sold to Sherwin Williams. Nottingham-Spirk holds 400 commercial patents.

“John plus John equals more than two guys having fun making stuff that makes our lives better. Their combined brainpower, their thirst for thinking out of the box when they’re in their business mode and their ability to grow wealth for investors make this duo poster boys for success,” says Cleveland Institute of Art president David Deming. Both Nottingham and Spirk graduated from CIA with industrial design degrees in 1972. Nottingham serves as vice chairman of the institute’s board of directors, and Spirk also actively serves. Both are very involved in other civic ventures throughout the community.

In business since they graduated from school, Nottingham and Spirk, along with partners and investors, have co-founded 12 successful start-up companies and are founders and general partners in Consumer Innovation Partners, the first fund in Ohio devoted exclusively to the development of consumer products.

Nottingham, Spirk and their colleagues often find inspiration, surprisingly, at Wal-Mart, where they never fail to find products in need of an upgrade. “People get locked into linear thinking and don’t see the next step,” says Nottingham. “Milk jugs had been around forever, but the spout was in the center. We put it in the corner to make it easy to pour. It’s dumb stuff like that that's usually right under your nose.”

Humbleness aside, Nottingham and Spirk’s creative flair makes “dumb stuff like that” the often overlooked genius of the stuff in our lives.

—Amy Sparks

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •