What is design? It’s a trade, it’s a profession, it’s a state of mind. More than anything, design is a key to unlocking continuity and cohesion within the bigger picture of life.
Growing up with an industrial designer for a father, I was exposed to the value of design at an early age. My first experience working in the field came when I accepted the position of office boy (which, today, would be called an internship) in the offices of Harvard-educated architect and design legend Elliot Noyes. Mr. Noyes was a leader, a trendsetter and an expert curator of corporate character. He taught me that, in order to properly design for a corporate client, it was crucial – essential, even – to understand what made that particular client stand out.
Before I even arrived at ArtCenter, working under the tutelage of Mr. Noyes taught me about the importance of developing a vocabulary for design. The better I could sketch a concept, the more sophisticated the model would be. In those days, there was no desktop computing – good typography and color-matching work was done by hand. As a result, I was able to simultaneously hone an entirely new set of skills while expressing my ideas in a concise and clear fashion.
I arrived at ArtCenter with no small degree of real-life experience under my belt. It was there that I began to comprehend the many factors that constitute the work of an engaged, grown-up designer. I had been encouraged by many of my colleagues in Mr. Noyes’ office to attend the school – including ArtCenter veteran designer Al Hawthorne, still one of the most formidable creative minds I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. To me, the decision to attend ArtCenter was a no-brainer.
ArtCenter also enabled me to have lucid, intelligent conversations about design with people whom I respected greatly. Many of these conversations grew out of conceptually similar talks I would have with my father or Mr. Noyes. Mr. Noyes was a student of Walter Gropius and his Bauhaus principles who held court with the iconic likes of Paul Rand and Charles Eames. He was also an outspoken advocate of one of the medium’s most enduring truths – that design permeates and informs every aspect of our daily lives. In learning how to design furniture, buildings, appliances and more, we were learning how to design a world.
Mr. Noyes exposed me to the full palate of expression that was possible through design. His synthesis of skills – architecture, industrial design and graphics – opened up in me a whole new way of thinking. Combined with the sense of intense discipline I picked up at ArtCenter, I began to develop a new way of seeing the world.
It is our job as designers to stay in tune with the culture and what its needs are, so that we may better serve it.
Consider how we as human beings are bound by the same shared rituals. We eat, we work, we do our best to stay mentally and physically active. These are things that are practiced around the globe. Yet, environment matters. I always strive to understand the effect any given environment may have on the human beings who inhabit it.
When you look, you see different interpretations of rituals everywhere you go. Take automobiles, for example – say, a Volvo versus a Ferrari. Sweden vs. Italy. The Volvo archetype is the product of a culture with a deep sensitivity to protecting human rights and ergonomic factors. Ferrari, on the other hand, is automobile as artistic expression. Driving one is the equivalent of enjoying fine wine and cheese in a Tuscan town square on a beautiful day.
My point is that there is a kind golden thread that unites humanity in terms of what people need. In order to understand design, you have to understand both people and culture. If you can make sense of this idea – Boom! – congratulations, you’ve got yourself access to the largest market in the universe. In other words, if you understand how to access what is truly valuable to people, then you are in the business of designing for the entire world.
BS 72 Product Design
2013 ArtCenter Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award Recipient
Gordon Bruce Design