INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — It was Seattle, the early 90s, and the punk-inspired grunge scene was growing fast. Pearl Jam and Nirvana filled venues. Long-haired drummer Mitch Harbaugh and his band booked gigs with big names.
“Everybody could only see it from the outside in,” Mitch said. “The grunge sound was no question a new thing that brought back rock n roll.”
In addition to music, the drummer had a passion for technology — born years ago on a Christmas in Santa Cruz when his mother gave him a Mac Classic. The machine had a 20-megabyte hard drive and 4k in RAM. Mitch began attending product seminars and became fluent in Adobe programs.
“I’ve grown up with Photoshop and Illustrator,” Mitch said.
Technology boomed, and again Mitch was in the right time at the right place.
“Mitch’s skill set caught up with him when computers came into play,” said friend and former boss Roger Blier.
Roger watched Mitch’s talent grow from designing brochures to creating mobile applications. When the Internet came on the scene in 1995, Roger told his then-employee to “go figure it out.”
“He was swallowed up in the wave of the direction the market was going,” Roger said.
Mitch took his knowledge and creativity to start companies and became a forerunner in the design world of mobile technology. His 1995 startup, Xylo, grew from 12 employees to 135 in six months.
Mitch described being 30 years old, sitting on the 22nd floor of the Bellevue Towers’ corner office outside Seattle, “going dude — ‘how did this all happen?’”
“The largest creative department in the world was signing off on my designs,” Mitch said of his work for Hallmark’s greeting card app. “It was probably one of the most awesome feelings you could have.”
This August, Mitch started his own design company — Wicked Melon — which specializes in branding, website and graphic design, and print production services.
Mitch said Wicked Melon is about getting back to the things he does great — after working for large companies and being part of a team, it was time to do something on his own.
“The whole reason behind Wicked Melon was to kind of get away from the structured and long process that goes behind the production of a product,” Mitch said.
Roger said Mitch’s positive attitude and fierce work ethic make him a success in the design field.
“He’s like a dog with a bone,” Roger said. “He’s not going to let a project be done until it’s done right.”
Wicked Melon refers to what Mitch calls a “crazy brain.” Underneath his fedora, he admits to having a wicked melon himself — an idea generator that doesn’t take much time off.
“It’s about being clever, being creative, being able to have that edge,” Mitch said.
Mitch said his interests lie in “the stuff you put your eyes on.” With Wicked Melon, the designer works to visually represent the companies that hire him.
“He listens to the vision of an individual,” Roger said. “He’s going to take that vision and refine it, encourage it and embellish it.”
Listening to music is also a part of Mitch’s design process. Mitch can be caught moving to a rhythm while he works—his speed dependant upon the pulse of the music.
Both of his offices, at home and on Tahoe Boulevard, have a complete setup for Mitch to listen to music, sit at his Mac and create.
“This has removed so many bar fights and catty conversations,” Mitch said, holding up his smartphone.
He is as quick as a teenager on his device, swiping his thumb across the screen and selecting apps.
“The last seven or eight years of my life have been ‘how do you navigate around this device cleanly, fluidly, without being frustrated and unsure?’” he said.
Mitch sees mobile devices not as a hindrance, but a companion to human interaction.
Mitch’s repertoire of mobile designs includes Mattel’s Rock‘em Sock‘em Robots, SkipBo and MadGab games; and Station Casino’s mobile betting app, as well as the app for the Dilbert comic.
“When I’m making it, I play it a lot,” Mitch said while tapping his smartphone screen to smack pesky cartoon rodents with a mallet.
Mitch designed the Whac-a-Mole mobile app after the popular 1970s arcade game. Mitch said he strives to keep the iconic features of the classic games.
“When I release it, let’s just say I don’t play it as much,” he said with a laugh.
Mitch’s roots of designing and drumming still make up the man’s life. Although much of his time is spent with his teenage daughter, Mitch manages to fit in music, and he still can be found in his fedora, drumming for local band Paul David and the Doctors.
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at email@example.com.
“It’s about being clever, being creative — being able to have that edge.”