David Neevel is a creative at Wieden + Kennedy, Portland and has worked on campaigns for Old Spice such as Mr. Wolfdog and Mano a Mano en el Bano. But the mustached and bespectacled man is perhaps best known as the inventor of one of the "Oreo Separator Machines" W+K introduced earlier this year to show the many ways highly creative people are able to partake in their preferred part of the sandwich cookie.
The latter is an example of Mr. Neevel's talents as "an artist with a physics background," which are now on full display on his new series Practically Useful on MTV (other) -- Viacom's quirky new digital creative content platform. In each episode, Mr. Neevel puts his Bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Oregon to good use as he comes up with new gadgets to simplify daily tasks--in the not-so-simplest of ways, like a pulley-like apparatus that leverages a refrigerator door to pop off a bottle cap.
Creativity spoke to Mr. Neevel about his inventionist inclinations and how he got involved in Practically Useful.
Creativity: How did you first get into inventing?
David Neevel: Well, a big part of what I like about doing art projects is learning how to do them. I'll have an idea and then need to figure out how to follow through on it, whether it's learning something new about putting stuff online, or learning to paint. And as I've kept doing projects, the ideas I want to make have gotten more complicated to the point where they could be called inventions. My first "invention" may have been my Advice Machine I made in about 2006. It had a microphone in front of a light box, and a little sign that said ask a question into the microphone to receive advice. And when the microphone picked up sound, the light box would light up and say "SHUT UP." The electronics of it was a hacked Clapper.
C: How did the idea for your new MTV (other) show "Practically Useful" come about? Did you pitch them or did they approach you?
DN: MTV approached me when they were starting work on their MTV(other) channel. They asked if I had anything I'd like to develop into a series and, as it happened, I had just gotten Practically Useful ready to go, so I said "check this out." It was good timing. It's pretty simple. I just look for parts of life that could be easier, and I ease them. Through technology. I try to focus on the less thought about of life's difficulties, because a lot of the more obvious ones have already been tackled by people on infomercials.
C: What, if any, involvement does Wieden + Kennedy have?
DN: While the agency isn't officially involved with this project, I got a lot of help from W+K people. Eric Fensler, a comic genius, directed them. Don't Act Big, a full service production company within W+K, produced them. Jason Bagley and Eric Baldwin gave more comic advice. And I got some great legal advice through W+K too. Entertainment documents are long and complicated and despite their name, not all that entertaining.
C: The Oreo Separator Machine was said to fulfill a "basic human desire to separate an Oreo." How do you come up with these inventions and how would you describe your newer ones?
DN: How about "Making life easier can be as simple as a little hard work?" I just look for parts of life that could be easier, and I ease them. Through technology. I try to focus on the less thought about of life's difficulties, because a lot of the more obvious ones have already been tackled by people on infomercials. But actually, weirdly, the Practically Useful inventions predate the Oreo Separator by quite a bit.
C: Any new inventions in the works?
DN: I'm currently working on the World's Heaviest Trackball and am very excited to get started on something called "The Safety Motorcycle," which I'm not ready to share details about just yet. Except for this detail: it's going to be awesome.
See how Mr. Neevel opens bottles and remains aware of his coffee cup levels below: