Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Paul developed his understanding of technology and design while mixing paint and fixing windows in his father’s hardware store. It was here that the seeds were sown for his future calling. He graduated from George Brown College in 1974 with a degree in Graphic Design and upon graduating moved to Ottawa to work in the world’s first digital typography company. While settling into his new digs he was frustrated while trying to find a window treatment suited his practical and aesthetic needs. Motivated by this design challenge, Rowan solved the problem by designing his own window treatment, a printed-paper window shade. He presented childhood friend and entrepreneur Les Mandelbaum with the shade idea and Umbra ('shade' in Latin) was born.
As VP of Design at Umbra, Paul oversaw the efforts to create purposeful, intelligently designed products that people want. He has created innumerable successful designs, while managing diverse internal and external design teams. Umbra produced a prolific flow of new product under Paul’s visionary leadership, always staying true to the Umbra mantra: Design products that provide style and function for every room in the home.
In 1998, Paul Rowan took home the Best Design Strategy Award from the Design Effectiveness Awards, which is Canada’s only professional, multidisciplinary competition. In addition to sponsoring numerous educational institutions, Paul was awarded the Best collection award from New York’s Accent on Design Show in 1999 and has been the Chairperson of George Brown College's Design School advisory board since 2000. The year 2000 saw Paul Rowan’s mesh garbage can design being added to the permanent collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as well as an Honorable Mention by the City of Toronto Architecture and Urban Design, for Umbra Ltd.’s world headquarters. In 2001, he was also granted the Premier’s Award for Outstanding Achievement from the colleges of Ontario. In October of 2002, Paul Rowan was honored for his outstanding contributions in the field of design in the City of Toronto by the TD Centre’s Salute to the City Award program. In the same week, The Fashion Group International presented Paul Rowan with a Tiffany Star for his contribution to Canada’s fashion and design worlds at the Night of Stars event.
In 2010, Paul was inducted into the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends as a Visionary.
Paul devotes most of his time to the design community. He speaks regularly to both students and teachers of design. His engaging style (often accompanied by a harmonica solo) and knowledge of today’s international design market and technologies give him insights that educational institutions appreciate. He has spoken at Edinborough University, George Brown College, the Ontario Economic Summit, the Idex Design Show and the Schulich School, York University, and more. Most recently, he gave a Ted Talk at TedX Toronto on Design Hacks.