I’ve said the following at countless academic presentations and in just as many conversations with friends and colleagues:
Nothing I’ve accomplished in my decades-spanning career would have been possible without the time I spent at ArtCenter.
As a young person, I was told that the only way to make a living as a creative was architecture. For a while, I thought that’s where my path would take me. At the time, I was interested in the architecture program at USC – that is, until my parents sat me down and dispensed the bitter truth that although I was accepted, USC was never going to happen for me. As an alternative, they suggested I look at state schools. I ended up at San Diego State. My sister had also gone there, and it seemed like a good fit at the time.
After a stint of studying graphic design and spending idle afternoons at the beach, I had an epiphany: I had to get out of San Diego as soon as possible. I felt that, if I didn’t, I would be 50 years old, designing t-shirts by the waterfront.
One day, while burying my head in books at the school library, I stumbled upon a catalogue that featured ArtCenter. This place was so close – it was in LA, just a stone’s throw away from where I was going to school! Without so much as a second thought, I asked a friend to give me a ride to the downtown LA campus of ArtCenter. Although the student exhibit was intimidating, I submitted my portfolio, was accepted, and I proceeded to embark on a journey to sunny Pasadena, where ArtCenter awaited me.
I was part of the first class to attend the Pasadena campus. ArtCenter kicked my butt every waking second of every single day. I loved it all. It was like flipping a switch inside my head. An inner voice was cautioning me; telling me, “You’ve been having fun up until this point. This next chapter isn’t fun. If you really care about doing this for a living, get ready to kick yourself into high gear.”
And kick myself into high gear, I did. Everything in my creative life, up until that point, felt like a warm-up for ArtCenter. I’m not going to lie, it was brutal at times. Still, it prepared me for the rest of my career, which has been no cakewalk, either. Undergoing the criticism from tough-as-nails A.C. professors was kid’s stuff compared to showing your work to a guy like Steve Jobs – which I’ve done more than a few times early in my career (Apple, NeXT, Pixar, and Apple again).
Speaking of my time at Apple...there were never any highfalutin conversations about the Apple brand and how what we were creating was going to be simple and accessible. That’s just the way Steve wanted it. What Apple taught me to do was get to the core of a creative brand’s essence. Being familiar with a company’s logo is one thing - seeing their heart and soul is entirely another.
Okay, so you understand what a company is about, but how do you translate that in a way that the average person can understand? It involves being part of a creative process that is constantly ongoing. When I’ve worked for companies like Apple, I’ve been there in the room, actively participating in the crucial conversations and last-minute decision-making. Even at Apple, where we all worshipped Steve to a degree, it was still a collaborative, team-based process.
That’s the only way I work, really. I’m a born collaborator, and I don’t believe in the myth of the “lone wolf” creative. Well, I do paint. But even the isolation of that particular practice got to me after a while.
My favorite thing in the world is being part of a team. To me, what we do as designers involves a union of so many different disciplines: graphics, social media, copywriting, ad work, and beyond. Some days, I say to my colleagues at Enjoy, the company where I currently serve as Co-Founder with our CEO Ron Johnson, “This is so awesome. Not only is it awesome, but it is something I sincerely could not have done without you.” When we come together, we’re like an orchestra playing in perfect harmony.
The seed for the idea that became Enjoy arose from something rather simple. Ron was a guy I met during my time at Apple, and it’s not a stretch to say that he basically came up with the idea for the original Apple Store. He and his team, with critical involvement with Steve, created the most profitable, per-square-foot, retail organization of our time.
Cut to five years ago, Ron sells me on the purpose behind Enjoy - the idea to rethink the relationship that modern consumers purchase technology and to bring that blueprint to the fore. Enjoy hand-delivers the latest in tech to people’s homes and offices and offers them comprehensive but easy-to-follow instructions on how to use said tech. After Ron and I both got on the same page, we were off to the races. What can I say? Enjoy is the result of another beautiful collaboration. We’re currently serving customers in 54 markets in the US, and rapidly expanding in the UK.
I tell ArtCenter students, when I’m lucky enough to be asked to speak to them, “Right now is your time. Right now is the golden era for people like you. The world will always need creatives, but perhaps never more so than right now.”
So to anyone who might be reading this: get out there and find your tribe. I promise, they’re waiting for you.
BFA 1977 Graphics/Packaging